In an effort to assist people in their arguments in favor of partisan school board elections for Utah boards, this page contains a list of resources which will help explain what this is and why it is necessary.
Partisan school board elections means the political parties vet their own candidates to find the best qualified individual for an office, using the excellent Utah caucus system where local neighborhoods elect delegates to represent them and ask tough questions to find out the positions of the candidates. Those party candidates then go on the ballot as the best candidate a party has to offer up against competing party candidates. The immediate primary benefit is to eliminate special interest money because instead of a well-funded candidate marketing to the masses through signs and media messages, delegates attend multiple meetings where they can ask probing questions about a candidates’ background, vision, experience, reasons for running, etc… Some candidates who aren’t well known can rise to the top here because money is not nearly as big a factor as in a primary or general election. Delegates make an informed decision and commit themselves to hours of research work whereas even the voting public typically doesn’t even know who their school board member is.
The reason this resolution came up is because it is difficult to overcome the power of the single education party which runs their candidates under the radar by endorsing through their network individuals for office, whereas there is no competing party to challenge them. The education establishment welcomes federal control of education as you’ll see in primary source documents below. They have embraced Common Core and shut out all candidates from serving on the state school board who oppose Common Core. The only organizations large enough to challenge the status quo are the political parties. Some fear that that means someone will walk into a booth and blindly check the box for all [insert your political party] and not consider others running for that position. This will certainly happen, but at least they will know that the candidates should have a philosophical alignment with them and not see a couple names presented that they have no clue who those people are and what they stand for and then randomly vote in an effort to “do their civic duty.”
Here are resources which I encourage you to read and share with others.
Why is the system broken? How are state board members elected?
State board members aren’t really elected. They are selected by a committee of the Governor’s appointees and they reduce the field down to 3 candidates by asking for responses on 5-6 questions and then a 10 minute interview. Then the Governor reviews those 3 candidates and crosses off the name of one more individual, and the 2 remaining candidates go on the ballot. Contrast this to the hours of vetting that happens with our caucus/delegate system which allows candidates to explain their views and principles in depth to locally elected representatives, and make the case as to why they are the best candidate.
Does the education establishment have power to influence elections? Yes
http://www.utahsrepublic.org/more-reasons-for-partisan-school-board-elections/ (Nicole Toomey Davis’ story of how she made it onto the ballot unsupported by any political party, while her opponent had tremendous support from the education establishment “party”. Nicole was defeated.)
Were people eliminated from the state board race due to opposing Common Core? Yes
http://libertasutah.org/interview/state-school-board-candidate-stopped-in-her-tracks/ (This is Kim Kehrer’s story. The candidate “selection” committee asked candidates for their views on Common Core. Kim was eliminated after expressing concerns based on her own research. The entire state school board is pro-Common Core and vetted to ensure that view. The governor is going to head the NGA (National Governor’s Association) next year and the NGA and CCSSO (Council of Chief State School Officers) created Common Core so he certainly doesn’t want to be the state that rocks the boat on Common Core at this point.
Does the Utah education establishment welcome federal control? Yes
Utah submitted a signed Memorandum of Understanding was in 2009 by then Governor Huntsman and State Superintendent Patti Harrington, to begin the process of participating in Common Core and contains an entire paragraph they had to acknowledge titled “Federal Role” in education. This is completely unconstitutional but they signed this document in violation of their oaths of office to uphold the U.S. and Utah Constitutions. Read the document here:
Why partisan school board elections at the district level?
Because Utah’s school districts are so massive, the public cannot know the details about who is running. There is tremendous apathy about these incredibly important elections. Partisan elections let hundreds of delegates get involved and vet these candidates. Utah is called the best managed state because we let delegates vet most candidates. We should use the same process and get the best managed education system as well. This post contains over a dozen reasons for partisan elections and also shows the tremendous confusion non-partisan candidates can cause the voting public through their campaigning efforts.
I heard that the legislature rejected Rep. Brian Greene’s Partisan school board election bill. Why?
The education establishment rallied their forces and sent a letter to all their members asking them to oppose this bill which would disrupt the status quo (which involves their welcoming of federal control (see above)). This post contains the letter from Utah School Boards Association Associate Directory Patti Harrington which went out statewide to influence this vote. The second link contains a letter from two senior officials at the Utah State Office of Education (Diana Suddreth and Syd Dickson) sent out statewide decrying this bill that said, “This bill essentially gives more power to parents over curriculum standards, would prohibit us from adopting any national standards.” Who wants local control again?
Why did you run a resolution for partisan school board elections? What did it say?
Because delegates don’t get donations and political support from special interest groups like the state education establishment. They are truly grassroots and deserved a chance to dig into the issue and make an informed decision. This also contains Patti Harrington’s plea to delegates to not vote for this resolution.
What were the opposing arguments made against this resolution?
Doug Wright, talk show host on KSL, came out against this resolution and invited Patti Harrington from the USBA, and Mark Mickelson the executive director from the UEA onto his show. I have transcribed their arguments on this post along with my rebuttals. We did have some commonality. All three of them acknowledged that the current election system for state board members is broken. :)
You made speeches at the convention that stated certain things as factual. What are the links to those items?
Among the statements are the dramatic increase in education spending without results, based on recent Cato Institute research, Utah’s superior caucus and delegate system, federal grants that five Utah school districts applied to for money bypassing all state protections and opening themselves to direct federal strings/influence, a letter from two state office of education officials to educators around the state lamenting that if Rep. Greene’s partisan school board election bill passed it would give more power to parents and prevent them from adopting national standards, and Utah’s Memorandum of Understanding (noted specifically above) that acknowledged an unconstitutional federal role in Utah education.
Is there really a problem in school districts?
Yes. In Alpine and Nebo school districts there were a number of problems with the elections. The union endorsed a candidate and got the education establishment behind those candidates which caused school employees to violate election laws. Their punishment? Nothing. One principal sent out an email to staff telling them who to vote for. Another teacher told his class to tell their parents to vote for the incumbent John Burton because his challenger would shut down all the school clubs. It was totally false. Another teacher wrote who to vote for in the faculty lounge and sent out an email to the school employees telling them. The principal did nothing. There is no organization that can stand up to the establishment and no good way to get word out to the public about the real positions of candidates. Partisan elections will let a representative group vet the candidates more carefully.
What other reasons are there for partisan school board elections?
Rep. Brian Greene has shared these points:
1) Currently, the NEA, UEA, PTA, etc… control school boards. Non-partisan elections are their best option to continue to be the controlling influence.
2) It’s hypocritical that these organizations allege partisan elections will result in education being managed by political party leadership, but have no problem with their own exclusive control of education.
3) Concerns about political parties controlling education policy are unfounded. Rep. Greene stated that in two sessions in the legislature, he has never had party leadership demand he vote a certain way, or even pressured him to support a particular position. He is not aware of any such pressure being applied to his colleagues.
4) Partisan elections provide a more level playing field where competing interests can be heard.
5) We are currently in an epic battle to save our caucus/convention system and the primary arguments are that the current system neutralizes the control of big money. If we don’t use that system here, the big money of the NEA, UEA, and National PTA, will control our primaries.