Election season is finally over, but what does that mean for the (now mostly digital) population of West High? The first public office positions that should come to mind for our students are those regarding public education, and the elected members of the Utah State School Board best represent education’s role in the public sector; but one would be justified in asking what these elected public servants actually do for everyday students. There are fifteen members of the Utah State School Board, all of whom are elected by specific, geographic areas in Utah and for terms of four years. This “non-partisan body” is responsible for “general control and supervision over the public education system in Utah,” according to the Utah State Board of Education website. In terms of money, the State Board is responsible for, along with complying with state and federal law in administrative standards, “the distribution of over $4 billion dollars to charter and district schools.” It is safe to say that this board proctors over a great deal of what happens in Utah’s public schools, so who does West High have as a representative for its specific needs? The answer is District 7’s (this district comprises the entirety of Salt Lake City and areas of South Salt Lake) Carol Barlow Lear (D), an incumbent board member who faced no legitimate contention for her seat in the general election; the reason being for her uncontested election is that District 7 is historically more urban than the rest of Utah and leans heavily toward the Democratic party.
Carol Barlow Lear was born and raised in Salt Lake City, where she would eventually attend law school at the University of Utah. Before she had obtained her law degree, Lear had already worked five years as a teacher at Kearns High School and had two sons. She worked for the Utah State Board of Education for twenty five years as a School Law Specialist and Director, when she retired in 2014 to go into private law practice. She was first elected as a member of the State Board in 2016.
Because of the pandemic and Lears increasingly busy schedule as the Board scrambles to fund COVID-related expenses, we were not able to get a face-to-face interview with her, but her office did provide some answers over email regarding some of our most pressing questions. As the chief, elected representative for all of West High School in terms of education funding, Lear is unique among board members in that she is simultaneously serving on the State Board while being engaged in private practice for the law firm Lear and Lear, which represents school districts and charter schools. Though her private practice may introduce issues of conflicts of interest, when the Red and Black emailed her about her private practice she said, “If my clients’ interests are directly implicated in anh Board discussions or decisions, I recuse myself. I provide legal and policy advice to Lear and Lear.
The biggest issue that we brought up to Lear’s office was how the State Board was responding to West High School’s, as well as the district’s, most dire needs in the face of the COVID pandemic, including ample access to technology, internet, as well as providing food and shelter to families who rely on the public school system for partial caregiving. She told us that the State Legislature has provided a “particularly large fiscal budget” for the entire state and that she was “working hard to ensure our district’s voice is being acknowledged and placated in every financial way.” She did not provide specific examples of how the Board was working to intelligently and appropriately fund unforeseen expenses caused by the pandemic.
Ultimately, Carol Barlow Lear will serve another four years on our State Board and will make very crucial decisions in how schools like West High are funded and in which ways they are limited at a financial level; however, the most important people to West High School’s past and future success have always been our students, faculty, and administration, and while these may not be electable positions, they are the real life positions that characterize our school as a pillar of diversity, both in persons and ideas, academic and athletic excellence, and most importantly a secure place to learn and grow. These people are the ones who will decide whether West High School will continue to be a pillar of these values, or let a pandemic run us into the ground; let’s just wait and see whether Lear will be a foe or an ally as we combat the COVID crisis and what it means for public education.