Photo by Ross Furukawa

In a Sept. 3 School Board meeting, board member Craig Foster proposed having a discussion on School Board term limits. As Santa Monica City Council recently introduced term limits and board member Maria Leon-Vazquez is currently seeking a sixth four year term, Foster believes this is a relevant issue for the board to consider.

“I think term limits are really important and they are all around us. The City of Malibu has a two term limit, the voters in Santa Monica passed in 2018 a three term limit for the City Council. The Supervisors, the State Senate, the Assembly, and the Governor all have term limits and they are very important to making sure the elected officials are responsive to the will of the voters,” said Foster.

Foster’s call for consideration of School Board term limits comes during an election cycle with an unprecedented number of challengers running against the two incumbents, Jon Kean and Maria Leon-Vazquez.

Three of the challengers — Jason Feldman, Esther Hickman, and Steven Johnson — are running on a coordinated anti-incumbent slate, speaking as District parents who are unhappy with the current school board.

“As incumbents spend more and more time in office they get more and more dug in and get more and more advantages in elections and can eventually serve forever unless they do something very wrong. To me that’s not good for the kids and the school district,” said Foster.

74 percent of Santa Monica’s residents voted to pass Measure TL in 2018, which created a three term limit for City Council. Part of the argument in favor of council term limits was to break a cycle of entrenched incumbency as only three incumbent council members have been voted out of office in the City’s history.

Of the current board members, Maria Leon-Vazquez has served for 20 years, Oscar de la Torre has served for 18, and Laurie Lieberman has served for 10.

“I think we definitely want a high mix of parents on the school board because it gives you a connection to what’s going on day to day that you don’t necessarily have if you don’t have kids in school. I think we also want people who don’t have kids in school because they have a certain distance from it. But, I do think it’s important to keep turning over and making sure that we have folks who are connected to the District,” said Foster.

Although many other local governing bodies already have term limits, introducing them to the School Board is not a quick or easy process.

“I believe that in order for School Board members to be subject to term limits, a ballot measure changing the City Charter would be required,” said board member Laurie Lieberman. “If I am correct about that, either the School Board would have to ask the City Council to put a measure on a future ballot and they would have to do so OR a petition seeking to qualify a measure for the ballot would have to be circulated and the requisite number of signatures would have to be gathered.”

In any case, an initiative for board term limits will not be appearing on the November ballot. There is currently no petition campaign for a term limit initiative as was the case for Measure TL in 2018. Before there is a discussion on this subject, legal research on introducing limits will need to be conducted and presented to the board.

“While I am not generally a supporter of term limits, I believe there are legitimate arguments to be made on both sides of the issue,” said Lieberman. “The School Board will bring the issue back on a future agenda, once we have some information about what the options are for pursuing term limits, if that is the will of a majority of the Board.”