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Rolly: Are anti-education factions gaining control over education?

Published May 16, 2014 3:40 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

It seems like a harmless enough statement, appearing on the State Board of Education's announcement of an opening for state schools superintendant and request for applications.

Under the list of qualifications, it states: "A candidate need not be licensed as a public educator."

After all, that has been state law for years, and the Legislature extended the allowance for non-educator superintendents to the local school districts in 2011.

But this year is the first time the request for applications specifically notes the applicant does not have to be a licensed educator and some in the education community see that subtle sentence as the continuation of a trend.

Ever since Utah voters slapped the Legislature in the face seven years ago by repealing in a ballot referendum the voucher bill passed earlier that year, lawmakers have been whittling away the power and control of the traditional education community that united in opposition to tax-credit vouchers for private school tuition.

The statement on the application request that candidates do not have to be educators seems to be an overt invitation for non-educators to apply for the job. The statement did not appear on the application request in 2012, the last time there was an opening for superintendent.

The fact that the invitation appears in this year's announcement reflects a gradual shift in the philosophical makeup of the school board through a manipulation of how board members are elected.

The voters have little say about who their school board representatives will be in those nonpartisan elections. By the time the two choices appear on the ballot, candidates already had been pared by a 12-member nominating committee that sends three names to the governor, who then narrows the pick to two.

The State School Board took a position opposing the voucher bill in 2007. Since then, six incumbent board members have been rejected by the nominating committee, so voters weren't given the opportunity to re-elect board members they had favored before.

The law governing the school board selection process is specific in the makeup of the selection committee that has the power to decide who voters get to see on the ballot.

It calls for six members from the business community representing agriculture, construction, finance, mining and manufacturing, technology and transportation; and six members from the education community with categories designated as charter schools, higher education, local school boards, parents, school administrators and teachers.

But many business community representatives have been lobbyists wanting to maintain their good graces with the Legislature.

The fact that one of the education members is to come from the charter school perspective could be counterintuitive, as many charter school supporters were voucher advocates and have a history of trying to alter the traditional public school structure.

When school board incumbents have been eliminated by the nominating committee, there has been evidence that members voted in a bloc against the incumbent.

Some incumbents eliminated were the number one choice of most members of the education faction of the committee, but were rejected by bloc voting from the other side.

When longtime and highly respected board member Dennis Morrill did not make the committee's cut in 2010, one of the nominees forwarded to the governor was a school janitor whose application contained several spelling and grammatical errors and who said in an interview with the committee that class sizes could be reduced by thoroughly reviewing the immigration status of the students.