The Utah School Boards Association's recent decision to pull out of the Utah Education Coordinating Council has stunned state education officials and is seen as further widening the rift between local school boards and State Superintendent James Moss.
The UECC, organized in April 1987, includes representatives from the state PTA, the state school board, teacher unions and associations representing superintendents, counselors, school employees and home-school advocates.The state school boards association decided to withdraw from the council on March 10, during meetings in St. George.
USBA President Celia Archibald, who also is a Weber School Board member, said Friday that her organization voted to withdraw because it believes the council is mostly being used to establish a power and publicity base for Moss.
Archibald said USBA will retain its contacts with other education groups through another organization, Helping Organization for Public Education, which also includes the state school board and the state education office.
HOPE has been in existence for several years and serves the sounding board purpose more effectively, she said.
"It actually does what the state superintendent said the coordinating council would do, but never has," Archibald said. Moss was out of town and unavailable for comment.
But Associate State Superintendent Scott Bean said he is disturbed by USBA's decision because the council "really is a group that involves all the major education players in the state.
"There is concern," Bean said, "not so much for a domino effect, but in that we want all education organizations involved in the council. We want to continue a very positive partnership with the schools boards association and the other members of the coordinating council."
Archibald cited among reasons for the USBA's withdrawal what the group saw as an "end run" attempted by Moss during the recent legislative session.
"Superintendent Moss tried to use the coordinating council for his vehicle in taking positions," she charged.
She said that toward the end of the session, the coordinating council voted three times not to take a position on a property-tax resolution.
"And the state superintendent was still trying to represent that the education family was in favor of the resolution," Archibald added.
Bean said when Moss returns to Salt Lake City, he likely will try to woo USBA back into the council.
Meanwhile, the USBA membership has voted to invite the state school board for a joint conflict-resolving session that would be arbitrated by a University of Utah professor.
"The real issue is not the personality of the chief executive school officer (Moss)," said Archibald. "That may be a short-term irritant, but it's not the real problem.
"As far as the USBA board is concerned, the problem is that we have not reached common ground on our respective roles," she said.
In a related action, Archibald said, the USBA board also asked its legislative committee to pursue legislation to reorganize the state Board of Education, making it "more accountable to local boards . . . and to the public."