The Utah governor and legislature could soon have more power over the state’s top education official if a resolution that gained committee approval Wednesday continues to advance.
The Senate Education Committee voted 4-1 in favor of SJR5, which seeks to change the Utah Constitution to require the governor’s approval and the Senate’s consent for the appointment of state superintendents. It would also allow the governor to fire the state superintendent, in consultation with the state school board.
Now, the elected state school board alone has the power to hire and fire the state superintendent. If SJR5 were to pass the full Legislature, a majority of Utah voters would then have to approve it in 2014 to change the state Constitution.
"It essentially puts everybody in check," said bill sponsor Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden. "It brings the three entities involved with public education together centralized in that superintendent who really begins to be person who coordinates among the three entities."
Stan Rasmussen with the Sutherland Institute also expressed support for the measure, saying allowing the governor and Senate approval over the superintendent’s appointment would be "good government" while not undermining the state school’ board’s authority.
Some within the education community, however, voiced opposition, saying it’s not needed and could further politicize education.
"If this change were to be made it creates a greater opportunity for a pollution of politics coming into the system," said Debra Roberts, state school board chairwoman.
She said changes to the Constitution should only be made in cases of obvious need. She also wondered whether lawmakers would be so eager to give the governor power over the superintendent if the governor weren’t politically aligned with them, as is Gov. Gary Herbert.
Deon Turley, with the Utah PTA, also argued against the bill, saying the PTA has agreed on a resolution to keep politics out of education. But Sens. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, and Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, then questioned her on the specifics of how the PTA arrived at that resolution, such as how members were invited to vote, the vote breakdown and who was invited to vote.
SJR5 follows criticism from Stephenson and several other lawmakers over how the state school board conducted the superintendent selection process late last year, though Reid has said his resolution wasn’t spurred by those criticisms.
The resolution now heads to the Senate floor.
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