Saturday, May 31, 2008

Do School Board Candidates have Hidden Agendas?

I told you I'd look into the candidates for school board this year, and I have. This year there are 37 applicants in 6 districts, most of whom filed on the deadline day. So who are these people? Are they knowledgeable about our public school system and the role they hope to play? Do they have hidden agendas or even publicly stated biases against public schools? Will the best candidates be forwarded on to the Governor by the Nominating Committee? Could there really be a subversive attempt to take over the State School Board or am I just being a paranoid loon? We'll soon find out, but here are a few things to consider.

As mentioned in previous posts, there are a record number of candidate filings and if the past is any indication there are certainly some candidates who are being sponsored by groups that don't have the best interests of public education in mind. It's a little difficult to say for sure who these people might be, but we can make a few connections and go from there. The point of this post is to point out that there exists the possibility for foul play, and it's up to the public to continue to be vigilant, demand a fair process and insist that the committee continue to allow the public to attend the meetings.

Consider that there are candidates who have obvious ties to Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) and a public position in favor of vouchers:

  • Dave Thomas is a former legislator who received financial contributions from PCE and publicly supports vouchers.
  • Bill Colbert, incumbent, was supported in his initial effort by PCE and publicly supports vouchers
  • Lincoln Fillmore is the communications director for Parents for Choice and participated in debates glorifying vouchers.
  • Mark Cluff, incumbent, was supported in his initial effort by PCE and publicly supports vouchers
  • Erin Allen Madsen is the wife of Senator Mark Madsen who is another strong PCE and voucher supporter.
  • Kyle Bateman is a trustee for Children First Utah, an organization giving "scholarships" to attend private schools, and closely tied to PCE
  • Jill Rea (this one is a stretch, admittedly) is the sister of Stan Lockhart who is the state chair of the Republican party and a vocal supporter of vouchers.
This list also includes two candidates who have already dropped out but that were pro-voucher and/or PCE connected: Roberta Herzberg and Leah Barker.

Another list we could make would be the candidates who are involved with Charter Schools. I don't want to get into the debate that Charter Schools are public schools, I realize they are and there is much good to be said about them. It's no secret, however, that we do have independent Charter Schools that would prefer to be private, and would jump from charter to private status, so they could charge tuition and avoid public school accountability requirements, should vouchers ever become the law. Again, this is by no means meant to be a witch hunt; it's a search for objectivity as the Nominating Committee moves forward on June 2nd to make a final decision about whom they will promote as worthy for a public vote.

Charter school connected individuals and possible voucher proponents include:
  • Susie Campbell Ashliman, former charter school board member
  • Chris Dallin, Board Chair, Syracuse Arts Academy
  • Dave Crandall, chair of the Board of Summit Academy charter school
  • Ted H. Heap, husband of the founder of American Prep Academy, charter school
  • David J. Adamic, husband of the Charter School board chair and charter school principal.
Here is the full list of candidates by District with those discussed above listed in italics. Furthermore, those who are incumbents are listed in purple text. I believe that at the very least those who have already been elected once by the people deserve to stand for re-election. I've also indicated candidates that have ties to public schools with orange text.

District 1

Susie Campbell Ashliman
Shelly Locke
Lorie Pearce
Teresa L Theurer

District 4

H. Kay Chandler
Chris L. Dallin
Stephen Hunter
Richard W. Sadler
Dave Thomas

District 7

Leslie Brooks Castle
Janice White Clemmer
Carlton A. Getz
Randall A. Mackey
Mark H. Swonson

District 11

Rose W Westover
Bill Colbert
Dave Crandall
Lincoln Fillmore
Ralph J. Haws
Ted H. Heap

District 12

David J. Adamic
Mark Cluff
Erin Allen Madsen
Carol A. Murphy
John Schmeltzer

District 13

Kyle Bateman
Jeremy Blickenstaff
Ammon Cunningham
C. Mark Openshaw
Jill Rea
Alden LeGrand Richards

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

State School Board Already Infiltrated! Will it Happen Again?

On Monday I talked about the responsibilities of state school board members and wondered whether anti-public school activists might want to infiltrate the board. I mentioned at the time that the idea seemed far-fetched but certainly plausible. In response to what I wrote, one reader directed me toward some interesting information on the state elections office website showing that this has already happened! I couldn't believe it, but they are right! Let's take a closer look.

In 2006 current District 3 board member Richard Moss ran for a position on the State School Board. Campaign reports show that he raised and spent $38,850.43. Well, what's the big deal, right? Candidates spend a lot more money than that all the time. Perhaps. But you have to remember that this is a non-partisan race for State School Board in a somewhat rural district, no less. Most candidates spend less than $2,000 (if nothing at all) as was the case with his opponent, incumbent Edward Dalton, who spent a mere $1,468.17!

I checked the amounts reported by current board members (you can trust me or do the research yourself) and the only campaign that surpassed the amounts Moss raised was the 2006 Burningham vs. Barden race in District 5. Kim Burningham ended up winning and spent $16,025.37 to do it, but Christopher Barden outdid him by "raising" $62,438.16! I only mention the Burningham/Barden race because of how closely it resembles the Moss/Dalton race. It is the reason I can be so bold as to say that the State School Board has already been infiltrated once! Almost twice!!

Are you ready for this?

When you look at the breakdown of contributions for both Moss and Barden in 2006 you will notice some very large amounts being donated. In fact, they jump right out of the page at you! Twelve thousand here, ten thousand there. All contributions made by none other than our voucher pushers, Parents for Choice in Education! In the case of Richard Moss, almost all of his $38,000+ came from Parents for Choice in Education; $33,974.02, to be exact! Now that's what I call infiltration!

PCE tried even harder to influence the Barden campaign but luckily we had people who supported Burningham. They knew his record and reputation and believed that he was the right man for the job; they knew he wasn't a puppet for political schemes and attempts to undermine the goals of public education. We weren't as lucky with District 3 and Richard Moss in 2006. PCE got the best board member money could buy.

Will the same thing happen in 2008? You better believe voucher advocates like PCE will be throwing the same kind of money into the upcoming races. I guarantee that we'll be witness to the most expensive School Board race in history in 2008. Or, maybe they won't have to spend a dime this time around. After all, if they can get the State School Board Nominating Committee to forward to the governor only the names of their voucher buddies, they can relax from now until November. Voters will go to the polls not realizing that they are the real pawns in this game. That's why concerned organizations are showing such interest NOW, when money isn't a factor.

Can you see why I'm harping on this? Thanks to our readers we're able to shed some light on the issue. Keep it coming!

Monday, May 26, 2008

State School Board Elections? Who Cares!

With all of the to do about the meetings of the State School Board Nominating Committee being kept open to the public, I got to wondering why anyone would even WANT to serve on the State Board and what the responsibilities would be anyway. I'm probably not alone in my ignorance of what the Board of Education does and why we should care who is elected. With a bit of research, I found out that the State Board of Education Members do make many important decisions and their duties and responsibilities are contained within the Utah Constitution. Wading through so much code can be a daunting task. If you don't care to duplicate my efforts, simply read on. If you have something to add, please feel free to comment.

The State Board of Education approves charter schools and sets policies and rules on class size and teacher licenses. They decide the CORE, UBSCT and graduation requirements. They award grants and scholarships to teachers and students. They appoint the state superintendent who administers all the programs assigned to the State Board of Education. They also verify audits and provide assistance to districts and schools.

With so many areas of responsibility it's easy to see how anyone opposed to any public school system or just disenfranchised with ours, could undermine it from within by getting himself/herself elected to the State Board of Education. I know it sounds like some conspiracy theory, but let's not forget the length and expense that voucher supporters went to in trying to get their private school tuition paid for by taxpayers. Five and a half million dollars of effort. In light of that expensive and unsuccessful attempt, why not try to take over the same State School Board that refused to implement the flawed law before the referendum? It's not so far fetched when I put it into that frame of reference. If a majority of the State Board members supported vouchers, they could make it look like the idea came from within the very system they were trying to dismantle.

This might be why Utahns for Public Schools (UTPS) and others would have such consternation over possible closed meetings and/or flawed processes for nominating candidates. After all, the public doesn't get to have a vote until Governor Huntsman puts two names on the ballot from each of the State School Board Districts. If the committee sends only the names of voucher supporters to his office, none of us has much choice, do we? In fact, they could retaliate against the current board by not putting the names of incumbents on the list at all!

Are you concerned? I think you should be. If so, attend the meeting of the State Board Nominating Committee on June 2nd, where they will be making their selection of "suitable candidates" for which we can eventually vote. It will be held at the Jordan School District Offices on 300 East and 9400 South from 10:00-2:00. It should be open to the public, but who knows?

I'll get to work now on compiling some information on the people who applied so you can decide for yourself if there are candidates that you think will do a good job of supporting our public schools. As always, if you have any other information that others would benefit from reading, please share.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

What is the Process for Selecting State School Board Members?

A group of citizens recently arrived at the Governor's office expecting to watch the interview process for state school board candidates, only to be told that they would not be allowed to observe. They were surprised, as this meeting fell under the open meetings statute. It was only after reporters presented committee chair, and former Republican legislator, Jeff Alexander, with a copy of the statute that the meeting was indeed opened. Reading this, I realized that I know little about the State Board of Education and/or the way they come to serve. So I did a little research and found out that there is a very interesting story to be told. And this might be a good time to tell it since there are no less than 37 candidates vying for the seats this year - a record number!

Here's what I found:

The State Board of Education consists of 15 elected officials and the process for selecting them has changed over the last decade.

  • Prior to 1992 the Board consisted of 9 non-partisan members. They were selected by non-partisan election from 9 School Board Districts.
  • In 1992 the number of Board Members increased to 15 to represent each of the 15 School Board Districts.
  • In 1994 the committee method was implemented, but there were 15 of them, one in each Board District. The committees were made up of 7 local members with interests representing the local school board, a public school administrator, a school teacher, the PTA, and 3 members representing the public and economic interests at large. The local committees submitted 3-5 names to the Governor who selected 2 names to be on the ballot. This method insured that local committee members selected local candidates whom they knew and, despite a little complaining that the committees were hurriedly organized and somewhat informal, the process worked well.
  • In 2002 the law was changed to only one state-wide committee, and in 2004 it was changed again to include procedures for winnowing the field when there were more than three candidates filing for office -- the committee was to narrow the number to three. The state-wide committee is chosen from within the Governor's office and the makeup is designated by law.

    "One member shall be appointed to represent each of the following business and industry sections: manufacturing and mining; transportation and public utilities; service, trade, and information technology; finance, insurance, and real estate; construction; and agriculture; and one member shall be appointed to represent each of the following education sectors: teachers; school administrators; parents, local school board members; charter schools; and higher education."

This particular composition (half the committee from the education community and half from the business community) was designed to produce a diverse group of nominees. The law indicates that the nominating committee "shall select a broad variety of candidates who possess outstanding professional qualification relating to the powers and duties of the State Board of Education..."

Has the process worked? Well, there has been some controversy.

  • In 2004 the Governor's education deputy, Darrel White, put the committee together. Some observers felt the 2004 committee had intentionally excluded pro-Education candidates such as Mossi White (former national president of the National School Board Associations) and Michael Anderson (an incumbent). In 2006 the appointment of the state-wide committee was late ( why?) but since no more than three candidates filed in any area, committee action was not required.

That brings us to 2008. Who will be making the decisions this time? It consists of the following 12 members who I'll be taking a closer look at in a future post:

  • Jeff Alexander, chair
  • Bill Shaw
  • James Olsen
  • Jim Bringhurst
  • Taz Biesinger
  • Todd Bingham
  • Jed Stevenson
  • Michael Kennedy
  • Barry Newbold
  • Sarah Meier
  • Cheryl Phipps
  • Kim Campbell

This group of appointees will narrow the field to three per district. The governor will then eliminate one more name, leaving the final fourteen candidates--two from each of the seven districts up for election this year. That's when the people will have a chance to vote.

Is there potential for manipulation of the process this year? That's a good question. The committee has already met at least three times. The first time was behind closed doors. The second meeting was only opened to the public after the committee chair was presented with a copy of the law requiring an open process.

52-4-205 (2) A public body may not interview a person applying to fill an
elected position in a closed meeting.

After requesting an opinion from Legislative Research, Chair Jeff Alexander relented, allowing the public and media to attend that meeting and the following one.

All of that makes me wonder... Why was the meeting going to be closed in the first place? What did they not want us to see? Do members of the committee have a hidden agenda?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

What can we do now?

This blog was originally set up with the following description:

A clear-eyed examination of a ballot referendum asking Utahns whether they will approve or disapprove implementation of the first statewide voucher system in America.
As you can see, my mantra has changed. Now that the voucher push has been defeated (for now) we need to carry the momentum forward. Unfortunately, as Desultory Thoughts has pointed out, the momentum seems to be all but gone. Nearly all of us stopped blogging once the vouchers were dead, but the fight shouldn't be.

I'm committed to continue this discussion. This blog is not a one-trick pony and I'll prove it by making you think and exercise your mind in matters of education and politics. Consider that there are things going on now that you may not have realized and it's hindering the education of our children. I'm here to say that it's not ok with me and it shouldn't be ok with you. Come back soon and I'll give your brain a workout.

Edit: Even though I've shifted gears I'm keeping the voucher posts so other states can learn from our (Utah's) experience. If you came here for that it is still available by searching the archives. Every post dated 2007 deals with Referendum One that was placed on the ballot in 2007 here in Utah.