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Sutherland Weighs School Board Selection Alternatives

The conservative Sutherland Institute released a report today weighing Utah’s current method for selecting candidates to the state school board against possible alternatives. Some with the think tank say that despite widespread dissatisfaction with the current process, Utah lawmakers have been slow to agree on a new one. 

Ranking the different methods based on simplicity, transparency and accountability to voters Sutherland focused on four systems; the status quo, in which Utah’s governor appoints a committee to recruit and vet potential candidates, a direct partisan election, a direct non-partisan election and a system in which the governor just appoints the state school board himself. 

Derek Monson is Director of Public Policy for Sutherland Institute. He says lawmakers have considered all of these options. But based on the criteria, the current system is the worst.

 “Nobody likes it," Monson says. "Nobody wants it that way, but we don’t change anything. For an average Utahn looking at that, that just screams out that we can’t trust the system to fix things that are problems.”

Those at Sutherland prefer partisan school board races. Monson argues political affiliation provides voters some information about the candidates and makes voters the primary decision-makers. But Monson says his organization is being open-minded on this issue.

“I think there is a lot of room there for a good compromise, a good hybrid solution that solves people’s concerns about the current system, if we can agree on what we’re trying to accomplish," Monson says. 

Absent from the Sutherland report was an evaluation of Utah’s former state school board selection process in which district-level committees recruited and vetted candidates instead of one state-level committee.

Democratic Senator Pat Jones says partisan politics need to be left out of the state school board selection process. She says most voters just want to have as direct an impact on the process as possible.

“Not to have some people screened and then sent to the governor’s office," Jones says. " Not to put a label or political party at the end of someone’s name, but to have real people, who have been in the classroom, who understand education and for voters to learn about those people and do their homework before voting.”

Jones is a member of Utah’s Education Task Force, which was created earlier this year to study future education policies. She says the group, made up of several state lawmakers will likely take up the issue.

The task force is scheduled to meet this Wednesday. 

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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