Republican Oak Norton sponsored the resolution, which was passed by GOP state delegates at the Utah Republican Convention on Saturday, April 26. Norton is the executive director of Agency Based Education, and the resolution urges legislators to reintroduce legislation to establish partisan school board elections at both the state and local levels..
Park City School District Board of Education President Maurice "Moe" Hickey said he believes changing the process for electing school board members to include political parties will prove detrimental.
"My philosophical opposition is that bringing political parties into school board elections is bringing politics into education, where I don't think it belongs," he said. "School board members should be chosen to represent all members of the educational community. We're not writing legislation, we're focused on education as are state school board members and it's just not meant to be a political position."
He added that bringing politics into school board elections might cause candidates to fall victim to "straight-line ticketing," voters simply checking off Democrats or Republicans all the way down the ballot. Hickey used his election years as an example as he has had to run for his seat on the school board during presidential election years.
If someone running for school board had to add their Republican political affiliation to the ballot during a heavily Democratic year, or vice versa, they may suffer a loss from the effects of straight-line ticketing.
Opposition to the current election process is not all leaning towards partisan elections. Rep. Jim Nielson (R-Bountiful) sponsored H.B. 223 Utah State Board of Education Elections and Reporting Amendments- along with Sen. Stuart C. Reid (R-Ogden). The bill requires direct, nonpartisan elections and passed in the House but not in the Senate.
Their opposition to the current caucus process is not that political party affiliation should be included in school board elections but that Gov. Gary R. Herbert and the Recruitment and Nominating Committee should not vet and choose state level candidates. They believe state school board candidates should be chosen and elected by the people that will be voting for them.
"The optimal system would be to have nonpartisan primary and general elections for the state school board offices, coupled with giving the governor constitutional authority to approve the appointment of the superintendent over Public Education with Senate confirmation," Sen. Reid said.
While he believes the governor should not pick candidates, he said he believes the governor should play a greater role in the governance of education.
His co-sponsor, Rep. Nielson, backed the bill because he believes the current system of choosing state school board candidates goes against the spirit of the constitution, "which calls for school board members to be elected."
"I had a friend run for a spot on the Utah State School Board about four years ago, and she didn't even know she was on the ballot until about six weeks before Election Day," he said. "I don't know how anyone can run an effective campaign with so little time to prepare."
He added that partisan school board elections at the state level could raise questions about partisanship at the local level. It could lead to questions about whether partisanship should be considered in the hiring of local superintendents and teachers if a line is not drawn, he said.
H.B. 228, Utah State Board of Education Elections and Reporting Amendments, was sponsored by Rep. Brian M. Greene (R-Pleasant Grove) and called for partisan elections. The bill failed to pass in the House or the Senate.
While the Republican Party seems to support direct elections, there is a schism between those that want those elections to be partisan and those that want them to remain nonpartisan.
Norton states on the official website for Utahns Against Common Core that the "real issues" are the "federal intrusion that Utah officials have already brought into the state and recognizing the value of parents in their role as delegates vetting candidates." Because of those beliefs, he sponsored the resolution that was passed at the Utah Republican Convention.
The resolution uses the state of Texas as an example, stating, "Whereas, in Texas where school board elections are partisan- when "Common Core" was presented to the states, Texas rejected it and created their own high-quality standards." Hickey said he is glad they are using Texas as an example, because the argument can backfire.
"I mean, let's look at how Texas has fared in educational circles. It is better funded than Utah yet behind us in most categories," he said. "And at the Texas Republican Party Convention last year, they removed the words "critical thinking" from their platform, which to me is much more frightening than being opposed to CORE standards."
Nielson and Reid said they are not running for re-election, so it is up to their successors to revise H.B. 223 if they choose to do so- for the next General Session. Until then, Nielson said he advises his fellow Republicans to proceed with the idea of partisan elections with caution, warning them the voters they will bring out in partisan school board elections could cost them their current seats in the House and the Senate.
"I told my Conservative colleagues, 'Be careful what you wish for,'" he said. "There are always unintended consequences when big changes come."