School board incumbents survive committee vetting

Published: Tuesday, June 3 2014 3:45 p.m. MDT

A recruiting and nominating committee tasked with narrowing the field of State School Board candidates has finalized its recommendations to the governor.

Jordan Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — After two days of interviews, a nominating and recruiting committee tasked with narrowing the field of State School Board candidates finalized its recommendations for Gov. Gary Herbert on Tuesday.

Committee members advanced the names of all four incumbents seeking re-election, as well as the names of three or four candidates for each of seven school board seats in contention.

In addition to the 14 candidates selected Monday, the committee advanced Joylin Lincoln, Joel Wright and incumbent Heather Groom for District 9, which includes the north and west portions of Utah County, as well as Amy Hayter, Laura Collier Belnap, Mark Bouchard and Ruland Gill for District 5, located in Davis County.

"We’ve been overwhelmed with the quality of the people who have put themselves forward," committee chairman Nolan Karras said. "We’re heartened by the fact there’s so many great people who want to serve."

The 21 candidates selected by the committee, as well as all three candidates from southern Utah's District 14, will now be reviewed by Herbert. The governor will choose two candidates per seat to appear on November's ballot.

Utah's indirect process for electing school board members is often the subject of criticism from members of the education and political community who argue it lessons accountability to voters and bars some candidates from participation.

Three bills were sponsored during the most recent legislative session seeking to create direct elections or exclude lobbyists from serving on the review committee, but all three bills stalled during debate.

Leslie Castle, a member of the State School Board who observed the interviews Tuesday, objected to the amount of repetition used by committee members.

Most candidates received nearly verbatim questions on charter schooling and the implementation of education standards to the point that the final candidates appearing before the committee joked about being able to answer without being asked.

"They seem to be making their decision based on one question and vetting candidates based on one question and one issue," Castle said.

She also expressed concern about the lack of diversity among the review committee's 12 members, who are appointed by the governor, which she said leads to a similar lack of diversity among school board candidates.

"I would be so thrilled to see this committee represented with the same demographics the state is represented by," Castle said. "Historically, the state board itself ends up lacking that same representation."

Much of Tuesday's discussion was again centered on the Common Core State Standards, which outline the minimum skills in math and English that students should master and have been adopted by all but six states.

State education officials have faced lingering pressure to withdraw from the standards, as some opponents view the Common Core as a federal intrusion in local schools despite the standards' being voluntarily adopted and preserving curriculum decisions at the local district level.

"Utah has invested a lot of time and treasure into developing the standards and the assessments aligned with them," Hayter said. "Before we scrap those, I’d like to see the board push and try to make the implementation as successful as possible."

Several candidates said there had been a lack of communication with parents and teachers when the Common Core was first adopted, leading to misunderstanding of the issue today.

"I support Common Core, but the rollout from it, the buy-in from teachers and parents hasn’t occurred yet," Gill said.

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