Yesterday’s hearing on a bill to reform school board elections proved one thing—the system has to change. But whether that means partisan or nonpartisan elections remains to be seen.
Rep Carol Moss, D-Holliday, presented House Bill 264 yesterday to the House Education committee that would change the process for school board elections to direct elections. The current election process requires a nominating committee to select picks that are then vetted by the Governor’s office before being placed on the ballot. Moss’ bill would make the election process consistent with other elections for office in the state. Moss told the committee that increased participation in school board races merits all candidates having a fair shot during the elections. “
The current process takes away the direct voice of the people,” Moss said.
Most committee members were in strong agreement that theer current process was complicated and unfair. What they didn’t agree with the sponsor about was the notion that the elections should be nonpartisan.
“Absent a political infrastructure like a partisan race, how are you confident that a direct election, with a school board district as large as these that a candidate without any resources can wage a battle of ideas?” Asked Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper. “How does this create better candidates?”
Hughes also argued that with caucuses and conventions there is already a system in place that helps move people with passion and ideas to positions of leadership who might not otherwise have resources enough to run a successful campaign. Moss’ take was that candidates, even without party resources are still making appearances at meet-the-candidate nights and other events. She also argued that partisan politics should not be part of school board elections. “With parties come labels, we all know that,” Moss said. “With the current system I hear all the time: ‘Oh he or she is a voucher candidate,’ or a ‘charter-school candidate.’ I think if one of those labels follows a particular party that is unfortunate.”
Moss hoped keeping it nonpartisan would force a special focus on the issues. Rep Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork likewise agreed the process needs to be changed, calling it a “politburo” system. But also disagreed about whether the elections should be partisan. “Education is the most political thing I’ve ever seen,” Sumsion said.
Ultimately the need for reform carried Moss’ bill out of committee with a favorable recommendation, with only one nay vote coming from Rep. Lavar Christensen, R-Draper. Still, it was clear that the issue of partisan or nonpartisan elections would be a point of contention going forward.