For the third year in a row, the 1991 Utah Legislature will consider the question of how members of the State Board of Education are selected.
The problem is that there isn't and shouldn't be any question up for consideration. The legislators should stop trying to tinker with a system that works.School board members are elected. The state is divided into nine geographic districts, and candidates from each district are free to file and run for the board. There are no educational qualifications or professional requirements to serve on the board - just as there are none for a seat in the state Legislature or even for governor.
This system of citizen involvement has been in effect since 1950, when the state constitution was amended to provide for selection of board members through the election process. The amendment was passed because of dissatisfaction over how the system was operating up until 1950, when board members were appointees, hand-picked to serve.
But now some lawmakers are trying to make an end run around the state constitution by having a list of nominees from each district drawn up and forwarded to the governor, either for direct appointment or to be placed on the ballot.
Backers of the proposed changes say their plan would weed out incompetent or unqualified candidates, including political gadflys who want to get on the board because they have an ax to grind or a personal agenda they wish to advance.
Opponents, who include many local school board members who are themselves elected by the people, say the proposed change would effectively exclude the average person from serving on the board.
As Provo-area board member Jay Liechty pointed out in 1989 when one of the proposed changes was being debated, the electoral system appears to be working just fine. The board at that time had two members with doctorates and four with masters degrees, with backgrounds ranging from business and accounting to education and professional admin-istration.
There has been a lot of emphasis in the past two years on decentralizing education, on putting decisions about how schools are run back at the local level. Parents are encouraged to participate, to form a coalition with teachers and individual administrators to demand excellence in their schools.
Trying to encourage participation in school decisions at the grass-roots level on one hand and taking away an important aspect of that decision-making ability on the other is inconsistent. It calls into question just how serious legislators are about wanting involvement of individuals at the local level in determining the educational direction of the state.