Leaving the selection of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to the elected state Board of Education is an “anachronistic” legacy of the federal government’s suspicions about Utah’s Mormon founders, a state lawmaker said Thursday.
The Senate Education Committee voted Thursday to send SJR12, a step toward giving the governor and the Senate a role in the selection, to the full Senate for a vote. If the full Legislature approves, voters would be asked to amend the Utah Constitution to make the change.
The governor also would get the right to fire a superintendent after consulting with the State Board of Education, under the proposal sponsored by Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden.
When seeking statehood in the late 1800s, Utah agreed to remove education from the purview of the governor because Congress was worried that Mormons would make it a church-driven education system, said. Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.
Most governors, who campaign that they’ll be all about education, are surprised to learn they have no say over picking the top educational leader, Stephenson said.
“We can see that public education has nothing to do with religion,” he said. “It’s time we get past that anachronistic historical phenomenon.”
Reid said giving the governor and Senate a say in picking the superintendent would only help education.
“It really balances out and ties together all those entities that are involved with education and probably will bring better discipline to the process,” Reid said.
He envisions the governor providing “a coordinating effort between the three silos to make sure they’re working efficiently together.”
The Legislature two years ago made similar changes in how the Commissioner of Higher Education and the president of the Utah College of Applied Technology are chosen, Reid said.
Superintendent Martell Menlove, however, noted that the boards for those agencies are not mentioned in the Constitution, as is the State Board of Education.
The state board opposes SJR12, particularly giving the governor the right to fire a superintendent after consulting — but not necessarily securing agreement from — the state board.
“They [board members] view that as a diminishment of their role,” Menlove told the committee.