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SALT LAKE CITY -- A bill that would make State School Board elections partisan passed the Senate on Tuesday.
According to bill sponsor Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, the legislation will create greater interest in elections and will ensure the best candidates run. The bill will not affect local school board elections. which are nonpartisan.
"It's time that we have greater involvement of our citizens," Stephenson told fellow legislators.
The current system has been called convoluted and unclear by educators and lawmakers alike. Today's process involves a nominating and recruiting committee that recommends candidates to the governor. The governor then chooses two candidates for each vacancy, and their names are placed on the ballot.
"That's not exactly a great nominating process," Stephenson said in a discussion on the Senate floor Monday. "That has worked off and on, hot and cold, well and not well."
By having candidates run in the same manner as state senators and representatives, the vetting process will be more reliable since candidates will have to go through the convention process, he said.
"There will be 300 to 400 delegates, typically, in the person's own district who will decide how to screen those candidates," Stephenson said.
Opponents argue partisan politics have no place in education.
"I don't think that simply because candidates will put a 'D' or an 'R' in front of their name qualifies them," said Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake. "I think the system is better left as it is without introducing politics into it."
A bill that would have eliminated the nominating committee and moved to direct, nonpartisan elections failed in the House earlier in the session.
Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Salt Lake, said nonpartisan elections are the way to go.
"Many, many people serve in our schools. ... Many of them haven't declared a party but they are very strong education advocates," she said. "I think they should be able to run. ... I think education is above party politics."
Stephenson's bill passed 17-12. It now moves to the House.