Sen. Howard Stephenson criticizes process to select new state superintendent

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 19 2012 6:38 p.m. MDT

This Tuesday Oct. 18, 2011 photo shows Utah State Superintendent of Public Instruction Larry K. Shumway celebrating National School Bus Safety Week by riding on a school bus in Salt Lake City. Shimway is retiring as superintendent from the Utah Board of Education.

Deseret News, Jeffrey D. Allred, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — Echoing criticisms made last week, Sen. Howard Stephenson expressed concerns Wednesday with the way the state school board is searching for a new superintendent.

Stephenson told the Education Interim Committee, which he co-chairs, that he is concerned the board is acting too hastily in its search for a new top education official.

Stephenson, R-Draper, referred to a statement that he, along with three other Republican lawmakers, released last week. He took particular issue with the short window the board's selection committee had established to receive applications for the post as well as the board's intent to make its decision in mid-October — before the election and swearing-in of new board members.

"This window for application is only two weeks, whereas before it was a longer window," he said. "That's a concern."

Stephenson gave the example of local school boards selecting a district superintendent, or search committees at the college and university level that review candidates for president, saying the process typically takes six months to a year.

But Rep. Steven Eliason, R-Sandy, said just because a process takes longer does not make it more efficient. Often the long protracted processes of government are viewed negatively by the public.

"I maybe would turn the question and say, 'Why so long?'" he said. "I spend my time in the business world and we make decisions quickly."

Debra Roberts, chairwoman of the state school board, said the board is in full compliance with its constitutional directives to appoint a new superintendent. She also said the board is anxious to select a replacement for outgoing Superintendent Larry Shumway in time for the 2013 legislative session.

Shumway announced his retirement earlier this month and will step down from his position effective Jan. 1.

Because a key responsibility of the state superintendent is to represent students during the legislative session, Roberts said it would not be feasible to wait until the new year to select Shumway's replacement.

She was also dismissive of Stephenson's suggestion that the decision be postponed until after the election, comparing the process to recent confirmation hearings held by members of the Senate for new state judges and members of the State Board of Regents selecting a new commissioner of higher education, despite the possibility that several senators may lose their seats after the November elections.

"There was no talk of waiting," she said. "We have to deal with this moment in time."

Only one other member of the committee commented on the issue. Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper expressed his appreciation for Shumway's service and urged him to reconsider his retirement, even if it meant staying on in an interim capacity during the legislative session.

"To me you're the epitome that a person can disagree without being disagreeable," he said.

Shumway merely expressed that it has been his honor to serve as state superintendent and that his decision to retire was made after serious thought and careful contemplation.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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