Lawmakers Mulling Four Options for Electing School Board Members

Utah House and Senate Republicans are looking at four possible ways for the State School Board members to be chosen.

In an open caucus Thursday the House Republicans heard the four ideas.

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, says by session’s end, because of a judge’s recent ruling, a new election process for the current 15-member State School Board must be adopted.

Here are the four ideas:

— Change the Utah Constitution to have the governor appoint the school board members with confirmation by the state Senate.

— Change state law to have the board members elected by voters on a partisan basis – with candidates running as a Republican, Democrat (or minor party member), and being chosen inside the party rules as they may apply.

— Change state law to have members elected by voters on a nonpartisan basis – the candidates’ names appearing on primary and general election ballots without party affiliation.

— Change the Constitution to have local school board members pick the State Board members within their district boundaries.

Under the first option, explained Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, in the 2016 elections members up that year would run in a partisan election. That’s because to change the Constitution to have a governor-appoint option that amendment would have to be on the November 2016 ballot along with school board members. In 2018 and beyond the governor would appoint members, the Senate confirm or reject them.

The fourth option – having local school board members pick the state board – would also require an interim voter election of some kind, since the constitutional change would also be on the November 2016 ballot.

Still to be decided would be the size of the State School Board. It currently has 15 elected members from districts across the state.

Some would like a smaller board, like nine members.

But, it was noted, that would make one school board district three times the size of a current state Senate district.

And considering that few Utahns could name their State School Board member today – with 15 districts – going to even larger geographic nine district would mean school board candidates would be even more hard pressed to reach out to their voters in what are today relatively low-funded, shoestring campaigns.

GOP House leaders said it’s likely the 63-member House caucus will be closed at some later date to talk about the political ramifications of the four options.