(Note: In this post, Burningham speaks in his own behalf. The point of view expressed in this blog does not necessarily represent any organization of which he is or has been a part.)
To my way of thinking, the issue is all about power! Those who desire partisan elections of school boards (state and/or local) want politicians to have the power. Those seeking a governor appointed state board want the Governor to have the power. Those who want school board elections to remain non-partisan elections believe the power is best reserved to the people!
I clearly favor the latter. Citizens, without partisan control, should select school board members.
Because a recent court decision has wisely declared our current, highly manipulated state school board selection system unconstitutional, it must be replaced.
The issue demands our attention this week. Proposals of all sorts are circulating in the Utah State Legislature.
Should school board members be selected through partisan elections? NO.
On Wednesday, February 18, the Senate passed a bill to make school boards partisan! (Soon, the bill will be considered by the House.)
The day before (February 17) a poll published by Utah Policy and conducted by Dan Jones and Associates revealed only 27% of Utahns favor partisan election of school board candidates, while 56% favored non-partisan elections.
Amazingly, in a day when evidence of political abuse of power is rampant and when the public obviously disagrees, some want more power in the hands of political hacks. But then I should not be startled; the desire of some politicians to obtain and wield power ruthlessly is the lamentable story of much of our civilization.
The Constitution of the State of Utah clearly warns about such abuse. Article X, section 8 is titled “No religious or partisan tests in schools.” The text reads,
“No religious or partisan test or qualification shall be required as a condition of employment, admission, or attendance in the state’s education system.”
Some may argue school board members are not employees. It is true, their salaries are meager, but they are salaries and therefore the school board members are employees. To argue otherwise is a linguistic contortion. Those who desire partisan election of school board members will need to battle the constitution. If the partisan legislation passes, I foresee another court battle down the road!
Especially in a State like Utah where one political party is so dominant, the procedure only makes sense to those who desire to amass power in their corner.
If Utah were to turn to partisan elections of school board members, employees of one of the largest employers in the State—the Federal Government—could not become candidates. Unaffiliated voters would be forced to declare a party affiliation in order to run.
Public schools ARE for all students, and those who lead those schools should not represent only one point of view. They should be selected by all citizens!
Should the Governor have the power to appoint State School Board members? NO.
Another bill being considered in the Legislature would remove the provision that the people elect members of the State School Board. SB195, sponsored by Sen. Ann Milner would make the 2016 state board elections partisan, and if her constitutional amendment (SJR 5) passes, all further selections appointed by the governor, confirmed by the Senate.
Although I understand Senator Milner’s intent and am somewhat sympathetic, the system seems little different than the existing system where the Governor appoints a committee, and then the committee selects the nominees.
Clearly a bill which would take the power to choose the school boards out of the hands of the public is unconstitutional.
Article X, Section 3. [State Board of Education):
“The general control and supervision of the public education system shall be vested in a State Board of Education. The membership of the board shall be established and elected as provided by statute.”
In the Jones poll, only 12 percent of the public favored the option of an appointed board.
Milner acknowledges her legislation requires a constitutional amendment. But I am especially troubled by the strategy being employed. It would be one thing to let the public vote and choose between non-partisan, partisan, and appointed. However, the approach which the Senator seems to be using eliminates the non-partisan before the public gets to vote. I find this strategic manipulation offensive.
Should the people through non-partisan elections decide their school board members. YES.
Karl G. Maeser, noted Utah educator, was adamant:
“Politics are a curse in educational affairs, even if they contaminate only a member of some board of education, some superintendent, or some teacher. In all cases there is danger that the contagion will finally reach the school and the children, and spoil the work.” (School & Fireside, 1898, pp. 73-75.)
Besides the partisan bills cited above, other bills being considered would maintain non-partisan elections. (HB 342 and 186 are samples.)
I strongly urge our reasonable legislators to keep school boards non-partisan and allow them to be directly elected by the people. School Boards need to be accountable. To whom? To the people. Let the people choose them.
A petition is being circulated seeking signatures of people who support non-partisan elections. I encourage you to put the following link into your browser. It will take you to a facebook page site where you can follow a second link to sign that petition:
On this subject, my Mormon heritage is certainly a contributing value: I still believe “it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.” (Mosiah 29:26)