SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Board of Education voted Thursday to oppose SJR16, a resolution that seeks a constitutional amendment to strip the board's powers and vest them in a state superintendent appointed by the governor.
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 chosen by the governor and confirmed by the Utah Senate.
The resolution is an attempt to address the governance of the State School Board, which Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, has described as "a catastrophe."
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.
Presently, the 15-member elected State School Board appoints the state superintendent.
The board did not discuss or debate the resolution before voting to oppose SJR16, although State School Board member Laura Belnap, after hearing Deputy State Superintendent Angie Stallings explain the resolution, joked with fellow members, "We're free!"
The only other public discussion was board member Jennifer Graviet's enthusiastic "I'll second that" to the board's motion to oppose the resolution.
All board members in attendance at Thursday's meeting voted in favor of the motion while board member Joel Wright, participating by phone, abstained.
Dabakis briefly attended the board's meeting at the state Capitol but came in after the vote was taken.
"I understand that the school board doesn't want to do away with their jobs, but, the fact is, it's not doing its job. It's time that the state face up to the fact that this is a weak body that has responsibility for spending billions of dollars and it's time that we made somebody accountable," he said, reacting to its vote.
While the nonpartisan State School Board members may face election, few voters know the candidates for school board, let alone the eventual winners, he said.
"There's an election every four years that gets a lot of light and heat and that's the governor's race. The governor's responsible for education and the people have a say on it. Where it's these board members that nobody's ever heard of, it means nobody's responsible," Dabakis said.
Paul Edwards, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert, said in a statement issued Wednesday that the issue boils down to meaningful accountability.Comment on this story
"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," the statement said in part.
Dabakis said he and Herbert "don't agree on everything but we strongly agree on this. I hope the state recognizes that," he said.
According to the National Association of State Boards of Education, a minority of states elect their state school boards. In other states, they are appointed by governors.
In some states, superintendents are appointed by governors or even elected.
SJR16 is before the Senate Education Committee and scheduled for hearing on Friday, Dabakis said.