Your Help is Needed to Change State School Board Clections So They Are Non-Partisan

Kim BurninghamAlthough the elections for State School Board were non-partisan in the most recent election, state law has been devised so that all future elections of the State School Board will be partisan!

Karl Maeser, the first State superintendent of Schools in the LDS Church Educational System is sometimes cited as the “spiritual architect of BYU.”  (“Karl G. Maeser and BYU,” L. Tom Perry Special Collections, BYU History, 2016)  Maeser was adamant in his opposition to a partisan school board.  He said:
“Politics is a curse in educational matters….If, unfortunately, a partisan feeling should prevail in the election of these officers [Superintendent or State Board], they would consider themselves bound to use the influence of their offices in the interest of their party….Subordinate school authorities would follow the example and teachers would be engaged or dismissed, not so much on account of their merits or demerits as in consideration of their party proclivities….[T]he schools would be deprived of the noblest element of vitality and progress….Such interference would cast its blight upon the pupils also…Our schools would become political hotbeds, not only during election times, but all the year round…the filthy stream of party politics would pollute the sanctity of the school room[,]….reach the school and the children, and spoil the work.” (Maeser, Karl G., School & Fireside, 1898, pp. 73-75.)
A 2016 Legislative “Compromise” will make State School Board elections partisan forever
For several sessions, the legislature has been deadlocked.   Generally speaking, the House of Representatives favored non-partisan elections for State School Board members; the Senate favored a partisan process.  The Courts have ruled the process which has existed during the past decade was unconstitutional.  Action was needed.
In the final hours of the 2016 session a compromise was announced with minimum public knowledge and quickly passed.  The “compromise” allowed the elections to be non-partisan in 2016 (they were), but in all years thereafter they would be partisan!To me, this is hardly a compromise.  In the long run, partisan politics won the day.
That partisan decision needs to be changed
The Utah Constitution speaks of the importance of eliminating partisanship from our public schools.  Article X, Section 8 reads:  “No religious or partisan test or qualification shall be required as a condition of employment, admission, or attendance in the state’s education systems.”
Partisan elections means a candidate has to declare themselves to be a Democrat, a Republican, or another party member.  The party will judge that the candidate abide by their adherence to the party by-laws.  State board of education candidates should have their first loyalty to students, not to a party.
Given the decision of the 2016 Legislature, action needs to be taken this year to reverse the Legislature’s unwise, and I believe unconstitutional, decision.   Such action could take several forms.   The most immediate and direct would be for the 2017 session of the Legislature to undo the action they have taken and make State School Board elections non-partisan.  This could be done.   Republican Representative Ray Ward has already announced that he will file a bill to do precisely that.  Perhaps others will pursue a similar course.   Such legislation should be passed.
If that procedure fails, other courses could be pursued in the months that follow, e.g. a public initiative or a court challenge.
The public’s help is needed to make the change: restore non-partisan elections to education
Right now, our attention is focused on the approaching legislative session.  Utahns for Public Schools (which includes the State PTA, local school board and teacher organizations, as well as other education and public leaders) has unanimously agreed that they will approach the session and eagerly support a legislative remedy.   That is the first and important step!
In order to mount a public campaign to accomplish our purpose, your support will be needed.  If you agree, I invite you to get involved:
  • Talk to your neighbors and friends.  Let people know of the need.
  • Especially talk to your legislative representative about your concern.
  • Write letters to the editor and use other public communication avenues to build support for the change.
  • Contribute financially.  Large or small contributions would be valuable.
To use Maeser’s words, lest we “spoil the work” of education, partisan politics needs to be kept as far as is possible from our school system.  Please speak up and support the effort.