How much influence should the governor have on the selection of State School Board members? None? Some? A great deal?
It's a question that a committee appointed to study educational governance has struggled to resolve, and the debate goes on.The problem is that in Utah the governor for many years has had no input in the matter, and there has been a gulf between the state board and the governor's office that needs to be narrowed.
Although the board is an autonomous body elected by the people, there are compelling reasons for the board and the governor to work together to resolve education issues. In recent years, Utah's governor, the Legislature and the state board have sometimes scattered their efforts, possibly reducing the effectiveness of attempts to restructure education in the state.
That challenge is so momentous that a united front is essential. Philosophically, legislatively and financially all three entities should be working toward cohesive efforts that enhance efficiency and avoid wasteful start-and-stop projects.
Governors all over the country are becoming more vocal about their desire to have a direct influence on education, one of the hottest government issues of the day.
The governance committee set up by the 1990 Legislature to look at perceived problems in how state school board members are selected has developed a proposal that would create nominating committees in the school board districts to select candidates for open board seats.
The committee has also given the governor a role in the process in hopes that such participation would create a link between the state's top office and the educational leadership.
As proposed, the governor would select the seven members to the nominating committees in each district. Four of the members would have to represent educational groups and three others would be selected at-large. The responsibility of the committee would be to find the best-qualified school board candidates in their districts. People interested in running for the board would have the option of making their desires known to the committee or running as write-in candidates.
The purpose of the screening would be to ensure the quality of school board candidates, who now are entirely self-selected.
Originally, the governance committee suggested that the four education representatives be named by the groups they represent - local school boards, education administrators, teachers and parents - with the governor naming only the at-large members. Logistically, however, that process could be cumbersome in districts that encompass many school districts or where school districts are split between state school board districts.
Under the revised plan, the governor would have a second opportunity to influence the board makeup by selecting two of the candidates to stand for election.
Some people think that gives the governor too much input into the membership of the state board. If appointment-by-caveat is going to be the result of the process, why not eliminate the process and have the governor do direct appointments?
That would require a change in Utah's Constitution, a lengthy process that would not address current problems for at least four years.
The gap between the governor and the state board needs to be closed, but the plan for screening board members may need some more fine-tuning before it gets to the 1991 Legislature. The interests of local education groups in having a strong state board may be getting short shrift if their representation to the screening committees is filtered through the governor.