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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah voters will have opportunities to compare the educational philosophies of candidates vying for the Utah State Board of Education in several debates this month.
Seven seats of the 15-member board are up for election this year, including several districts along the Wasatch Front.
But voters aren't always informed on where each candidate stands on educational issues, despite the fact that the State School Board plays a "pivotal" role in the direction of Utah's education system, according to Royce Van Tassell, executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools.
"If you look back at the races historically, as best as we can tell, the best predictor for who wins a state board race is the candidate whose name appears first. And that's probably not the ideal way to choose who to vote for," Van Tassell said.
The debates for each district will be hosted by the association in partnership with the Sutherland Institute at a charter school that resides in those districts:
• The debate for District 15, which represents Washington and Iron counties, will be held Tuesday at George Washington Academy in St. George. Five candidates are vying for that seat to replace board member Barbara Corry, who is not seeking re-election.
• District 4, which includes portions of Davis and Weber counties, will have a debate Wednesday at North Davis Preparatory Academy in Layton. Five candidates are vying for that seat, including incumbent David Thomas, who is currently the board's first vice chairman.
• District 7, representing eastern Salt Lake City and Park City, will have its debate on June 15 at Salt Lake Arts Academy. Seven candidates, including incumbent board member Leslie Castle, are campaigning in the district.
• District 8, which includes portions of Holladay and Murray, will hold a debate on June 16 at the American International School of Utah in Murray. Four candidates are in the running to replace the board's second vice chairwoman, Jennifer Johnson, who withdrew from the race.
• District 11, which includes parts of southern Salt Lake County and northern Utah County, will hold its debate on June 18 at Early Light Academy in South Jordan. Three candidates are hoping to replace board member Jefferson Moss, who is running for the Utah House of Representatives.
• District 10 is holding a debate for the candidate to represent southeast Salt Lake County. Incumbent board Chairman David Crandall, along with two other candidates, are running for that seat.
• District 12 will hold a debate for the candidate to represent Orem and parts of Wasatch, Duchesne, Uintah, Daggett and Summit counties on June 23 at Noah Webster Academy in Orem. Three candidates, including incumbent board member Dixie Allen, are campaigning for the position.
All debates will begin at 6:30 p.m. except for that of District 11, which will start at 9:30 a.m.
District 13, which has only two candidates, will not hold a debate until after the June 28 primary election. Van Tassell said debates will be held again for each district leading up to the general election in November.
Starting this week, voters will also be able to read candidates' written answers to various education questions. Voters can see those answers and find more information on the debates by visiting UtahCharters.org and SutherlandInstitute.org.
The debates will be moderated by Jennifer Napier-Pearce, communications director at the Hinckley Institute of Politics; Jay Evensen, editorial columnist for the Deseret News; Christine Cooke, education policy analyst for the Sutherland Institute; and Ethan Millard, former KSL political analyst co-host of KSL Newsradio's "The Nightside Project."
"We think that we've got a great team of people who understand how important these races are and are fully committed to helping the public understand what the issues are," Van Tassell said.