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EDUCATIONAL-GOVERNANCE STUDY A MUST

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At the end of last winter's session, the Legislature's Education Committee concocted a long list of issues that had surfaced but not been resolved, pinpointing them for interim study.

As the interim has dwindled away, it has become apparent that the list was too long and the time too short to even come close to getting all of the issues onto interim agendas.One item that shouldn't get short shrift, however, is a thorough study of educational governance in Utah. The committee has taken a few steps in that direction, repeating its desire to do such a study, but there are only a couple of months left if it is to be considered seriously.

Meanwhile, there has been plenty to fuel a resolve to look closely at how education in the state is functioning and to consider possible alternatives.

The recently released perception study commissioned by the State Board of Education points up a number of weaknesses that are diluting the effectiveness of efforts at the state level.

The board says it will move quickly to resolve those weaknesses, but whether it can create effective change remains to be seen.

The study revealed wounds that would seem to require major surgery, not Band--Aids. And in this instance, it is the physicians who are being asked to effect the therapy to cure their own ills.

Several legislators say they are interested in supporting measures that would change the way state board members are selected. At least one bill has been prefiled for the 1990 session.

The hurdle that makes change no simple matter is Utah's constitutional requirement for an elected board. To shift to any other configuration, including an appointed board, would require a vote by the people - and potentially a long delay in making any changes.

The most frequently raised proposals call for a board that is appointed or for a process that would provide for screening potential board members at the starting of the election pipeline. Board members are now self-selected.

A proposal sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Brigham City, last session would have created nominating commissions that would name candidates who then would have to stand for election. Rep. Richard J. Bradford, R-Sandy, has a similar bill pre-filed for this session. His version would mix appointed and elected board members.

Legislators anxious for change don't want to go through the time-consuming process of a ballot to change the Constitution. It isn't impossible, however. In the past, Utah has had periods when an appointed board was responsible for educational governance at the state level.

Any study of governance should not overlook the role of the governor in education. Gov. Norm Bangerter, like governors all over the country, seems to be seeking a larger role. Education's a hot issue that is getting top priority politically, and in Utah, it's the program that sops up more than half the budget.

Bangerter and his education aide, Colleen Colton, have become highly visible in education issues. The governor has announced his intent to try to move education in particular directions. He has his own advisory committee and his office has instigated a number of education conferences and seminars.

That he is not getting his advice directly from the state board of education or using the board directly as a vehicle to promulgate his educational ideas indicates a less than ideal relationship. Even though the board and the governor apparently are on the same wave length in their concepts of educational restructuring, they aren't combining their strengths and influence as effectively as they could to get the job done.

If governance is restructured, some thought should be given to closing that gap.

The danger of politicizing the state board of education through the process of appointment is one problem, to be sure. But that factor should be weighed against the present problems before it is set aside.