A Legislator Turned Superintendent; Been There

Utah State LegislatureYou would think with all the surprise and kerfuffle over Speaker Becky Lockhart applying for the job as Superintendent of the Public Education, that having a former legislator in education’s top post puts us in uncharted waters.

But it doesn’t.  We’ve been there, done that.

Back in 1986 a popular House member, James Moss, was running unopposed for his 3rd term.  He was a lawyer by trade, but when the position became available for the State Superintendent post, he applied and was appointed.  Here is a quote from the Deseret News at the time:

Colleagues on Capitol Hill hailed [Moss’] appointment as a plus for both education and the Legislature, and they heralded his ability to ease friction between the Utah State Board of Education and the Legislature.  (Source)

Sound familiar?

[Rep. Francis Gibson] said one area the State School Board and the State Office of Education have lacked is in having a strong relationship with the legislature. 

He said Lockhart would be someone that could strengthen that working relationship between the State Office of Education and the Legislature and could potentially do so in a very effective manner. (Herald)

The question then becomes, how did it work out?

With mixed results.

Moss was the Superintendent for four tumultuous years, before resigning in 1990.  During his tenure the friction was so great between the Superintendent and the State Board of Education a report was written examining the relationship.  Education Week wrote this about the report:

Mr. Moss is “strong, outspoken, decisive, abrasive, egocentric, and a results-based manager,” the report said.

“He is not afraid to be a lightning rod,” the study continued, adding that Mr. Moss “gets at desired ends by taking things apart.”

“‘Jim is a kamikaze, who shakes things up,”‘ the report quoted an unnamed educator. “‘He doesn’t have the surgeon’s selectivity.”‘

In its public report, the consulting group noted that it had considerably more to say about Mr. Moss, but had elected to put its additional observations in an appendix.

But board members, who have had stormy relations with the superintendent during his three years in office, apparently decided that the extra comments about him were a tad spicy for public consumption.  

So the board has kept the appendix confidential, turning down requests from the press and a legislative committee even for a summary.  (Education Week)

The question then becomes, even if he had a ‘stormy relationship’ with the Board, did Moss work well with the Legislature?  Namely did he secure education more funding?  It does not appear to be the case.  In fact, while he was Superintendent 20,000 teachers walked out of their classrooms to boycott the Legislature providing no new money to education despite a budget surplus (Source).

None of this is to say that Lockhart will be Moss.  The State Board will need to judge each candidate on their own unique merits (as Lockhart herself has said).

But it is important to note that a Legislator vying to be State Superintendent is nothing new, nothing novel, nothing we haven’t done before.

The State Board knows this, or at least they should; current Board Member Jefferson Moss is James Moss’ son.

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