Legislature tries again to resolve school board election process

Stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – A bill proposed in the Utah Legislature to make the office of the Utah State Board of Education nonpartisan is part of a years-long battle to find an appropriate way to put state school board candidates on the ballot.

The Utah State Board of Education includes 15 elected voting members who serve staggered 4-year terms.

The “School Board Election Amendments,” designated as HB 151, was introduced in the House Jan. 23 by Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful. Ward is proposing the new law to ensure that from now on, school board elections are nonpartisan.

“My strong preference and philosophical belief is that our schools should not be governed in a partisan fashion, it should be nonpartisan,” he said. “If we don’t do anything, they will turn partisan and stay that way from here on.” 

Legislators have been wrangling with the issue for years. At issue now is an upcoming return to partisan politics, which is slated to begin in the 2018 election year.

“Last year, the Legislature passed a bill that said beginning in the 2018 cycle, state school boards will be a partisan office,” Mark Thomas, director of elections in the Lt. Governor’s Office, said, even though 2016 elections were nonpartisan.

“The bill that’s in the Legislature today is trying to put that back to being nonpartisan,” Thomas said.

“Obviously, it’s a very tricky issue,” Thomas said. “They’ve struggled over it for years and years and years in how to come up with a nomination process for the school board.”

Read more: Legislation to bring temporary fix in selection of State Board of Education candidates signed by governor

2014 decision by U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups found the state’s process up to that point to be unconstitutional.

The process allowed a committee to review candidates for the state school board and then send a list to the governor.

“Then the governor would decide which ones go to the ballot,” Thomas said.

Waddoups’ decision came as a result of a lawsuit challenging the state’s candidate selection process. This lawsuit succeeded where a prior attempt overseen by another judge had been dismissed.

“I think everyone probably recognized that that had issues, but coming up with another system has been under debate for many, many years – on how to better do that,” Thomas said.

The School Board Election Amendments bill also addresses midterm vacancies on the State Board of Education by clarifying language stating the governor will fill any vacancy with the consent of the Senate.

According to a report from the Legislative Research and General Counsel, the bill is not expected to cause any measurable cost to state or local government.

The bill was introduced in the House Rules Committee Jan 23; no further actions had been taken as of Monday.

Read more: See all St. George News reports on Utah Legislature 2017 issues


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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.


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