Saline Board of Education Votes to Return to 4-Year Terms

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 01/16/2020 - 16:53

While the vote to institute six-year terms for those serving on the Saline Area Schools Board of Education was split nearly evenly when that vote was cast in 2014, the vote this week to back-peddle to four-year terms was nearly unanimous.

Many on the current board shared anecdotal evidence, garnered from Saline residents, during the final deliberation at this week's regular school board meeting Tuesday night. All trustees save Michael McVey voted in favor of the change.

"Personally I feel like a four-year term is reasonable," said newly-elected Board of Education President Heidi Pfannes. "A six-year term, although it's nice for consistency, it's also a very long time and it's hard to get people to fill two six-year terms every two years."

Pfannes added that compared to other local branches of government, six-year terms seem "not normal."

Several on the board expressed concern over trustees being in a position where they have to resign from the board due to life circumstances such as health or needing to move out of the community in the event of being obligated to serve six years at a time on the board. 

While nobody on the board specifically said that having to resign in the middle of a commitment to elected office reflected negatively on the individual needing to do so, it was strongly implied that someone elected to such a position might want to avoid the appearance of having to break a commitment to the voters in the community.

McVey was the sole voice in favor of retaining six-year terms, stating that he didn't feel there was a lack of candidates for open positions on the board since the 2014 shift from four-year to six-year terms.

"We had six candidates for two positions last time," McVey said. "I think that was fine."

In a previous discussion, board members said "the more the merrier" with regard to having candidates vie for open positions, to which McVey pointed to the Democratic Party's ongoing primary election campaign process for the U.S. Presidency, specifically the party's debates, as a counter-argument to that statement.

There was also a concern with six-year terms and the idea of appointees to board seats that become vacant when a trustee leaves or passes away. On a Michigan school board, when a trustee can no longer serve and their seat becomes open, the remaining board members appoint a replacement. 

McVey said that ultimately the voice of the people has been heard and the voters have kept appointees they've liked and ejected ones that they didn't.

Board Vice President Paul Hynek and Trustee Dennis Valenti both said that they believe that more people would throw their hat in the ring for two four-year terms for a total eight-year commitment than has been the case under six-year terms where seeking reelection a single time amounts to a 12-year commitment.

Board Trustee Tim Austin said he wanted the public to know that the board is only acting within the confines of state law on considering four-year and six-year terms as the only two options, after Pfannes said that some people in the community had suggested to her two-year terms instead of the other two options.

"We did not do this to ourselves," Austin said. "This was done to us, and now we are reacting to and trying to make the best of what we have."

In 2020, there will be a six-year term on the ballot and two four-year terms after the board's decision this week. From there the trusteeship turnover will go to three seats up one election year with four seats being on the ballot the following election two years later. Pfannes, Austin and Hynek will see their terms expire at the end of the year.

Sean Dalton's picture
Sean Dalton
Sean Dalton is a veteran of the Washtenaw County journalism scene. He co-founded and and also worked for Heritage Newspapers.