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Jordan Allred, KSL, File

Utah lawmaker pulls back proposed constitutional amendment to create appointed State School Board

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Posted - Feb. 12, 2019 at 9:26 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A freshman representative pulled back Monday a proposed constitutional amendment that would have asked voters whether to change the elected State School Board to a nine-member board appointed by the governor.

After more than an hour of testimony and debate on HJR13, Rep. Melissa Garff Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, asked the House Education Committee to hold the bill and refer companion legislation, HB242, to a task force.

The resolution was supported by two former members of the State School Board, Spencer Stokes and Leslie Castle.

Stokes said no one knows their elected State School Board member.

"No one knows which bums to vote out," he said.

He questioned whether the board is accountable if few people know the elected board members or attend their meetings. He noted that there were more people in the committee hearing than ever attend state school board meetings.

Castle said she served two terms on the elected school board and learned that "a union" elected State School Boards, referring to the Utah Education Association.

Rich Kendell, a former Utah Commissioner of Higher Education who worked with the appointed Board of Regents and a former associate state superintendent who worked for the elected Utah State Board of Education, said the appointed body "attracted some really exemplary people."

Elected school board members, meanwhile, telephoned top administrators "three or four times a day, essentially trying to micromanage public education," he said.

Ballard's proposal envisioned an appointed board of nine people — one representative in each congressional district and five at-large positions with one of them representing charter schools. Their terms would be six years.

The current State School Board took a vote of opposition to the bill last week.

Board members Jennie Earl and Carol Lear both spoke in opposition to the bill.

Lear said the State School Board is accountable to the Utah Legislature, voters and other constituencies. The "efficiency" of a governor's appointment would diminish democracy, she said.

Chase Clyde, representing UEA, countered Castle's comments that state board elections are largely controlled by the teachers union.

Despite spending "scary union money" to support candidates' campaigns, Clyde noted the presence of elected board members on the front row of audience who were not backed by the UEA.

A similar resolution was considered by the Utah Legislature in 2018, which would have vested the board's powers in a governor-appointed state superintendent. The resolution, sponsored by Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, passed overwhelmingly in the Utah Senate but was soundly defeated by the House of Representatives in the waning hours of the session.

Meanwhile, the board, lawmakers and others await a Utah Supreme Court's decision on whether a statute passed by the Utah Legislature in 2016 that calls for partisan State School Board elections is constitutional.

A lower court ruled that the law conflicts with the Utah Constitution.

That decision was appealed by state attorneys on behalf of Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the lone defendant in the case.

Correction: An earlier version misquoted Chase Clyde of the Utah Education Association saying "dirty" union money was being used to fund State School Board campaigns. He actually called it "scary union money."

Marjorie Cortez

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