Term Limits?

I was recently asked why the term limits for Knox County government officials do not extend to school Board members. 

The answer can be found in Tennessee Supreme Court documents from 2006-2007:



September 6, 2006 Session


Direct Appeal from the Chancery Court for Knox County

No. 166799-1 John F. Weaver, Chancellor

No. E2006-01377-SC-RDM-CV

Filed on January 12, 2007

In this court decision, Judge Weaver clarifies the distinction between Knox County officials whose duties and terms can or cannot be changed within a charter form of government. The most important piece, regarding whether there can be limitations to school board members’ terms, is that all county ordinances must comply with Tennessee law, which states:

“The members of the board shall be elected for a term of four (4) years and may succeed themselves.”

Since Tennessee law clearly says that school board members may succeed themselves, and gives no limit to that succession, a county ordinance cannot impose a limitation.

Judge Weaver notes that

“Under state law … the term limits amendment cannot extend to a school board member …”

“The Education Improvement Act of 1991, a general law of the state, preempts the imposition of term limits for a school board member.”

and includes four examples of prior decisions that support his finding:

See Tenn.Code Ann. § 49-2-201(a)(1) (Supp.2006) (“The members of the board shall be elected for a term of four (4) years and may succeed themselves.”);

Knox County Educ. Ass’n v. Knox County Bd. of Educ., 60 S.W.3d 65, 79 (Tenn.Ct.App.2001) (“[T]he provisions of the Education Improvement Act of 1992 repeal and supercede the private act applicable to Knox County. . . .”);

Tenn. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 97-041, 1997 WL 188745 (April 7, 1997);

Tenn. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 95-007, 1995 WL 69246 (Feb. 15, 1995).


Weaver further states that

“The statute trumps the charter amendment as to members of the school board.”


Family Golf of Nashville, Inc. v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville, 964 S.W.2d 254, 258 (Tenn.Ct.App.1997) (“Local governments may decide for themselves how best to exercise . . . powers delegated by the General Assembly as long as their decisions do not conflict with state law.”).


While it is true that Knox County’s 1994 charter referendum intended to limit the terms of all county officials, the bottom line is that a county cannot override state law.

What does all of this mean?

First, it means that there are no term limits for school Board members in Tennessee. If a person can get elected for 40 years, he/she has the legal right to serve. If the community is unhappy with a person’s service, they will simply need to elect a different person. Ultimately, the length of a school board member’s service will be determined by the people he/she represents.

Next, it means that those people who yell that school board members serving a third term have no right to do so are flat wrong. We gave had several members who served 3 terms and there is nothing at all illegal or unethical there.

What does that mean for Jennifer Owen? 

Right now, nothing. 

I am half-way through my first term and have no intention of making a decision regarding any possible future terms right now. When the time comes, if my constituents want me to continue, I will gladly consider it. However, my CURRENT time in office should not be spent campaigning or rallying. Time in office is to be spent working for public schools.

I hope this answered your questions regarding school boards and county government term limits. If you have other questions, please let me know and I will be glad to try to find the answers for you!