SALT LAKE CITY — A proposed constitutional amendment would strip the powers of the Utah State Board of Education.
Under SJR16, "the general control and supervision" of the state's public education system would be vested in the state superintendent of public instruction, who would be selected by the governor.
The resolution is an attempt to address the governance of the State School Board, which is "a catastrophe," the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said Wednesday.
The joint resolution would have to pass each legislative house by a two-thirds margin to be placed on a statewide ballot. Constitutional amendments require the majority approval of voters.
Under SJR16, the governor would appoint the state superintendent and the appointment would require the consent of the Senate, which Dabakis said would be a vast improvement over the current model — an elected school board and superintendent who serves as a board appointee.
"As we take the most meager resources in the country, one of the things we need to have going for us is a great governance system. We have just the opposite," he said.
Neither the Utah State Board of Education nor State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson would comment on the bill because the board has not met to take a position, said spokesman Mark Peterson. The board's next scheduled meeting is on Thursday.
Paul Edwards, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert, said in a statement that the issue boils down to meaningful accountability.
"Wherever the governor goes, people ask him what he is doing to improve Utah’s educational system. Gov. Herbert has worked hard to champion a long-term plan for educational excellence that is helping to lift our schools, but at the end of the day, the governor’s only formal role in education is that of the bully pulpit," Edwards said.
"Very few Utahns can name their representative on the State School Board but Utahns do know their governor. This proposed amendment could provide better accountability for the governance of our schools and the education of our children," he said.
At a minimum, Dabakis said he wants to "kick off a serious interim study where we actually talk about a constitutional amendment and we straighten out this generational issue."
There's a lack of courage to "speak the truth" that the system isn't working, he said.
"Right now, nobody knows who's running it. The Legislature thinks they are. The governor pretends he is. The state board says they are. Nobody's running it. It's a catastrophic system," Dabakis said.
According to the National Association of State Boards of Education, a minority of states elect their state school boards. In some, they are appointed by governors.
In other states, superintendents are appointed by governors or even elected.
Change is needed, Dabakis said.
There are several members of the current 15-member board "who do not believe in public education," he said.
"We have many members that see the world only through the perspective of charter schools. We have others who are completely ideologically driven and their issues have little to do with public education. So if you were designing a system to get terrible governance, you'd have a hard time beating what we've come up with," Dabakis said.
The states with the best educational outcomes tend to have gubernatorial appointments, he said.3 comments on this story
"Right now, no one is driving the school bus. At least this way when people voted they put somebody in charge of education, and that's the governor. After four years, if it's still a mess, boot 'em out," he said.
A matrix by the National Association of State Boards of Education shows a wide variety of approaches. It does not reflect a recent court decision that upheld nonpartisan school board elections in Utah.
SJR16 is before the Senate Education Committee and scheduled for hearing on Friday, Dabakis said.