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Resolution to eliminate State School Board passes Utah Senate

SALT LAKE CITY — Voters could decide the future of the Utah State Board of Education as an independent legislative body.

The Utah Senate voted 22-6 on Monday to approve a resolution seeking an amendment of the Utah Constitution that would eliminate the State School Board.

Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote of each legislative house and then must be approved by a majority of voters.

"We are letting the people of Utah decide. It’s that simple,” said SJR16 sponsor Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake.

Under the resolution, the State School Board would be eliminated and its powers vested in a governor-appointed state superintendent. Once it was amended to push back the effective date of the constitutional amendment to 2020, the resolution passed by the required margin.

Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Millcreek, said the resolution had moved through the legislative process so quickly that she hadn't had time to fully contemplate its implications.

“I feel like I’m not sure that I have a full enough discussion to do this,” Iwamoto said.

Sen. Dan Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said Monday was the first time he had given SJR16 serious consideration because he had questioned whether the proposal had "legs."

Both voted "no."

Dabakis said change is needed because the governance model of public education in Utah does not work.

Utahns would be better served by creating a system where the education is treated as an executive branch agency, making the governor responsible and accountable for the state's public education system, he said.

Presently, Utahns elect members of the State School Board. Each member of the 15-person board represents about 200,000 people, although board member Spencer Stokes, who supports SJR16, has said most Utahns likely could not name their board member.

But they all know who the governor is, Dabakis said.

Late last week, the State School Board voted to oppose the legislation.

Carol Barlow-Lear, who is newly elected to the state board but worked more than 35 years representing the board as an agency attorney, said voters likely could not correctly identify other elected officials either, something Iwamoto also noted while addressing the Senate.

The elected State School Board sets educational standards, licenses school teachers, handles teacher discipline, protects school trust assets and oversees special education and among other duties.