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The case for a seven-member school board

October 29, 2014
By REP. MATT CALDWELL , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Imagine if the voters in Pensacola or Miami had a say in choosing our State Legislators? Well, that's exactly how at-large districts work. While they are a thing of the past at that level, Lee County still has at-large elections for several local legislative bodies, specifically the Lee County Commission and the Lee County School Board.

In a bid to stop the rising influence of minority groups in 1950s, both black and/or Republican voters were effectively shut out of legislative races when the State of Florida changed from the age old system of single member districts to the pernicious at-large system.

In Lee County today, both boards have five members elected countywide, but they must live in one of the districts. By electing members at-large, the voter does not get the opportunity to choose all five members, but rather gets told by the other four districts who their representative will be during the coming term.

This can be a critical problem; most recently when Eric Fiechthaler won his district, District 1, but lost the race overall to the incumbent, Bob Janes.

Access to and by the voters is the most important facet of legislative office and large constituencies naturally limit responsive decision making.

Today Lee County is nearing 700,000 residents. This makes us larger than the states of Wyoming and Vermont, which have a 60-member and 150-member State House, respectively. The sovereign will of 700,000 persons is a serious responsibility and having the opportunity for smaller groups to make their unique choices will serve to make our county-level legislatures more responsive.

This November you will have the opportunity to bring that local responsiveness to your Lee County School Board. The board has proposed a system that would elect the five current members in single

member districts, but would add two additional seats that would be countywide, with no district residency restriction. This is a compromise solution that will retain a countywide perspective while focusing the majority of the Board on their local districts and their neighborhood schools. I encourage everyone to vote "Yes" on the School Board referendum.

Matt Caldwell represents District 79 in the Florida House of Representatives.



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