John Florez: Utah State School Board should take the heat

Published: Saturday, June 14 2014 8:24 p.m. MDT

Message to the Utah State School Board: ”If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Sometimes, when faced with controversy, the board tends to waffle and look to state lawmakers to solve its problems.

Jordan Allred, Deseret News

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Message to the Utah State School Board: ”If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

Sometimes, when faced with controversy, the board tends to waffle and look to state lawmakers to solve its problems. Under the state constitution, the state school board is “responsible for the general control and supervision over public education.” Yet it seems it sometimes wants to abdicate that control to the state Legislature.

Two years ago, the board asked the federal government for a waiver from complying with the No Child Left Behind program, saying it wanted the flexibility to develop its own local standards. The board got the waiver and proceeded to implement local standards that included college and career accountability, which was accepted by many in the education community.

Now, when the board has to decide whether to ask for a waiver renewal, it is balking and debating ideological differences over federal control in education. Using federal money was OK two years ago but seems questionable now. Can the board not be trusted to keep its word? Where is the integrity we expect from our elected officials?

Lost in the ideological debate is the education of our children. Lacking was discussion on the negative effect it might have on students, financial loss and the turmoil caused by constantly changing standards. Now, the board wants to wait to see what the Legislature thinks instead of carrying out its fiduciary responsibilities.

This points out the problem with Utah’s educational system generally, and with the state school board in particular: Some board members appear to only want the trappings of holding public office but don’t want to take the heat for making decisions.

One board member said, "We get beat up by our federal delegation for having taken the waiver. ...” Well, that’s why they were elected. Board members are responsible for managing the state’s public education yet seem eager to let legislators make decisions for them. What is lacking is mutual respect for the role of each body in the education of our children.

Until the board assumes responsibility for the management of education and stops abdicating its responsibility to the Legislature, the system will continue to flounder, at taxpayer and students’ expense.

The board has the responsibility for carrying out its constitutional mandate, and the Legislature has the responsibility of providing the vision and goals for public education. A year ago, the Legislature established a task force to create the vision for education; unfortunately, it has yet to create the vision leaders are supposed to provide.

Board members should not be asking the Legislature for answers about the management of public education. Rather, they should be offering solutions for how best to educate our children for the new digital and global economy. They should focus on three critical functions: 1) establishment of core subject standards; 2) teacher hiring and certification; 3) writing performance contracts for school districts and monitoring for results. That would allow for local control, innovation and accountability.

Forget political ideology and do what is in the educational best interest of children. Integrity and taking the heat are part of leadership.

Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast

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