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Reform or retort?: Idea of a partisan state school board deserves to die

Published November 16, 2007 7:28 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The ill-conceived idea of making election to the Utah State Board of Education a partisan affair is similar to that squirrely head that keeps popping up in the old arcade game of Whack-A-Mole. Reasonable legislators whack it down in one legislative session, but it just pops up in the next.

Next time this power-grabbing-by-politicizing the public school system appears as a formal bill - and that could be in 2008 - the pest should be decapitated once and for all. But that's unlikely to happen as long as the scars of the voucher battle continue to chafe at reactionary Republican leaders in the Legislature.

After their pet education "reform" - publicly funded private-school vouchers - was lambasted at the polls, our legislative leaders may retaliate against the anti-voucher education community by resurrecting their devious idea of "reforming" the group that oversees public schools.

These titans of the legislative branch would love nothing better than to have Utah's single-party political machine run the state's educational system as it runs, or tries to run, most everything else - right along the track of a right-wing ideology that is out of step with most Utahns.

That is the primary reason why school-board elections should never be made partisan.

The idea is to abolish the current system of nominating and selecting candidates for the state board by a nonpartisan committee and the governor. Instead, political parties would choose candidates in the same way they now choose candidates for partisan offices.

It is a notion promoted by its creators as a way to "make school board members more accessible" and "raise the stature of public education." Poppycock. It is a baldfaced attempt to get educators out of the business of education and replace them with Republican politicos.

The current system is not perfect. But it is not broken, either. Few Utahns know much about their representatives on the state school board. That is the system's weakness. But the governor's bipartisan committee, composed of people whose backgrounds and expertise are in education, has so far chosen well-qualified candidates, and the voters have the final say.

If the race were turned over to political parties, the board would likely become just like the Legislature, much more representative of the right-wing conservative minority in the state than a reflection of the more moderate majority.

That would be unhealthy - for the state and for schoolchildren.




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