Friday, June 6, 2008

What Just Happened?

Maybe I'm psychic. Maybe I'm just a pessimist. Maybe I could see the train coming down the railroad track because, like so many other public school advocates, I was standing on the track when it hit us. Without any interviews, without any time for public input to his office, without meeting with public school advocates, Governor Huntsman just gave voucher supporters their revenge on those who resoundingly turned down vouchers in Utah. I told you so.

Only three days ago, the list of state school board candidates was whittled down to three for each district (and perhaps I shouldn't say whittled because it was a block vote clear cut) and then submitted to Governor Huntsman for further action. Members of the education community requested a visit with the governor to talk to him about the Nominating Committee's decisions and urge him to offer voters a true choice of candidates in each district, but there wasn't time for a meeting. There wasn't time for Huntsman to interview the candidates for himself. There wasn't time for public comment or even a letter to the editor. The only time I've seen government move this quickly was when there was something to hide.

The governor took swift action today and with the stroke of a pen, got rid of more very qualified individuals who would have served our children well. One of them was District 1 incumbent Theresa Theuer, Still another was A. LeGrand Richards, current Chair, Department of Educational Leadership and Foundations at BYU. Both were ranked third by the committee. Could the governor really have simplified it to that extent? In fact, it looks like that's exactly what he did. He just took the top two from each district according to the skewed committee rankings. Well, hell! Why do we need the governor at all? The omnipotent and business heavy committee took care of everything! Way to go committee! Way to go Governor! You just showed how little you really care for the voice of the people and for our public schools.

Download a copy of the press release and the letter to Lt. Governor Herbert and see for yourself. Will people believe me now? I've been blogging about this since early in May. Education members of the committee and newspapers have been warning of this since April. Yet most people would rather just claim that we're conspiracy theorists. Really? How about fortune tellers!?! That would fit the bill, too, wouldn't it?

Voucher pushers were not happy with Governor Huntsman's lukewarm efforts to support them back during Referendum One. But now, in an election year, he will redeem himself by handing over the State School Board, the group that should be the watchdogs for our public schools. Voucher lovers will get their revenge and the Governor will get those lobbyist campaign donations he wants. Everyone wins, right? Yeah, right.


CraigJ said...


Great post - I agree with you 100%. The entire process has been a travesty. I was there the day of the vote and was disgusted by the behavior of Jeff Alexander and the business lobby. I wrote a note that day to the Governor expressing my concern - but true to form I have received no reply.

Much as it pains me :-) I wholeheartedly agree with Howard that this process is broken.

If the Gov. would have taken just 3 minutes away from lobbying for Grandpa McCain and just *looked* at the spreadsheet, two things would have been crystal clear: a) The committee was NOT working together - it was clearly divided along ideological lines, and; b) To be fair to the voters, a business-friendly candidate and an education-friendly candidate should have been placed on the ballot.

So much for *diversity*. Diversity only works if folks can actually deliberate. Instead, this was a Hatfield-McCoy showdown, only that the Hatfields were allowed to bring a couple of extra people to the fight.

And now I have to pick between Ted Heap and Dave Crandall??? Are you kidding me!!!??? A best friend of Howard Headlee and a best friend of Greg Hughes for STATE SCHOOL BOARD? You're telling me that these candidates are better prepared to shape education policy than someone like Ralph Haws? It should have been Bill and Ralph on the ballot, but as we all know Bill has learned the hard way not to actually have a brain of your own and vote against omnibus bills, lest you incur the wrath of Draper/Stepford Legislators.

Can you say railroading!? No need for dimpled chads - the disenfranchisement has already taken place.

It was a shock to see that this flawed process threw away some of the state's most well-prepared individuals. Theresa, for instance, NAILED her interview, not to mention her years of faithful and responsible board leadership...but as expected the business lobby showed her ZERO respect.

But the biggest problem with this Soviet-style "voting" is not that great candidates were shut out. The larger flaw is its ability to be manipulated by one side or the other. Next time it could just as easily be the other "side" that will get screwed. All this does is irritate and rile up the losers (this year - me). I guess the message from the Gov is that we'll all just have to harder next time to game the system the way it was done this year.

We're a representative democracy (a Republic of the people). This process flies in the face of everything we stand for.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone tell me why the "business community" has any input on these nominations? When did they suddenly become education experts?

I agree with Craig that we need experienced educators like Ralph Haws on the board.

Having one or maybe two business people on the board may be of value, but the rest should be educators and PTA volunteers.

Howard said...

Craig - do I know you? Have I offended you? So being my friend disqualifies someone as a candidate in your eyes? Have you met Ted Heap. He speaks three languages, is unbelievably successful, understands governance and oversight, and wants to serve in some capacity. He is passionate about education and is one of the most intellegent and successful people I know, but he is my friend. If that disqualifies him in your eyes there are a whole bunch of people that are disqualified from office, because i have a lot of good friends. I even have several who work with me in public education. Would you disqualify Sheryl Allen and Barry Newbold, I consider them my friends as well.

I guess the problem I have with this whole discussion (aside from the vilification of the business community) is the fact that it now appears that everything related to education will now be framed in terms of voucher. The pro-voucher people and the anti-voucher people. this is ridiculous for at least two reasons: first, people supported the voucher proposal for differenct reasons AND people opposed the voucher proposal for different reasons. to lump both sides into two big homogeneous groups is a big mistake. Second, what do vouchers have to do with the state school board. They cant adopt vouchers or defeat them. their constitutional charge is the supervise and control education. They are a governing board to make sure the state superintendent is running the state office according to the law. the biggest problem I have with the board is that they are mired in the public politics and are asleep when it comes to the nuts and bolts of demanding accountability from the state office. I have been involved in public education now for about 6 years. I have come to really appreciate Patti Harrington, but she is out on an island because the Board is not doing its job. She will never say this, but its true. It starts with the board, and the board is too busy playing politics. I know and respect Kim Burningham, but if he wanted to drive policy, he should have stayed in the Legislature. The School Board needs to start governing. Board meetings should be filled with measurements, reports, expectations and accountability. This would greatly simplify Patti's job and allow her to demand accountability from the staff. Just read the minutes of the Board meetings for the past year. This is not what is happening. Someone has to turn the governance ship around, and I don't think it would have been the incumbents.

There is a real threat, after the voucher debate, that we over-politicize everything. Black and white, friend and foe, painting everything and everyone with a broad brush. When it comes to the state school board, we need to get back to some basic principles of governance. I just don't see why this is an extension of the voucher debate. It surely isn't for those of use working in charter schools.

CraigJ said...


I'll ask Barry and Sheryl sometime about you :-)

The voucher question is of course relevant. The same philosophies that drive you and Ted are the same philosophies that drove the business lobby to vote for Ted in a block (and the same philosophies for them to disrespect highly qualified education-friendly candidates in a block).

This isn't a question of personal offense. It's a question of disagreement arising from our different world views. I truly don't know what your motives are so I'll assume goodwill on your part. However, the way we approach building quality public schools is very different. Ted shares these philosophies. I do not feel that he will represent my interests on the State School Board (hence my disappointment in not having a candidate I can support).

Carolyn knows who I am. It's probably pointless to discuss our differences on this forum.

Congratulations on a successful year at APA and for the new school as well.


Paul Mero said...

There is a real opportunity for diverse opinions to gather and create lasting solutions on this issue of school board election.

But I agree with Howard (yes, I know, it comes as no surprise). If Sara and my friend, Craig, have a beef it is with the UT Constitution that gives authority over ALL public school matters to the State Legislature...the very people who are democratically elected and can get the boot...and yet don't (could it be "the people" are pleased with what they do?).

The division is not pro-voucher and anti-voucher...the division is, and always has been historically, between defenders of the "system" and defenders of actually educating ALL children well (which lends this side to defend parental choice to meet the unique needs of every child).

Most tiring is the defend-the-system-at-all-costs mentality when lots of public school students aren't learning and aren't happy to wake up each morning and go to school. No, I am wrong...the most tiring mentality is the just-give-us-more-money-so-we-can-actually-educate-all-children-well.

There are so many good people who could come together, right now, to strengthen both public schools in their ability to meet the needs of all children AND give parents of these struggling kids some hope that there is light at the end of the educational tunnel.

BUT...we're suffocated by all of the zero-sum politics that always seems to win the day.

If school choice zealots got off of the backs of like-minded, but more temperate, friends...and public school zealots got off the throats of their very best educational thinkers, we'd find a lasting solution to nearly every policy dilemma facing us in UT education (even the Jordan split!!).

I have tried to reach out to some of our common friends...the ones we all create such a dialogue, but the ones who are in the public school system cannot do so for fear that they will be deemed traitors to the cause.

So here is a test for you fine Accountability folks...are people like me and Howard Headlee well-motivated or ill-motivated? If your answer is the former, then there is hope; if your answer is the latter, then there is no hope for real solutions.

Best, PTM

Howard said...


But you spoke so highly of Bill Colbert and he is closer to Greg Hughes than anyone. At least my world view is consistent. You still haven't told me what the relationship between vouchers and the state board is. Will this become a school board issue. The fact is, the school board has been dominated by education types that become completely consumed with this and other policy issues. Do look at the minutes for the last year. Not much governance, just a lot of political reaction. Ted has no agenda on vouchers and it wouldn't matter if he did as the school board has nothing to do with such policy decisions.

By the way, it do sort of take it personally when you disqualify people before you know them just because they are my friends. After you talk to Sheryl and Barry, feel free to talk to any of the fine arts coordinators in any of the school districts. Your personal attack on my friends sweeps pretty broadly and is indicative of just how unproductive this simplistic and sweeping tactic of applying your us vs them voucher standard to every issue.

If you take me up on my lunch offer I am also interested in hearing your world view on building quality schools. I've got a pretty good record on that so far, I wonder what it is you disagree with. Do I sense you are defending the status quo? Should be interesting.

Tom said...

I don't believe Paul's statement ("... the UT Constitution that gives authority over ALL public school matters to the State Legislature") is wholly accurate when he uses it as a club against Howard's comments that the Board's constitutional charge is to supervise and control public education.

Utah's constitution tells us that "The general control and supervision of the public education system shall be vested in a State Board of Education ..." A recent Utah Supreme Court decision called this authority "plenary." In concert with the Board's authority, our legislature is tasked by the same constitution to "[P]rovide for the establishment and maintenance of the state's education systems ..."

To some degree, I think Howard is correct when he asserts the Board can and should be doing more.

Paul Mero said...

Howard is correct, which is why my statement about the primary authority of the State Legislature is correct.

I believe we are both saying the same thing: the legislators make policy; the board implements it.


CraigJ said...


Greetings fellow Amicus poster :-)

The state board is also a policymaking board (through administrative rule). This is natural since they are constitutionally guaranteed "general control and supervision" of our public schools.

The legislature should set the expectations and then get out of the state board's way. This is good governance. Micromanaging the state board through overburdened legislative code is poor governance - it breaks all the rules of ends vs. means.

And since the state board's role is so important, it is in keeping with our representative democracy (a republic of the people) that we have the opportunity to elect these members through a free, fair, and open process. What happened this year was a manipulation that wrested the power away from the voters and gave it to 7 pro-voucher businessmen. As I mentioned before, I find the process offensive and anti-democratic regardless of who "wins." It only makes matters worse that those public education champions I supported were railroaded out.

CraigJ said...


I feel a consistency in my world view - I respect Bill Colbert although I disagreed with him on vouchers. Bill was a staunch supporter of and advocate for the Draper ethics ordinance. He's also worked hard to hold Suncrest developers accountable for their mistakes. His actions have managed to stir up resentment from the business lobby as well as from Greg and Howard.

I would have supported Ralph Haws over Bill and I was fairly clear in stating my preference to Bill on that front. However, he is clear in his preference for state house as I am obviously clear in mine (duh!) :-)

All that said, though, Bill Colbert should have been on the ballot.

I founded a charter school and currently serve on the board of another charter school. I have served on a school community council and will also be the PTA President at my daughter's school this year.

I think where we differ is in the approach - you view your school as being a competitive business in relation to public schools, whereas I see our role as a cooperative one. This fundamental difference is clear amongst the charter school community. I would say the majority of charters (particularly in Utah County) fall in line with your perspective. However, there is a healthy, strong minority that are proud to call themselves public schools. The voucher debate highlighted this difference in perspectives.

One point of concern: when you say "the school board has been dominated by education types" there is an unspoken prejudice here. What exactly are "education types"? I suppose they are those that are not "business types"? Aren't your words a bit of a simplification?

In general, you seem to be indicating that members of the business community are more qualified to govern on the state board than educators. I see things differently. I believe that, when given a choice, members of the public will generally elect those with actual experience in education.

Paul Mero said...


Thanks. I do wonder why we feel compelled to split hairs, except that the clarity allows us to, perhaps, understand one another better. :)

So, let's be clear: rule making is not policy making. Managers make rules; directors make policies.

Maybe a point of difference in perspective is when you write that the State Legislature should just get out of the way of the school board. I have thought that the school board should implement what legislators enact. That the school board fights those laws tells me that it's not only systems that may be corrupt (and I mean "corrupt" in a functional or mechanical way, not morally or ethically), but the functionaries are insubordinate.

But you see these functionaries as the true heroes...defenders of the common good...and the policy makers as subversives of the common good. Which I don't really understand given that these legislators keep getting re-elected time and again. Evidently, the people of Utah don't view them as you do.

Even so, I am putting words in your mouth. Sorry about that.

Best, PTM

Paul Mero said...

And Craig, in an effort for even more clarity, let's assume I am a candidate for the state school board in your home district.

Here are my credentials: I am a published author of educational history (so I have a sense for the purposes of schooling); I am a practitioner of public policy (I have made a good living in the world of politics, laws, and policies); I have an extensive record of public service, community involvement, constructive dialogue, a noted ability to deal constructively with controversial and otherwise tough or complex issues; and I am a teacher (having taught, with my wife, our six children over a 20 year span).

Would you vote for me? And if not, why not?