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Lawmakers skeptical of search for new state superintendent

Published: Thursday, Sept. 13 2012 4:14 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Several state lawmakers criticized the State Board of Education for the way it is conducting its search for a new state superintendent.

In a statement released Thursday, House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper; Rep. Dan McKay, R-Riverton; Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper; and Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, described the process of replacing state superintendent Larry Shumway as rushed and superficial. They also suggested that the board has made its decision and is merely going through the motions of holding a search for candidates.

"We believe this decision should not be expedited," they wrote. "It should not be pre-determined. It should be meticulous, open, inclusive, and thorough."

Debra Roberts, chair of the State School Board, said no decision on Shumway's successor has been made and the board is dedicated to finding the best candidate possible. Shumway announced his retirement last week, expressing his intent to step down from his position effective Jan. 1. He has served as state superintendent for three years.

Roberts said that while the application window is shorter than in the past, the overall process of selecting, reviewing and hiring a new superintendent has not changed. She also said that the number of education stakeholders who will review candidates has increased.

"We will include every stakeholder you can possibly think of involving in that process," she said.

Roberts said the selection committee met recently and decided to shorten the window in which applications could be received because the process was too lengthy in previous searches. She also said the board is anxious to minimize the transition of leadership because of ongoing state programs like the Promises to Keep and the implementation of the Utah Core Standards.

"We want some overlap and we want as much overlap as we can have," she said.

In their letter, the lawmakers also took issue with the board's plan to make their selection in mid-October, just a few weeks before voters elect a new State Board of Education. They suggested the hiring of a new superintendent should be made by the new board, and that making the decision prior to the election limited the voice of incoming representatives.

Roberts said that because a decision needs to be made before Shumway retires in January, when new members of the board would be sworn in, there was not a clear method by which the selection process could include newly elected members.

She said she was disappointed that the lawmakers had chosen to release their statement prior to speaking with members of the school board and that she had only learned of their statement after being alerted to it by members of the media.

"I wish they had called me because I think I could've helped them," she said. "They're leaping out there without understanding."

McKay countered that colleges and universities typically take six months to a year in selecting new presidents and that it only seems right that a comparable amount of time be spent choosing the top education official for the state of Utah.

He said he didn't want to speculate on who the board might have in mind, though his colleagues have their own suspicions.

He said the relatively brief window for applications suggests the board has made its decision and is merely checking off the necessary steps for appearance's sake: "That would support why they're doing this so quickly. It just doesn't seem like we're doing the right thing."

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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