Several bills were proposed but, in the end, nothing panned out. That debate reignited Wednesday when the Government Operations Interim Committee heard testimony on the matter.
Senator Al Jackson (Republican – Highland) presented what is, in his words, a “compromise” bill that would appeal to all sides. Working with Senator Evan Vickers (Republican – Cedar City), Jackson has crafted a proposal that would shrink the state school board from 15 to 13 members. Four members would be chosen through a partisan election, four through a nonpartisan election, and the final five appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The new seats would be based on Utah’s congressional districts, with each district being represented by a partisan and nonpartisan school board member. The bill would also require an amendment to Utah’s constitution, which presently does not allow appointed school board members.
“By ensuring that the people, the governor, and the legislature all have a say in public education leadership, the 5-4-4 compromise gives each group ownership over public education and encourages alignment, coordination, and collaboration between policymakers, executive education agencies, frontline educators and administrators, and, presumably, the parents,” Jackson told the committee.
Jackson also said that the bill would ensure the representation of rural Utahns, as up to three of the governor’s five appointees could come from rural areas depending on the outcome of the partisan and nonpartisan elections.
Representative Patrice Arent (Democrat – East Millcreek) feels that the compromise could be confusing to voters. “The public wants nonpartisan elections. That’s what we’ve looked at, that’s what we’ve heard from the public, and that’s what the polls have shown. I worry about public confusion. Who actually represents me? This is going to be very confusing for people. We need to focus on what’s best for the children.”
Arent believes that nonpartisan elections are the way to go. “Not only does that make the most sense to me, that’s what the public has asked for.”
Representative Fred Cox (Republican – West Valley City) also expressed concern at the prospect of having appointed school board members. “Nothing against the governor, but I don’t think that’s the right direction. Whether it’s partisan or nonpartisan, there are disadvantages to both, but I would rather have either one of those.”
Derek Monson, director of public policy at the Sutherland Institute, thinks the bill is a good compromise. “If it’s true that there is some merit in each of the various ideas, then we think the best thing for the children in the system is to find the goodness in those various proposals and bring them together in a way that allows us to take advantage of the merit in each of them and then use the checks and balances to kind of guard against their shortcomings.”
Jackson stressed that the legislation is in the draft stage and there is still much to be discussed on the matter. “This is not the end-all-be-all, but it starts the conversation.” The committee did not take any action on the bill, but they plan to include it as a future agenda item.