For the second year in a row, efforts are being made in the Legislature to change the State Board of Education into a body that is more responsive to the governor and local school boards. And for the second year, the move deserves to be sidetracked.
In the 1988 legislative session, bills were introduced to eliminate the elected board - a step requiring a constitutional amendment.That plan failed, partly because it would have been hard to promote as a ballot proposition. It would have eliminated an independent voice and put the State School Office directly under the control of the governor.
But a related measure is back for the 1989 session. It would not eliminate the state board, and thus avoids a constitutional amendment vote. But it would make the nine-member group more of a creature of the governor and local school boards.
The bill, HB296, would abolish the current general election of state school board members, Instead, a nominating commission - dominated by local school board officials - would pick three names for each position to be filled and the governor would make the selection.
The appointed members would serve until the next general election, when their names would be placed on the ballot for voters to make a simple "yes" or "no" decision to retain them, much the same way judges currently are chosen. If the example of judges is any guide, that would mean almost automatic election.
Certainly, the state board has its problems and critics. It has been castigated for moving too slowly to meet educational challenges and for being more of a follower than a leader. Its members are not always well known, and some may lack expertise in dealing with education problems.
Experts nominated by local school districts and chosen by the governor might raise the general quality of the board, but a certain amount of independence would be lost. In some respects, it would be a step backward to an earlier time.
Before 1950, Utah had an informal board, sometimes named by the governor, sometimes named by regional conventions of local school boards. This did not work well and the State Constitution was altered in 1950 to require an elected board. Going back to the old system hardly seems an improvement.
In addition, there are numerous comments by people close to the issue that the effort to change the board has less to do with efficiency or improving education and more to do with personality clashes and unhappiness with the attitude of some board members and the state superintendent of schools.
If there is truth to those rumors, it is a poor reason for dismantling the state school board system.
The public good would be better served by making this an interim study issue where the situation can be carefully examined on its merits. Nothing would be lost by waiting a year and serious mistakes might be avoided.
That's the position taken by the state PTA and it's one that ought to be followed by lawmakers.