Facebook Twitter

MOST SAY VOTERS SHOULD PICK BOARD OF EDUCATION

SHARE MOST SAY VOTERS SHOULD PICK BOARD OF EDUCATION

The Utah State Board of Education should remain an elected body, rather than having members appointed to the position, says a significant majority of Utahns surveyed in the latest Deseret News/KSL-TV poll.

The strong support for an elected board was not swayed by information that a recent study was critical of the board or by the knowledge that the Legislature has considered several proposals in the past to change the way board members are selected.An even 50 percent of those surveyed told pollster Dan Jones & Associates the board definitely should be elected, while 20 percent said it should probably be elected. Only 8 percent definitely would prefer an appointed board, and 10 percent said the board probably should be appointed.

However, even with the strong support for an elected board, 29 percent of the respondents said the board definitely or probably should be abolished, creating a slight contradiction. Twenty percent said they did not have an opinion on whether the board should be abolished. Only 22 percent said the board should be kept as it is, and 26 percent said it probably should be kept as it is - a total of 48 percent.

Ruth Hardy Funk, board chairwoman, said the response indicates that most Utahns support the constitutional process. "We represent the people specifically. Nothing can take the place of that," she said.

Only people who are totally committed to serving education are attracted to running for the office, Funk said. The diversity of the board's membership "creates a microcosm of Utah society."

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Brigham City, who has led efforts to eliminate the elected board in favor of a board selected by local committees and endorsed by the governor, disagrees.

The nine state board members represent districts that have so many people in them or are so large geographically that they do not have close ties to their constituency, he said.

"My board member lives in Beaver," he said. His representative, Neola Brown, serves a geographic area that covers roughly half the state.

Because there is no screening process for candidates, there is no assurance that those elected will be the most capable of leading education in the state, Bishop said.

"In general, election is the most favorable way to choose state officials, but the state board is so far removed from its constituency that election becomes meaningless," said Bishop. Few Utahns even know who their board representative is, he added.

"Local boards should make educational decisions. A state board, if we have to have one, should be advisory and exist only for the expertise it can share with local boards," Bishop said.

The Shift in Focus document approved a year ago by the board proposes to make the state board a "servant leader" in the educational process, Funk said.

"The Shift in Focus totally turns the hourglass upside down. Now determination of needs must come from the districts. The state board must become a resource to the districts, which is where change can and must take place in today's society."

The state board commissioned a study this past summer that concluded the board has several weaknesses, including poor relationships with local educators, its own superintendent and other education stakeholders. The board is addressing the criticisms and has vowed to alleviate perceived problems.

The board remains vulnerable and controversial, however. Several legislative proposals to challenge the present method of seating state board members are already in the works for the 1990 legislative session. A change from an elected board would require a change in the state's constitution, which could not be accomplished without voter support.

Most states have appointed boards. Utah is one of only 11 states that have elected boards.

*****

(Poll)

Do you think the State Board of Education should be elected, as it is now, or appointed by the governor, as is the Board of Regents?

Definitely elected 50%

Probably elected 20%

Probably appointed 10%

Definitely appointed 8%

Other 2%

Don't know 10%

Should the state board be abolished with the Legislature and individual district boards overseeing public schools?

Definitely abolish 15%

Probably abolish 14%

Probably kept as is 26%

Definitely kept as is 22%

Other 2%

Don't know 20%

Sample size: 604; margin of error plus or minus 4%