Salt Lake City school board president steps down

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Salt Lake City Board of Education listens to parents speak at Bryant Middle School on Jan. 13, 2020.

The president of the Salt Lake City school board has abruptly stepped down from her leadership position — pointing to persistent infighting among members and growing dysfunction as the reason behind her resignation.

“I feel that our board is fractured,” Tiffany Sandberg said in an email Wednesday, “and try as I might, I do not have the glue that can bring us back together.”

Her decision comes shortly after Salt Lake City School District’s superintendent, Lexi Cunningham, also resigned late last month. That was an earlier sign of divisiveness among the board.

Member Michael Nemelka disclosed at the time that Cunningham was forced out after four other members voted to fire her and the district’s business administrator, Janet Roberts, who has worked there for nearly 30 years. He said both were “targeted,” but Cunningham more so. At one point, Nemelka said, some board members had asked her to fire 16 principals districtwide and she declined to do so.

On that list was Ford White, formerly the principal at West High.

The day after Cunningham resigned, the board voted to fire White. He had been on leave and under investigation since November when he drove students home after finding them drinking on school grounds. According to district policy, he was supposed to call the police.

Sandberg had long supported both Cunningham and White.

“I feel that the majority of the board wants to take the district in a different direction than I am able to lead them in,” she said in her letter resigning as president.

She formally sent in her notice last week. And the board elected new leadership at its meeting Tuesday night, picking Melissa Ford as its president and Nate Salazar as its vice president. Neither Ford nor Salazar immediately returned calls for comment.

Sandberg, who was first elected in 2012, will remain on the board as a member until her term expires in December. She said: “I want to be able to enjoy the last 10 months of my tenure without the additional burden of serving as the leader of this board.”

The money she has remaining in her campaign account, she said, will be donated to the Heather Bennett Memorial Scholarship Fund. Sandberg had served on the school board with Bennett up until she died in March 2019 after an unexpected vascular issue. Bennett had been treated for pancreatic cancer for several months before that.

Moving forward without Sandberg as president, the board will be tasked with finding replacements for Cunningham and Roberts. It also faces deep challenges with enrollment. Districtwide, the board faces a shrinking student body and has been forced to close schools in response.

Additionally, there was threat of a strike last summer after teachers walked out of a district board meeting while requesting higher pay. While the district and the teacher union ultimately came to an agreement, the confrontation is likely to see a repeat during negotiations this year.