State school board members would be chosen in much the same way as judges under a proposal to be considered by the 1989 Legislature.
HB296, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Brigham City, would create nominating panels in the geographic areas from which school board members are selected. The nominating committee, consisting of two local school board members and a citizen appointed by the governor, would present three names to the governor, who would name one as a school board member.At the end of the first appointed term, the board member would face a retention election, allowing voters in the district to confirm or oppose the membership on the board.
Bishop, who announced the proposal during a news conference Tuesday, said he believes the change would resolve perceived weaknesses in the present method of electing state school board members. School board elections are notoriously poorly supported, and few people know who their representative on the board is, he said.
"Few people are willing to go through the process of an election. The races are always low-profile. I think we would get a better caliber board member through the appointive process."
Candidates for the state board under the current system may be individuals who have a particular educational viewpoint or agenda they wish to pursue to the exclusion of anything else, Bishop said.
"This would be the best of all worlds. It would provide people input while having the positive aspects of an appointed board," Bishop said.
The fact that appointed boards tend to reflect the political philosophies of those who appoint them is countered by the requirement of a retention election, he said.
The proposal also would strengthen state/local school board relationships by giving local boards more comment on the makeup of the state board, Bishop said.
The representative conceded that an appointed board is his second choice. Last year, he attempted to pass a bill that could have eliminated the state board. It would have changed the Utah Constitution's requirement for such a board, leaving the question open to further debate.
The bill barely passed the House with the two-thirds majority required but was never brought up in the Senate because Bishop could not muster enough support for the necessary two-thirds vote. Had it passed, it would have been on last November's ballot for a decision by the electorate.
Bishop believes his present proposal, which does not involve a constitutional change and so requires a simple majority vote to pass, stands a better chance. House Speaker Nolan Karras, R-Weber, attended the news conference, lending his support.
State School Board President Ruth Funk was not available for comment, but Don Christensen, who represents a Salt Lake district on the board, expressed reservations about a change that would remove the board by one step from the electorate.
"Have we ever taken a judge off the bench?" he asked. "We never see judges out campaigning, so we never know who they are. I feel more responsible to the people because they elect me."
Christensen said he and other board members attempt to keep in touch with their districts by being available to their electorate.