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Utah school board races attract an unusually high number of candidates

Published March 25, 2014 7:20 am

Education • Eighteen candidates, for example, are running for a seat on the state school board.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

School board races are often overshadowed by bigger contests, but this year at least two school board spots are attracting unusually crowded fields of candidates.

A whopping 18 people have filed to run for the state school board seat being vacated by longtime board member Kim Burningham, of Bountiful.

And five candidates have filed to run for the Salt Lake City School District seat being left open by exiting board member Laurel Young. Her area includes the elementary school that became infamous earlier this year when kids' cafeteria lunches were trashed because their parents were behind on balances.

Burningham, who previously announced he would not seek re-election this year, said maybe the knowledge that he was leaving inspired so much interest in his seat.

The former lawmaker has been a powerful force on the state board for more than 15 years. Under his leadership, the board refused to implement school vouchers early on while courts were still pondering the law.

"Last time I filed, there were six or seven of us, and I thought, 'Oh, that's surely a lot,' " Burningham said. "When I saw 18, I was flabbergasted."

He said he doesn't want to name names yet, but feels the contenders "range from candidates I think are outstanding to ones that concern me a great deal ... There are a number of them who appear to be candidates who just simply want to oppose the Common Core."

In 2010, the state school board adopted new academic standards called the Common Core. Since then, they've become controversial, with some saying they aren't rigorous enough and infringe on local control. State school board members have argued the standards are more rigorous and leave local control intact.

The long list of state school board candidates includes a number of politically influential people, such as Dalane England, of the Utah Eagle Forum, which has vehemently opposed the standards, and Kris Kimball, of the conservative United Women's Forum, who also opposes the standards. Attempts to reach England and Kimball Monday were unsuccessful.

Also listed as a candidate is Mark Bouchard, who recently stepped down as head of Prosperity 2020, a business-led initiative to improve education in Utah. It promotes a widely adopted goal to have 66 percent of Utahns holding postsecondary degrees or certificates by 2020.

Ruland Gill, who serves on the state's Board of Oil Gas and Mining, is also listed.

Very few of the 18 candidates, however, will ultimately go before voters. A committee composed of business and education representatives appointed by the governor will winnow the list to three names, which it will forward to the governor. For each of the seven seats up for election, he will choose two names to appear on the ballot in November. The board has 15 members.

The list of candidates for Young's Salt Lake City School District seat will also likely be narrowed before November, through a primary in June. Three of the district's seven seats are up for election.

Young, who has held her seat for 16 years, said she's also never seen so many candidates file for her position.

Some prominent candidates for that seat include Carol Lear, director of School Law and Legislation at the State Office of Education, and Kevin Conway, a local business owner and parent who became vocal in recent months after his third-grade daughter had her lunch trashed at Uintah Elementary School. She was one of dozens of students who were publicly asked to surrender their meals and were given fruit and milk instead because of parents' late payments, which have since been largely blamed on a new electronic payment system.

The incident gained national attention and outrage, putting a spotlight on the board. Since then, the district has apologized, pledged to serve kids only full meals from now on and initiated several investigations.

Young said she decided not to run for re-election before the lunch situation, and she called the interest in her seat "healthy."

She cautioned, however, against candidates possibly running just on the lunch issue.

"There are five candidates, and I would hope the one that comes out and one I can support doesn't have a single-issue agenda, because the work is much broader than just a single issue in a single school," Young said.

Conway, reached Monday, said he's not a single-issue candidate, though the lunch incident opened his eyes to broader issues within the district.

"I think what that lunch fiasco actually did was shine some light on the school board and the inner workings of it," Conway said. "After I attended a few school board meetings, I was pretty sold on the idea that the school board could be a better place for the people of the district." —

Find your candidates

To see a full list of candidates for the state school board go to ttp://tinyurl.com/lcpxgtl.

To see a full list of candidates for the Salt Lake City School Board and other Salt Lake County school district boards go to https://secure.slco.org/clerk/elections/candidatereport.html.

Check county government sites for boards outside Salt Lake County.