Monday, June 2, 2008

School Board Election Process Fails Us! (Big Surprise)

The votes are in and the stink is DEFINITELY out! Today was voting day for the State School Board Nominating Committee. The process is a sham, and, as it turns out was passed as part of an omnibus bill in 2002! I'll talk more about omnibus bills in a future post, but first let's talk about how this process set forth in HB 152 failed us again, as we figured it would.

If I could link to the Paul Rolly story that he wrote on April 14th, I would. Since I can't, allow me to quote him. He said:

"Some clever manipulations are going on behind the scenes by legislative leaders not willing to give up the voucher fight. They are aided by a distracted governor too busy earning his stripes in John McCain's presidential campaign to pay much attention to the goings-on in Utah.

The committee four years ago eliminated popular school board incumbent Michael Anderson, so the voters didn't even have a say in re-electing him. There are several incumbents up for re-election this year. If they don't get past the committee, then you'll know. There is something foul brewing in the palace."

Well, something's foul all right. Of five incumbents, two (Bill Colbert and Board Chair Richard Sadler) were eliminated outright, and one more, Teresa Theurer slid through by one vote. Yes, you read that correctly. The committee fired the Chair of the State School Board, before his constituents--or even the governor--had a chance to look at him! This is a person who not only won election from his constituents, but was also chosen by his peers to be the person most capable of chairing the Board. And he was ousted by businessmen who don't even live in his district!

So how did it happen? It was a somewhat complicated process.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Nominating Committee set some ground rules. Each member of the committee would vote for their top three candidates in each district. They would award their top choice with 3 points, their second choice with 2 and their last choice with 1. The three candidates with the most points would be forwarded on to the Governor, who would narrow it down to two for the ballot. Since the committee is required to submit three names in each district, each committee member was required to vote for three candidates. After a closed door discussion of the candidates, the meeting was opened back up, and the voting began. You can review the raw data here. (Thanks to Barry Newbold who made sure the votes were recorded). In the spreadsheet, I've identified the votes of the business representatives and those of the education representatives on the committee.

As you can see, clear lines have been drawn, and our earlier suspicions were correct. I asked if the Nominating Committee had a hidden agenda - they do. I asked if it was possible for the Nominating Committee to only forward the names of their voucher buddies - they did. In nearly every vote you can see how the business members (i.e. anti-public education members) of the committee voted together to get their way. And, as you can see, the vote was stacked.

Here's an interesting note: In District 7, despite the agreed upon rules, two business members didn't even bother to cast their last vote. Who knows how the results might have been affected if the education representatives had done the same thing?

Following the meeting, committee member Jed Steveson coolly remarked, "You win some, you lose some." He's right. When the process is flawed, easily manipulated, with no real community input, you certainly do lose some.

The next question is, where will the governor take it from here?


Anonymous said...

If this is such a voucher conspiracy, then why did Bill Colbert and Lincoln Fillmore lose?

I have to laugh when Rolly refers to a "popular" school board member being kicked off. Popular with whom? Less than 2% of the population can name their state school board member.

Tom said...

You mention that Richard Sadler was removed by business interests not residing in his district. Do any of the members reside in his district? I'm assuming so, but if not, the committee composition violates statue. 20A-14-104 (3)(b)

I think it's also worth pointing out that the statue doesn't require the list forwarded to the governor to have only three names, only that it can't have fewer than three.

UtahTeacher said...

Yes, I was surprised to see Colbert rejected. I don't love his views, but an incumbent should get to stand for re-election. His district was one of the two most crowded though, and 3 other of Sara's likely voucher supporters were in his district. Fillmore got votes in the same district, just 3rd place votes in a block behind the other two business choices. I would guess personality issues had something to do with it.

Whether all of those charter school people are pro-voucher, hate public school teacher attitude, etc. (MANY are not. I get along well with the few charter school teachers I know.), the problem was the obvious voting blocks. I would love to sit in on deliberations, but are they really "deliberating" anything, or just picking people with pre-determined viewpoints. We aren't best served by a hostile pro-voucher, anti-voucher split in everything we do, but I'm not sure what to do about it in the current environment. I get along well with neighbors who are pro-voucher and we have good discussions, but I admittedly have some hard feelings towards leaders who advocated vouchers and would have trouble voting for a pro-voucher candidate if I was on the committee. And deservedly so in terms of I think they are horrible policy.

Hmmmmm. I'm not sure what I think is the best route yet, but we do need to get people talking more and get something more representative than this committee process. 100% of the business community is not pro-voucher. Even Republicans voted against vouchers by a small majority.

Howard said...

Sara, I was just introduced to your blog. I applaud your effort but must suggest that you temper yourself a bit. I served on this committee 2 years ago and was an outspoken critic. It is a no win proposition. In this case, both sides can claim conspiracies. This process does not reflect our American values and I tried as hard as I could to change it. We acheived agreement between Senate and House leadership and the Governor's office to do away with it and rather than trying to invent some new system they decided move it to the same process we use to select legislators and the governor. This was only opposed by one interest group, the education establishment. They like the system so long as they can control the 12 member committee. you will see in the results that even the folks that you consider education friendly did not get votes from all the education oriented committee members. The fact is, some of the incumbents are on the board becuase the system is weak. Perhaps the year they were elected, was a year like two years ago when we had almost no one apply. In interviews some of them performed horribly. There is blame to go around for the fact that this system still exists. Let's work together to change it to something more American.

Howard said...

Also, I think it is very dangerous for you to write off the business community as anti-education. The fact is the business community's interest and concern for education is very high. We are tremendous supporters of education, both financially and in the form of volunteers, especially the banks which I represent.

Tom said...

The proposed change was to make it partisan. (In its initial incarnations, SB 194 also would have made local school boards partisan.) The idea was also tossed around to increase the size of the Board to 29, effectively diminishing its ability to get things done. Those proposing the change were disinclined to consider something as simple as a primary election to narrow the field to two candidates. They also, so far as I'm aware, didn't bother to ask the current Board members what process they would recommend. Although many senators signed on to co-sponsor the bill, it didn't make it out of the senate, and was properly ridiculed in the court of public opinion.

In 2007 the senate also proposed a constitutional amendment to have the Board members appointed by the Gov. It didn't make it out of the senate either.

Sara Brate said...


Thank you for your comments. You mentioned on your blog that due to recent events you've solidified your decision not to seek a second term on the board. Care to elaborate?


I realize that not ALL charter schools are pro voucher and I'm glad you can see the problem with the obvious voting blocks.
I'm as tired as you are with the "us" vs "them" arguments, but the fact of the matter is that it exists. I've chosen to bring it to light, no matter how many people I might offend in the process. Apparently I've really offended Howard. You can choose to talk about the issue with a see-both-sides point of view and I'd respect that, but taking a strong stand is what I'll continue to do. As I said before, I certainly appreciate what you've been writing. Please keep it up!


Just what do you consider dangerous about making comments? Is there something to fear from you, the bankers, or the business community? Or just from the lobbyists? In looking at the votes from the committee, I see that the "block" of votes coming from the business representatives ousted Richard Sadler, voucher opponent and chair of the State Board, by unanimously giving him 0 points, while giving their highest recommendations to Mark Cluff, voucher advocate and the runner-up in the voting for a new chair when Kim Burningham stepped down. The effect, if Cluff is named as the new chair, is to have the chair of the state school board in favor of vouchers. Am I to think that the businessmen (no women) weren't smart enough to know that?

Tom said...

Hm. I don't know that I'm willing to publicly discuss all of my reasons at this time, but the "recent events" which confirmed my choice were my acceptance into an MBA program (and anticipated graduation next April, which will likely lead to me moving from Utah a few months later), and my son's cancer diagnosis this past December.

Sara Brate said...

Well, thank you for your contribution and dedication to the children of Utah as you've served on the Board. I wish you well in your future endeavors. I'm sure that you'll be involved for a long time to come in one way or another.

I looked into your first comments about the committee makeup possibly violating statute and you would be correct, however, at least one person lives in Sadler's district and that would be Cheryl Phipps. I believe the question was brought to the attention of Carol Lear but I'm not sure what became of it. I'm sure in your position you could pursue that if you wished.

You're also correct in that the committee could have forwarded more than three names to the governor. Why didn't they, I wonder? In fact, in one case there was a tie for the third spot and they went through the trouble to break the tie with a second vote. Why not just forward the four names?

UtahTeacher said...

Wow Sara. Your cred from your awesome articles is so high that Howard Headlee registered a new account just to blame the "education establishment" for the problems on the nominating committee. You are having some influence. Keep it up!

I updated my previous school board post with your new information, but it sounds like you are more likely to get more info here. I would love to hear from committee members and other people who observed the meetings.

Howard, your comments are a bit disingenuous. The current school board member commenting above has it right; the politicization of the school board was advanced by legislative leadership looking for lapdogs and anti-education interests. City Councils have solidly democratic primaries and elections that are non-partisan all the time. You are the former vice president of the Utah Taxpayer's Association, a business-only lobbyist group masquerading as public advocates. UTA is constantly lobbying against public education so their rich donors can pay less income tax while the system fails. The president, Howard Stephenson, is a registered lobbyist AND Utah Senate member at the same time, constantly belittles educators publicly and privately, and is one of the driving forces behind vouchers, the omnibus bill, and the notion that bigger classes are OK if you buy expensive software from his donors.

When I say not all business people are pro-voucher/anti-public education, I mean your average community business owner. I had dinner with the head of a large mortgage firm a couple months ago and was pleasantly surprised to learn that he found the use of public money as a private school subsidy as ridiculous as I do. Your organization and most of the leader/lobbyist types came out publicly for vouchers. Some of them may have only done it because the legislative leadership called business lobby leaders to a meeting at the Utah Realtors offices and threatened to cut their access if they didn't donate time and money to the voucher fight, but that is the result of the current symbiotic relationship between legislators and lobbyists.

The reality is that Governor Huntsman was very much on board the voucher movement behind the scenes and in meetings with rightwing delegates until backing away during the referendum. He appointed the business rep's from people he knows. The people that have had face time with the governor are lobbyists. The political appointment of the "business community rep's" means they are actually business lobbyist rep's.

The numbers and voting blocks are abundantly clear. I get the Parent's For Choice updates, and they very open about the time and advocacy they have put into their favored candidates and that they are looking to dominate the state school board. I am very apprehensive about what kinds of proposals they will endorse if successful.

UtahTeacher said...

Plus, Mr. Headlee is or was the president of the charter school, American Leadership Academy. He is an example that lends credence to Sara's assertions about many or some charter school leaders being anti-public ed. I think the hostility comes more from some of the founding boards and leaders rather than most charter school teachers.

Howard said...

The business community is very concerned about public education and we care very much about our children's and future work force's education. Businesses and taxpayers in general are very supportive of education and I am troubled by the hostility from some members of the education community over one issue - vouchers, perhaps dangerous is the wrong word, but it isn't healthy. Many in the business community supported vouchers because they honestly believed it would help public schools. I know that is very hard for some to believe and you have every right to disagree, but it is offensive to question our motives. We thoroughly studied the issues and urged legislative leadership to take action which included historic levels of funding in addition to vouchers. They then met with us to say, we did what you asked now it business' turn to step forward. There were no threats other than to suggest that if we didn't stay true to our convictions our credibility would diminish. Yes, I am the founder and Chairman of American PREPARATORY Academy a public school. I am also the chairman of the nonprofit group that takes fine arts programming into every elementary school in the state (ARTS Inc.) I guess you can call me anti-public ed but its not true.

UtahTeacher said...


I don't know you personally and you may indeed have pure motives. I certainly believe that of some friends and neighbors who were pro-voucher. I personally heard legislators and voucher advocates at meetings, had a personal conversation with my senator, and read various articles and blogs where I felt insulted, lied to, lied about, misrepresented, that the amendment with enacting language ploy and court battle showed a total willingness by the government to ignore the people, etc. I truly hadn't realized the hatred some people had of teachers and felt many (though not all) of their accusations were based upon falsehoods. (Maybe you're feeling the same way...)

I think it is probably fair to say I am a bit defensive about vouchers and skeptical bordering on hostile towards public advocates of HB 148. In my defense, I think it is hard to see your life work criticized hypocritically and I also think there are very good reasons --vouchers, omnibus, referendum requirements changed, public misrepresentations of school district funding by legislators, etc. to believe there are future plans which will damage public education and hurt kids.

But to your point, I agree it is hard to have some education discussions right now with vouchers behind every corner. I'm unsure on how to remedy that. I know there are organizations and people who still fervently advocate vouchers and are absolutely trying to run another law, and they happen to be groups that are highly represented by our extremely conservative state legislature. I know PCE is trying to take over the school board from their own communications. Sutherland proposed a smaller voucher program within days of the Referendum 1 vote. I saw Senate President Valentine's comments about people only voting against vouchers because they didn't understand them which assertion I believe to be the exact opposite of the truth. Just in April, I personally heard both my state senator and state representative say they would vote for vouchers again. So my "paranoia" is fairly justified and I don't believe all those who say "Just let it go and be productive."

I realize as I write this that I feel less suspicious of pro-voucher people whom I personally talk to or read their blogs regularly. You can't constantly BS who you are. (I think...) So my rambling point is Mr. Headlee, I'll work on my "trust issues," I really am glad to see your comments here, I sincerely hope people in the state can see each other's perspectives a little more, and that I hope you keep commenting or blogging yourself to let us get to know you more. (I should write about this for my own blog...though it'll probably be a week or two.)

Howard said...


thank you for you comments. I totally agree. In fact, you hit the nail on the head. The business community tried to distance itself as far as possible from some of the advocates for vouchers because they insist on basing their support of vouchers on the fact that Utah's schools are bad. This has been their message for 15 years and it is no wonder why people who have committed their lives to public ed start out a bit offended. Now, pretty much everyone in public ed associates vouchers with an insult on their job performance. This is wrong and counterproductive. The only relationship between vouchers and quality is the extent to which vouchers would reduce the pressure on our public school system growth/ class sizes/ etc. If a voucher program does not reduce the burden on public schools and result in an increase in spending per pupil for those who remain, it would be a failure in my mind. Many public ed folks could not get past the vouchers as an insult to look at what they might do to help our current situation. I understand that. But the fact of the matter is this. If public ed enrollment had not grown as much as is did this year, the amount of money I would recieve at my school per each student would be higher. But due to the enormous increase in students, the massive/historic funding that was approved these last two years when spread among the amazing number of new kids just doesn't amount to much. Not enought to give my teachers the kind of raise I would like. I know you have heard this argument before and we just don't agree, but it is honestly what I believe. I believe that done correctly, vouchers could have helped our public schools. If I am proven wrong and they can only hurt public schools I would be against them. I am so sorry that most teachers see the voucher discussion as a referendum on their performance. This is just not right.

UtahTeacher said...


I can partially agree with you here. You're right that much of the anti-school rhetoric was offensive, but also off the mark that opposition to vouchers is just an emotional response.

The financials of vouchers, no matter whether you like or hate teachers, or even including the temporary "mitigation" money, are deliberately designed to "defund" public schools as a halfway step to privatization. That is not a conspiracy theory--that is openly admitted fact by national voucher advocates like Joseph Bast. He has been quoted by Stephenson and Dougall in Utah Taxpayers newsletters and Sen. Bramble and several others ae "legislative advisors" for Heartland.

In fact, I think the greatest success of the pro-voucher campaign was their utter redefinition (using UTA's numbers) of student funding with the Eyre's little cookie commercial. That was the whole impetus to why I started blogging. If you take a kid out of my class and send him to private school with even a $500 dollar voucher, the district truly saves a few bucks--that student's paper, unique electricity, etc.-- and still had to pay back the average voucher amount, projected at $2200, to the uniform fund and took an even greater hit once the mitigation money quit being returned. And money dedicated to building Saratoga Springs High School wasn't going to be siphoned out proportionally for each student that left. UTA just plain misrepresented the actual spending and savings as well as huge differences between districts--everything but the total amount of spending statewide. Anyway, I believe a very large portion of voucher supporters believed the Oreo premise that vouchers left money to redistribute and wanted to improve or even shake up a school system they viewed as overly bureaucratic. I can see where they are coming from. But I believe they were deceived about the reality of voucher funding.

You may have heard it all too, but you should click on my name and go back to my first few posts last October and November titled Nuts and Bolts of Voucher Funding. So there are very legitimate reasons to oppose vouchers, and I have issues with people in position to know that. I was so frustrated when Pres. Valentine responded to my question about the "redistribution" of the $7500 that he viewed that position as one of intellectual honesty.

CraigJ said...


Interesting comments.

Not to belabor the point re vouchers but the financial returns just weren't there. Here was my post summarizing the financial argument against the flawed bill:


Howard said...

I only emphasize the emotional aspect of the response because I believe it colored most of the analysis. I have an accounting degree and an MBA in finance. I believe I understand the state budget and individual school budgets (given I run one) as well as just about anyone in the state (save perhaps Larry Newton). Your premise, while accurate when taken in parts (like your discussion of Saratoga Springs High School.) is also overly simplistic. You dramatically understate the benefits while others dramatically overstate them. there is no way to anticipate the specific impacts of vouchers on every school in every part of the state because no one can anticipate the free market, that is why things are phased in and mitigated. I assure you that if it turned out that vouchers were actually "defunding public education," the business community would quickly part ways with the national voucher advocates and get the law repealed. i will simply repeat, the business community supported the proposal because our analysis revealed that it was structured such that it would actually lead to more resources in the public schools and forestall higher taxes. Not only is that the real explanation for our position, it is also the most logical (that's generally how businesses feel about taxes).

CraigJ said...


"The business community supported the proposal because our analysis revealed that it was structured such that it would actually lead to more resources in the public schools and forestall higher taxes."

What analysis? Higher switch rates? Boy I'd love to see what you guys came up with because most of the pro-vouchers mailers were just slamming liberals and ripping on public schools.

The LFA's estimates and my own analysis as I mentioned were not successfully refuted during the campaign.

Administering a charter school budget is not rocket science.


Paul Mero said...

What I find most remarkable (in that pleased that it is happening sort of way) is an actual dialogue on this accountability blog. Throughout the voucher debate this was a closed blog. So, way to go, whoever you are.

Of course, I need to add that what feels disingenuous is the accusation of some "conspiracy" when the word democracy would work just fine.

It's a "conspiracy" when like-minded citizens and public and private organizations team up for vouchers, but only "democracy" when other special interests (i.e. the public school lobbyists and their representative groups) do the exact same thing?

This sort of thinking poses an interesting value system to say the least...and pretty much exhausts the true common good of real champions of the people.

Most people concerned about how school board members are elected can agree the current system is a mess...and I hope we'll also agree that the heart of any truly democratic solution must run through the state legislature...the very people (both men and women, btw) who have primary constitutional authority to govern Utah's public school system.

"Conspiracy" talk makes you sound kooky. But if you must have is another "conspiracy"...way too many Hispanic students struggle to survive in our public school system...the very system created to address those who need the most's had 150 years in Utah to perfect itself in this manner, and yet here we are today with a system that still cannot manage to educate those who need it most. THAT must be a conspiracy of some kind, don't you think???

Why play the conspiracy card? The dialogue is so much better without it.


Howard said...

Nice shot, but I never said it was rocket science. (however getting a building built, outfitted and fully staffed with $0 was pretty amazing) neither is the analysis of the voucher proposal. I'd be happy to get together and run through the numbers with you. But then you'd have to tell me who you are. i'll buy lunch.

Anonymous said...

To Accountability - As someone who served on the nominating committee, I find it offensive that Richard Sadler didn't even care to show up for an interview.

Jeff Alexander tried to reach out to him multiple times and even offered a phone interview and he never responded.

Mark Cluff, the current vice chair told me that Sadler barely has time for his current responsibilities. Showing up is half the battle.

Anonymous said...

To member of the committee:

Richard's perspective is different. You should call him sometime.

Jamie said...

I just have one comment: Public money was once private money. And since my private money is taken from me in part to educate my children, I deserve the right to designate which school gets it: Get it?