State and local school board members began a process Thursday to mend fences, identifying areas of mutual concern and assigning tasks to committees for further study.
Members of the Utah School Boards Association board of directors and of the State Board of Education met for two hours in the neutral ground of the Salt Lake School District offices to talk about discontent that has surfaced in recent months.Dissatisfaction became apparent last month when the USBA withdrew from the Education Coordinating Council, a broad-based group representing most of the state's education organizations. A few weeks later, the Utah School Superintendents Association followed.
At the time, many local educators were critical of the state board and of the board's executive officer, James R. Moss, who created the council.
Thursday, the USBA said it has no intention of returning to the council. The association, in fact, proposed a new organization that, supposedly, would supplant the Education Coordinating Council as a forum for the education family to discuss common concerns.
M. Richard Maxfield of the state board and D. Blayne Morrill, president of the Uintah School Board, were assigned the job of studying the present council and determining whether another organization could better serve needs.
The alliance proposed by the USBA would not include many of the organizations now members of the ECC, including home educators, school counselors, higher education, the chamber of commerce and the American Federation of Teachers. Critics of the existing council say its broad membership dilutes the voices of those most directly concerned with education, particularly on legislative issues.
At the time of its disaffection from the council, the USBA said it felt stifled by the necessity of presenting a united front on some legislative issues when the organization's feelings actually were contrary.
Board member Keith Checketts defended the present council. He said member groups are not bound by majority decisions of the group. If any member votes against an issue, no official position is taken, he said.
During a free-wheeling discussion Thursday, an effort was made to identify issues creating tension between the two levels of education governance.
As a preface to the discussion, Ruth H. Funk, chairwoman of the state board, said, "We're here for a common cause - our deep love for children and our opportunity to be involved in education as a way to help children reach their potential."
That focus, however, was immediately questioned as one of the first items of discontent on the local level. Linda Campbell of the USBA said there is a perception by some local boards that the state board has lost sight of children as the end recipients of their efforts.
"We jump through hoops for you people," said Carol Funk, Logan. "We do too much game-playing. We want to put an end to the games." She referred to the grant-application process and the onerous paperwork imposed on the local districts by the state, a commoncomplaint.
State board members, too, had their complaints - primarily that there is too little communication going either direction and that local boards don't understand fully the role of the state board.
State board member Darlene Hutchinson said that for several years, the board rotated its meetings around the state to allow for local input. The practice was stopped, she said, because there was so little interest from the local boards.
The two board groups decided to turn the identified issues over to a joint committee for additional study. The existing liaison committee that represents both state and local boards was assigned the task.
The liaison committee includes Richard Stowell of the USBA office staff, Jan Lewis, Alpine District, and Ruth Jackson of Sevier District from the local level and John M.R. Covey, Don Christensen and Neola Brown from the state board.
Another joint meeting of the boards will be held in about three months.
Areas of discontent:
-Lack of two-way communication and understanding.
-Mandated programs from the state with no understanding of how they affect local districts.
-State failure to know what is being done in the districts.
-Excessive paper work.
-Perceived unfairness in distribution of discretionary state money through grantapplication processes.
-Failure to involve local boards in important policy decisions and strategic planning.