State School Board names new leadership, takes position on election process

Published: Friday, Feb. 7 2014 6:37 p.m. MST

Dave Crandall was named chairman of the Utah State Board of Education on Friday, filling the position vacated by Tami Pyfer last month.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Members of the State School Board named Dave Crandall as their new chairman Friday, filling the vacancy created when Tami Pyfer resigned last month to accept a position in the governor's office.

Crandall has served as acting chairman since Pyfer's resignation, but the creation of a second vice chairman position in January clouded the procedure on how leadership vacancies are filled.

The board updated those policies Friday, naming Crandall as chairman and board member David Thomas as first vice chairman. The board declined to immediately elect a new second vice chairman, but board policy permits the position to remain vacant for up to two months.

"I appreciate the vote of confidence," Crandall said. "Tami left big shoes to fill, but fortunately for all of us she was wearing flats."

The decision to delay a vote for a new second vice chairman ultimately came down to the preference of Thomas and Crandall. A motion to hold a vote was discussed, but several board members suggested that they should act in whatever way would be most helpful to the chairman and first vice chairman for the remainder of the legislative session.

"I just don't want to do anything to upset the juju that's going on right now," board member Leslie Castle said. "I would like to keep it going in the direction it’s going, and I want to know how best to do that."

Crandall said policy allows the position to remain vacant for up to two months and added that delaying the vote would allow time for board members to consider whether they want to run for leadership.

The board also voted on its position regarding the manner in which State School Board members are elected.

Board members are currently elected through a frequently criticized process of semi-direct elections. During an election cycle, a governor-appointed committee advances three candidates per district to the governor, who then places two names on the ballot.

The process has resulted in incumbent board members being removed from office without the input of their constituents and stands in the way of new candidates wishing to challenge the direction of state education officials.

Several bills dealing with the State School Board election process have been filed this year, including a proposal to establish direct nonpartisan elections, a proposal to establish partisan elections, and a proposal barring lobbyists from serving on the candidate selection committee.

On Friday, the State School Board declined to take an official position on specific bills related to elections. But in separate votes, the board took a position of support for the direct election of board members and the nonpartisan election of board members.

Neither vote was unanimous, but discussion on the issue was relatively brief.

"I just think that because we are incumbents, I would prefer not to take a position," board member Jennifer Johnson said of her "no" votes.

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com

Twitter: bjaminwood

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