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Proposal To Change Makeup Of State School Board Stalls

Austen Diamond for KUER

A push to revamp the governance of the Utah State Board of Education is on hold after a lengthy legislative hearing left the bill’s sponsor second guessing her own proposal.

The pair of bills sponsored by Rep. Melissa Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, would have shrunk the State School Board to a nine-member panel appointed by the governor with approval from state Senate beginning in 2021. Currently, the 15-member board is elected by voters.


Ballard argued that because board members are not well-known, they are virtually unaccountable to the public.


The board currently “is essentially acting as a fourth branch of government that has virtually no accountability to either the legislative or the executive branches of government, as they allocate dollars, make rules and set policy,” Ballard said.


Accompanying her bill was a resolution that would have ultimately left the decision up to Utah voters.


The proposal received mixed feedback from lawmakers from both parties as well as the public. After nearly 90 minutes of testimony, Ballard volunteered to pause the bill and proposed creating a task force to study the issue further.


Former School Board member Spencer Stokes was one of a handful who spoke in favor of the measure.


Stokes said he won his election to the board in 2014 with only one billboard and 100 yard signs. But after his victory “no one knew me,” he said.


“You may know who your State School Board member is, but literally no one (in the general public) knew who I was,” said Stokes, who represented much of Weber County.


But Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, voiced concerns that a single elected official would pick the entire school board, while Rep. Christine Watkins, R-Price, worried that the interests of rural school districts would not be given an equal seat at the table.


The Utah Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, also opposed the bill.


Changing the makeup of the school board has been a conservative pet issue for some time, but even some self-described conservatives voiced skepticism over the proposal.


“I don’t know how you’re going to hold the governor accountable,” said Dorothy Bradford, a Taylorsville resident. “I still want people to vote for who they want.”


She added: “Gov. Herbert is a lot more liberal than I would like him to be, so I would be concerned about him choosing those school board members.”

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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