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Bill stands to put politics into school districts

Frank Fisher, of the Record staff

Should political parties have clout on district school boards? That is the question the Utah Legislature is confronting with Senate Bill 194, scheduled to receive its second reading in the Senate.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Curtis Bramble, R- Dist.16, would make State and all local school board elections across the state partisan.

"I’m bewildered why you would want to take the focus from what’s the best decision for kids and put the focus into partisan politics, said Kim Campbell, President of the Utah Education Association (UEA). "This is a bad, bad idea." Campbell said that a partisan board would take away a lot of board members leeway and a lot of their judgment."

Sen. Bramble was not available for comment.

The Park City School district has five members who were elected with no mention of political affiliation.

"School boards should be focused on kids and education," said Park City board member Vern Christensen." "To make it anything else besides that is a mistake. To inject party politics into that is a mistake.

Proponents of the bill believe partisan school board elections would provide fair representation of students.

One fear among detractors of the bill is that Utah, predominately a Republican state, could exercise a state-wide agenda without the balance. Also a concern is that some voters could vote along party lines. "There are those who want more power, if this bill passes, there is basically a one-party system in Utah," said Steven Peterson, the associate director of the Utah School Boards Association. "School boards are working hard to support all the people in their district and those are the ones who elect the officials. We don’t want to end up with school boards beholden to the same kind of politics that brought this bill about."

Christensen was not sure if he would have run for the four-year-school board term, had it been partisan. "The partisan process is a different process," Christensen said.

"You have to make sure you have support. The people who asked me to run are on all sides of partisan politics."

Park City School District acting superintendent Tom Van Gorder voiced his views on the bill. "I personally don’t think it’s necessary. The downside of a partisan school board is that any elected officials are presumed to be under the control of any particular party. Board members should not be beholden to a party philosophy or a political process."

Should the bill pass the Senate, it still has a long way to go, as it must then be approved by the House of Representatives, then signed into Law by the governor.


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