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County races for school board causing a stir

Amid the pre-general election political furor, a few typically low-profile school board races have created a stir.

Some incumbents are battling to regain ground lost in the primary election. And a Utah County state school board member who a nominating committee barred from the ballot has mounted an aggressive write-in campaign.

Still, some candidates say voters should pay more attention to school races. The boards handle more than half of people's property tax dollars — and about a third of the state budget — and call the shots for some 820 schools enrolling nearly 500,000 children.

"It's difficult to get people to pay attention to a state school board race," said State Board of Education candidate David Adamic of Cedar Hills, Utah County. "They should. . . . Most of their money is spent at the local school levels."

State school board District 12 incumbent Mike Anderson, who won the 2000 election by a 2-1 margin, found himself cut from the ballot before he had a chance to run.

A nominating committee, a hurdle Utah law requires only for state school board hopefuls, decided not to forward Anderson's name to the governor, who chooses candidates for the ballot.

The nominating committee's actions were decried by Gov. Olene Walker and education groups, who long feared the new committee would favor business interests more than education. The committee for the first time this year balanced school and business sectors — sides that butted heads when some employers alleged high school graduates couldn't do math or write well.

Meanwhile, Anderson has mounted a $9,500 write-in campaign that includes door-to-door visits and an electronic freeway sign.

"I'm hoping to make a statement, and I hope it's heard. I feel strongly I have a good shot at this," said Anderson, who touts his issue stands and business background as strengths. "I do not support vouchers or (tuition tax) credits, because I do not support anything that takes away from education."

Opponent Mark Cluff, however, warms to tax credits for private school tuition.

"I think we need to look at them and do a test case," Cluff said. "I'm definitely for competition to see if it will help improve our schools."

Cluff, a software company co-founder, believes his financial background and desire to work with lawmakers on better pay for teachers make him the man for the job. He's spent about $7,300 campaigning, according to state financial disclosures.

Still, Adamic, John Hancock Charter School co-founder, says his insider's view makes him most capable of mending fences between the board and Legislature and innovatively improving education.

"I'm the candidate who has a real shot at changing education for the better," said Adamic, who has spent about $1,000 on his campaign.

In Granite School District, 20-year incumbent Lynn Davidson is campaigning "harder than ever" against challenger Carole Cannon, newly retired principal of Granite's Oakridge Elementary who edged him in the primary election by about 200 votes. Davidson says he has spent about $7,000 on signs and three separate mailers.

"I'm a strong, experienced leader and in this tough time . . . I think it takes a strong leader to get the best use of the dollar . . . make sure we are fiscally responsible and frugal in what we decide to do with our physical facilities, (and) make sure every dollar possible (goes to) classroom instruction," Davidson said, noting Granite's certified tax rate has dropped from Utah's highest to 18th in his tenure.

But challenger and former principal Cannon believes it's time for a change on the board. She wants to shrink class size and bring back recently cut arts programs to help students learn core subjects.

"I think we've got to get the Legislature to fund more money," said Cannon, who is getting her message out in a mailer and pitching lawn signs, which she says has cost her about $3,100. "We've got to cut some place to get class size down, because we're also losing good teachers because of class size and pressure put on them with testing."

In Tooele, Board of Education candidates Julia Holt and Gary W. Steadman, separated by three votes in the primary, are battling for votes.

Both have bought newspaper ads, gone door-to-door and distributed campaign literature: in Holt's case, rulers stating she's "for the kids."

"I'm trained as a teacher, I have seven kids in the schools, I'm there all the time, and I know what's going on," said single-term incumbent Holt, who says she has spent about $1,000 on campaigning. "If you look at the district four years ago compared to today, there isn't an area where it hasn't improved."

But challenger Steadman, who won the primary, believes too much money is spent on administration and not enough on instruction.

"I have some concerns about the way we spend money," said Steadman, who has retired from an aerospace engineering job and a family recreation business. "I'm also concerned about student behavior and . . . safety of children getting to and from school."

Steadman estimates spending about $500 on campaign activities.