State School Board Reforms Get OK from Senate Education Committee

Senator Ann Millner (Republican - Ogden)
Senator Ann Millner (Republican – Ogden)

Twin measures aimed at deciding a procedure to select members of the Utah State Board of Education were given favorable nods from the Senate Education Committee Friday.

Sponsored by Senator Ann Millner (Republican – Ogden), the bills are SB 195 – Amendments to State Board of Education and SJR 5 – Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution – State Board of Education Changes. Both were passed out on a 5-1 vote, with Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs) being the only dissenter.

SB 195 would establish partisan elections for members of the Utah State Board of Education until voters weigh in on a constitutional amendment to make the board positions appointed, which is being proposed in SJR 5.

Under the proposed amendment, the governor would be charged with appointing state school board members while the Senate would then review the candidate and decide whether or not to confirm the appointment.

Millner feels that educators could work better with the executive and legislative branches through an appointment system rather than an election system. “I’d like to see us kind of connect the dots, connect these groups together in ways that we can focus on the big picture issues and the kinds of changes we would like to see and work together on that.”

Millner’s proposal also shrinks the board membership from 15 to 9. “The goal is to get to a smaller governing board that can be more nimble, make good decisions, and can work with the other members of the executive branch and legislative branch to make sure that we can move things forward.”

Peter Cannon, speaking on behalf of the Utah Eagle Forum, believes the bill increases government bureaucracy. “This bill creates more centralized governence. Once we lose our freedom and our election choices, we will never get it back again.” Cannon says that a smaller school board would reduce representation of areas in the state. “If 9 is better than 15, then one king is better than many legislators and school board members. If that’s the direction we want to go, let’s just go all the way and have a king.”

Deon Turley, education comissioner for the Utah PTA, believes that nonpartisan elections for board members are the way to go. “The Utah PTA has long had a position in favor of direct, nonpartisan elections of school board members. This hasn’t changed. We feel that this is really important. As we see more and more polls of voters of the state coming out strongly in favor of nonpartisan elections, that reaffirms our position. We also recognize that over half of the voters in the state are not affiliated with a political party and it would basically take away their voice.”

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