Thursday, January 20, 2011

Two different viewpoints on the Republican proposal to make school board elections mine of course

Currently, local school board elections are non-partisan and open to any eligible resident of the school board's boundaries to run for office.

The current system of electing members to the Utah State Board of Education is broken. It's not even strictly an "elected" position. A "nominating committee" of appointed individuals and legislatively mandated to be half-composed of "industry interests" (i.e. lobbyists. And no, I'm not kidding.) screens potential candidates in any state school board district where more than three candidates file to run for office. They meet and then eliminate any candidates they want based on whatever criteria they want, provided they leave at least three. The governor then selects two of the three (or more) candidates from those chosen by the nominating committee, or two of three from a district where exactly three people filed. Those two candidates are then the only people allowed to appear on the ballot. There is no independent mechanism for a candidate to run for this public office. Someone could run as a write-in, and even then you have to "file" as a write-in candidate which makes no sense to me, but that person would have no chance at actually being elected except in some set of very, very peculiar circumstances. The public can only vote for two candidates pre-screened by an appointed committee and the governor.

The process makes no sense, and Governor Herbert, to his credit, has said the confusing process should be reformed. (Though he also didn't endorse a plain old election...) The obvious and fair solution in my opinion is to make the state school board races just like any other non-partisan race. Interested and eligible citizens run for office, and the people vote. There will be a bill run this session to do just that, change the state school board elections to a normal election. Certain Republican legislators plan on amending the bill on the floor to change the state school board election, and possibly even local school board elections, to partisan elections like those for the legislature. This exact same process happened in 2009, with the partisan amendment failing on the House floor while the "normal" election bill passed. However, five unsurprising state senators voted the bill down in committee. (Bramble, Dayton, Hillyard, Jenkins, Stephenson)

I mentioned my opposition to partisan school board elections in a recent post addressing Senator Buttars' proposal to amend the Utah State Constitution to give the legislature control over curriculum. Oak Norton and I discussed various points in the comments, and he linked to his post on why the state needs partisan school board elections.

Tom Gregory, the former State School Board member from my district, also chimed in on the proposal today, voicing his strong opposition to a partisan school board election. Among his reasons, he mentioned his conversations with state school board members from the few states that feature partisan school board elections.

So my bias is obvious. Here are two more sets. I think seeing the reasoning and contrast of both positions is valuable and will be useful to those evaluating the proposal.

We SHOULD make school board elections partisan -- Oak Norton

We SHOULD NOT make school board elections partisan -- Tom Gregory


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