Utah governor fills vacancy on state Board of Education — his 4th appointment to the elected board in a year

(Photo courtesy of the Utah governor's office) Pictured is Laurieann Thorpe.

The governor has selected a longtime advocate for ending child abuse to fill the latest vacancy on the Utah Board of Education — marking the fourth person he’s appointed in the last year to what is designed to be an elected body.

Laurieann Thorpe, currently the executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Utah, will step into the seat that opened after former member Linda Hansen announced she would retire in early December. If confirmed by the Utah Senate, Thorpe would represent District 3, which covers Granite School District, part of West Valley City and Juab and Tooele counties.

“I am confident she will serve her district well and bring new thoughts and ideas on how to improve education for all Utah students,” Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement announcing the choice Tuesday.

The Board of Education oversees K-12 public schools in the state and has recently seen a record number of resignations. Four members have left since last January. Now, nearly a third of the 15-person body has been appointed by Herbert, who gets to choose the replacement when someone leaves.

In his budget proposal earlier this month, Herbert said that he supports changing state statute — with a constitutional amendment question on the ballot — to make the board entirely appointed by the governor rather than elected. He suggested that when he steps down from office this year, his successor should work toward instituting that model.

Even without that, elections will be significantly different after the Utah Supreme Court ruled that candidates for the state school board can run on party tickets.

Thorpe’s seat will be up for election in November — as will those of the other three appointees that Herbert has appointed this past year.

Before picking Thorpe, Herbert’s selections shifted the gender makeup of the board as he replaced the three women who stepped down with three men: Shawn Newell, Mark Marsh and Michael Haynes. His picks also moved the body more toward the middle, ideologically, after it lost two extremely conservative members.

Thorpe more closely aligns with the member she is filling in for. Hansen was perhaps the strongest advocate on the state board for students with disabilities. And Thorpe previously worked for the state board in an unelected position as a special education specialist.

“I am thrilled to be appointed to serve on the Utah State Board of Education,” she said in a statement. “I care deeply about education and the power it has to transform lives.”

Thorpe, a foster parent, also served as the past president of Foster Families of Utah. The Senate will likely take up her confirmation when the legislative session begins later this month.