Board of Education members will serve staggered terms if a bill passed by the Senate Committee on Education, Youth, and Culture Friday becomes law.
Currently the four-year terms of all nine members of the board begin and end at the same time. Board of Education chairperson Winona Hendricks testified that this process damages the board.
”There is always a possibility of a completely new set of members being elected from any given district or from the territory as a whole,” Hendricks said. “It is the consensus of the board that such a setup handicaps the functional efficacy of the board.”
Hendricks cited the election of November 2008 as an example. All members of the board from St. Croix were replaced, leaving the district with no representatives with previous experience.
“Effective functioning of the body requires members with some degree of knowledge and experience on how the board works,” Hendricks said. “This is true for any agency or organization. Staggered terms would ensure that there would be that continuity of knowledge and experience within the board.”
In order to institute the staggered terms, the bill calls for the top two vote-getters in the 2012 election from each district to serve terms of six years. The remaining five members would serve normal four-year terms. All future elections would be for four-year terms, held as each member’s term expires.
Trudy Fenster, the legislative legal council, testified that she believed the bill did not violate the law against enacting legislation that affects elections within six months of an election.
The bill would also reinstate the residency requirement for board members that had been removed in 1988. The bill states, “Members must reside in the district where they are elected.”
Currently, board members elected in one district are free to move to the other and still retain their seat. If the bill becomes law, such a move would require the board member to forfeit their seat.
The bill would also allow the chairperson of the board to appoint a designee to attend meetings of other boards the chairperson is required to serve on by law.
Currently the chairperson is required to be a member of the Morris F. De Castro Fellowship Board, the Board of Directors of WTJX, and the Board of Trustees of the University of the Virgin Islands.
Hendricks testified that attending all of these meetings in person on top of her Board of Education responsibilities was too demanding.
Voting to approve the bill were Sens. Janette Millin Young, Shawn-Michael Malone, Craig Barshinger, Carlton “Ital” Dowe and Sammuel Sanes. Sens. Louis Patrick Hill and Neville James were absent.
The bill will next be forwarded to the Committee on Rules.