State School Board members voted Tuesday to oppose a legislative move to change the method for selecting board members. They propose to talk with the bill's sponsor, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Brigham City, and with other proponents of HB296 to see if underlying differences can be resolved without the need for such a drastic move.
The bill that moved the board to a strong response was announced earlier Tuesday by Bishop. It would create commissions in the nine school board districts to select school board nominees. The governor would choose among three nominees, and his choice would be put on the ballot for a yes-or-no vote by the electorate.The board members unanimously decried any system that would take away the public's ability to vote for board members without imposing a nominating commission into the process.
Board member Keith Checketts, Logan, said the proposal is "a thinly veiled guise to have an appointed board without having to change the Constitution." He referred to an attempt by Bishop last year to push a constitutional amendment that might have eliminated the board entirely.
While nominating commissions are a good way to select judges - who must meet some professional standards - it is not a good way to choose school board members, he said. Judges could be hampered in fulfilling their duties if they had to constantly be looking over their shoulders at the prospects of an election.
"We should have to look over our shoulders, we should be held accountable."
Board member Jay Liechty, Orem, said the elected board feels a responsibility to those who elected them, while an appointed board would feel a responsibility to those who nominated them. "An appointed position does not carry the same sense of authority and responsibility to the electorate."
"This is another power play (on the part of the Legislature)," said Board Member Darlene Hutchinson. "The public shouldn't allow it."
Acknowledging that the "politics bother me more than the process," Board member M. Richard Maxfield, said the quick show of support for Bishop's bill is proof that the board is not communicating well with others involved in education. Attempts need to be made to strengthen lines of communication, he said.
Board Vice Chairwoman Neola Brown was the sole voice that offered any support at all for the bill, but she said it should be carefully considered. The state board has suffered in the past, she said, from members who have special interests to foster or who have not had sufficient interest in public education to perform the duties of the position.
She suggested, however, that it might be preferable to have nominating commissions name two candidates and allow voters to choose between them, rather than simply confirming one nominee.
"I don't want anyone to appoint one person, put him on a ballot and say it was the people's choice," she said.
James R. Moss, state superintendent of public instruction, said several concerns have been raised about the bill, including the fact that Wasatch Front nominators could have undue influence on naming board members, since all of the nominating boards would act as one to select potential candidates.
Moss said changes may be made in the bill as it goes through the legislative process.
Two of the state's largest education groups, the Utah School Boards Association and the Utah Society of Superintendents, voiced their support for Bishop's bill Tuesday. In a memorandum, the two organizations said the bill is pro-education. It would serve to strengthen school boards at the local level, as they would have two representatives on each three-member nominating commission.
"It is widely recognized that some local boards have mutually respectful, rewarding relationships with their state board member, while others do not . . . HB296 gives us all the opportunity to make a new beginning," the memorandum said.