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?