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Panel reconsiders bill to reform State School Board elections

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SALT LAKE CITY — Two conflicting bills to reform State School Board elections are now under consideration by the Utah House, reawakening the debate on whether education officials should be subject to partisan scrutiny.

On Monday, the House Education Committee voted in favor of a previously defeated bill that would create direct partisan elections for school board members.

During a committee meeting last week, lawmakers advanced a bill calling for nonpartisan election of school board members, while a similar bill creating partisan elections failed by a single vote.

That bill, HB228, was reconsidered Monday with a different combination of committee members present, allowing it to proceed to the House floor with a 8-5 recommendation.

"Three members of the committee that really wanted to weigh in on this were not present at our last meeting," said Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, the bill's sponsor.

The education community is largely opposed to Greene's bill, with the Parent Teacher Association, Utah School Boards Association and Utah Association of Elementary School Principals taking formal positions of opposition to the bill. The State School Board has also indirectly objected to the bill by formally opposing any legislation that results in partisan elections of school board members.

Advocates of nonpartisan elections argue that introducing party politics to the school board election process would require candidates to take positions of non-education issues to establish their ideological bona fides while also making educators more accountable to party leaders and delegates than parents and children.

But Greene said it is strange to believe that partisan elections would lead to party control of the education system. He said that not once as a legislator has he felt pressure from party leaders to vote a certain way or in favor of certain bills.

"I think it's good for all election processes," Greene said of partisan vetting.

Debate on the bill was kept to a relative minimum as lawmakers and the public had the opportunity to voice their concerns last week.

Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, said that as a former educator she couldn't think of a situation where her classroom decisions were based on ideology, and she prefered it be kept that way.

"There’s very little involved in the school board that has to do with partisan politics, and I’d prefer that be left out," Poulson said.

In addition to Greene's bill, the committee has also given a favorable recommendation to HB223, which establishes nonpartisan direct elections for school board members. The two bills will now be considered by the full House.

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