Term limits for elected officials have been a hot topic lately and the Santa Clara Unified School District Board of Trustees debated it at their Thursday, Oct. 12 meeting.
Board Member Dr. Michele Ryan asked for term limits to be added to the agenda so the Board could explore the topic. The Board of Trustees doesn’t currently have term limits but the seven members can serve unlimited four-year terms. Dr. Ryan said it’s been on her radar since Palo Alto Unified School District introduced term limits in 2018 and wanted to discuss it since it has also been a national topic lately.
The Board discussed the pros and cons of term limits. Board Member Andy Ratermann, who is one of the longest-serving members, pointed out that the Board does have a good mix right now. The newest members are Board President Vickie Fairchild, who is in her second term, and Board Vice President Bonnie Lieberman, who is in her first term. The rest of the Board has served more than two terms. Ultimately, Ratermann didn’t think they should have term limits.
Lieberman was against term limits as well. She called them “anti-democratic” and said they limit voters’ choices. Union leaders CSEA Chapter 350 President Lynn Villarreal and UTSC President Margie Wysocki both asked what problem they were trying to solve right now by instating term limits. Villarreal said the voters should be able to vote for who they want.
“I do think it is our democratic right to decide who we’re going to vote for, and other people should not decide that I can only vote for someone twice,” said Villarreal.
Many on the Board were worried that limiting Board Members would mean losing years of experience. Additionally, they would lose the leadership representation they have through Board Members like Albert Gonzalez, who will be the California School Boards Association (CSBA) President next year. Gonzalez is in his fourth term as a Trustee.
“I would not have been able to become CSBA President-elect…without having spent some time building up that capacity and learning about the process here, within the state and the local county boards and such,” said Gonzalez.
“The unintended consequences of term limits can be that you have people who are unaware and unprepared to govern,” Gonzalez continued to say.
Gonzalez did say that term limits could help promote more diversity on the Board. Gonzalez and many on the Board pointed to the new Trustee Areas that were instated in 2021 in response to a possible voting rights lawsuit. The Trustee Areas were supposed to diversify the candidate pool, but in the 2022 elections, Board Clerk Jim Canova and Board Member Jodi Muirhead were unopposed. Additionally, Fairchild and Ratermann both won their elections and kept their seats. So, in the first election with the new Trustee Areas, there were no changes to the Board.
Dr. Ryan was concerned that if Santa Clara Unified didn’t design its own term limit rules to put on a ballot, an outside group could do it and they wouldn’t have a say on what it looked like.
“At the end of the day, my preference would be to see it organically generated by the community, not this Board,” Canova countered.
Dr. Ryan put forth a motion to bring this topic back, but it failed.
The Board appointed Ailao Saesee as the new Custodial Manager for the Maintenance and Operations Department.
During unagendized public comment, two parents spoke about the email the District sent regarding the Hamas attack in Israel but asked for the District to publicly condemn it as well as consider more security in light of recent threats. Additionally, they asked the topic not be talked about in classrooms. The Board could not respond to comments since the topic was not on the agenda.
Editor’s Note: Superintendent Dr. Gary Waddell and public comment both mentioned the Israel-Hamas war, but this article only covers what happens at the School Board meeting. This article is not intended to properly cover recent events, the decades-long history between Israel and Palestine, or even events in Gaza with the care and attention it deserves.