Board rejects proposal to limit term lengths

Fredonia Board of Education President Brian Aldrich opposed reducing term lengths of Board members from five to three years.

Majority rules, but without a majority, what happens?

In the case of a topic posed by the Fredonia Board of Education, things will stay the way they are.

At a Fredonia Board of Education meeting last month, for more than 30 minutes, Board members discussed shortening the length of terms for members on the Board from its current five-year requirement. At that meeting, six members were in attendance, with only Board of Education Vice President Steven Johnston absent.

At the next meeting, the topic came up again, as Johnston shared his opinion. He began by thanking the Board for tabling the discussion to allow for his input.

Johnston then referred to the District’s mission statement of helping students become their “greatest selves.” Johnston related that statement to his service on the Board.

Fredonia Board of Education member Lisa Powell Fortna supported a resolution to reduce Board member term lengths from five to three years.

“I feel like, over time, I’m becoming a better Board member,” Johnston said. “… I’m just far better than I was, I feel, at the start. I’ve been a Board member for five years now. It took the first three years just to get my feet under me.”

Johnston also minimized the need to attract more candidates for seats on the Board, which was a benefit to shorter term lengths listed several times throughout the previous meeting’s discussion.

“I look around this table … and I see highly qualified individuals. We have great discourse; we come from different areas of professions, which helps our discussions; and we all signed up for five years,” Johnston said. “I don’t see that we have a weakness that we’re not getting good volunteers that look after our students.”

Johnston’s preference for term lengths to remain at five years aligned with Board President Brian Aldrich and Board member Tom Hawk, the longest standing member of the Board. Throughout the discussion at the previous meeting, Board members Sheila Hahn, Aaron Marshall, Courtney Gullo, and Lisa Powell Fortna favored a shorter term of three years for Board members. “Five years is a daunting task,” Marshall said.

Like the previous meeting, six members of the Board were in attendance for the discussion. Rather than Johnston being absent, it was Marshall who missed the most recent meeting. As it turned out, his absence likely made a big difference.

Fredonia Board of Education Vice President Steven Johnston opposed reducing term lengths of Board members from five to three years.

After an abbreviated discussion less than half the time of the previous meeting’s debate, the Board put the topic of term lengths to a vote.

The first motion was made by Hawk to go from five-year terms to four-year terms, as what he called a “slow roll on change”, but Hawk’s motion was not supported by another member. Superintendent Dr. Brad Zilliox expressed hesitancy to pursue a four-year term without properly evaluating how that change would put seats up for election. The District sought to follow State Education guidelines to make an effort to stagger Board member elections so that a majority of the Board is not up for election at one time.

“We didn’t run four years as a possibility consistently. We were looking at three,” Zilliox said.

Zilliox said at the previous meeting that of approximately 25 local school districts, roughly 15 districts had three-year terms, only one had a four-year term, and nine had five-year terms, including Fredonia. According to data on the statewide level, 74% of districts have three-year terms and 22% of districts have five-year terms.

After Hawk’s motion was not supported, Hahn made a motion to change term limits from five years to three years, with four-year terms applied in the interim in order to keep term expirations staggered. Hahn, Gullo, and Fortna all voted in favor of the motion, while Aldrich, Johnston, and Hawk all voted against the motion. Without Marshall in attendance, the vote was deadlocked and no action was taken.

The members who voted in favor of the motion to limit term lengths favored the public’s decision to decide on the matter. “I am in favor of putting it to the public to vote,” Gullo said.

Without a resolution passing on the matter, a proposition to limit term lengths for Board members will not be listed on the ballot at the time to vote.

Aldrich put his feelings on the matter bluntly at the previous meeting. “I’m not going to apologize for my opinion,” Aldrich said.

“I just don’t feel like the wheel is broken. I feel no real need or urgency to fix it at this point,” Johnston said. “That could change, though.”


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