State School Board Candidate Stopped in Her Tracks

Editor’s note: The following is a lightly-edited transcription of an interview with Kimberlie Kehrer, former state school board candidate whose candidacy was terminated by an arbitrary process before she could appeal to voters. Click here to learn more about this process.

Libertas Institute: What led you to declare your candidacy for the state school board?

Kimberlie Kehrer: I had just resigned from being president of Wasatch Home Educators Network, an online group created to connect families that were looking for educational opportunities and resources for their children. The group had grown so large since I began that we needed to create a board. Families were leaving the public education system in droves and I had been involved with many of them finding solutions for their children. The parents of these children were educated and tired of a failing system.

Parents for Choice in Education sent out an email asking if I would participate in the school board elections for my area. I started listening to the online meetings for the Utah State Office of Education and reading various articles about their work. It appeared that the state office was interested in improving the state’s education standards, and I was all for improving these standards because through my experience I had seen how the system had been dumbed down.

I was initially hesitant to become a candidate because I was homeschooling one of my children at the time. I asked friends utilizing the various educational systems (public, private, or homeschool) what they thought and if they felt I would be able to represent them. I reviewed their opinions, reflected on my availability, responsibilities, current involvement, costs, and sacrifices needed to inform my large district. After serious consideration of what it would involve, I decided to do it. On March 15th, 2012, I went to the Provo county clerk’s office and declared my candidacy.

LI: Did you feel qualified as a candidate given your professional and personal background?

KK: I felt that I could offer insight from a variety of experiences.

  • As a public school teacher of 3-5th grade Spanish Immersion teacher  and 5th grade Science Specialist in the Alpine School District trained in the STEM fields.
  • As PTA teacher rep at my school.
  • As a shelter parent providing temporary foster care through the Division of Family Services.
  • As first treasurer of the Christmas Box House, to help raise the funds to build the first children’s shelter in Salt Lake.
  • Bilingual having served and worked with Spanish speaking as a teacher, mentor, Relief Society president of a spanish branch, and serving those in the community struggling.
  • As a mother who was told that homeschooling was the only option for my bright daughter since there was no available GATE programs where we lived.
  • As a teacher to students in the homeschool network teaching elementary sciences of Anatomy, Chemistry, Biology, and American Literature along with a program called Knight Writers (focusing on reading and writing skills for boys).
  • As a consultant both in California and Utah helping various venues create and  provide classes based upon the state standards.
  • As a parent teacher volunteer teaching children reading in the classroom.
  • Former president of WHEN who had watched it grow from an active 40 families to currently over 1200 families in 2013 that were seeking educational opportunities for their children.
  • As a parent volunteer at my children school creating the 7/8th grade accelerated learning/college prep program at Merit to prepare kids to enter the UCAS or associates programs.
  • As a parent with an excellent record with my own children as I focused upon meeting their needs and developing their personal skills sets.
  • A proactive parent of two children who successfully utilized the UCAS program.

Needless to say, I felt qualified and wanted to see if voters in my district would agree.

I had seen many sides of the educational arena, had created and provided solutions to help children succeed, and was hoping my expertise, my ability to research, and time availability would help represent many parents both inside and outside the system. I had no conflict of interest for I had no business for which to make money. There wasn’t anything the board could offer me as a benefit but I knew that I could contribute my time to help the Utah State Office of Education succeed without anything in return.

I knew that looking at the experience of others who were on the board and what was required, I could relate to them as equals and speak eye to eye. Because I tend to be OCD doing my research in finding resources and solutions, I knew that I would need time available to do my homework and communicate with those in my district. I knew communication wouldn’t be a problem for me.  I was ready to find solutions, using ideas from my past experiences on what could be improved. I had a track record with my children’s successes. And I was ready to make my case to voters and see if they agreed.

LI: Once you declared your candidacy, what happened?

KK: Current law stipulates that a nominating and recruiting committee, composed of 12 members appointed by the Governor, is responsible for vetting the candidates who have filed to run in the state school board elections. This group has determined a process to screen candidates based on information we candidates submit.

I received an email from Lorraine Austin, secretary to the state school board, notifying me of an appointment to meet with the committee on the morning of April 16, 2012, from 8:39-8:49. I thought that ten minutes was a short time to prove myself worthy of their consideration to be included on the ballot.

When it was my turn, a timer was set and the ten minutes began. I was asked to tell the committee about myself, and then was questioned on various topics. I understand each member of the committee was allowed to write down three names, and the three candidates receiving the most votes were sent to the governor for his consideration. Through this vetting process I was fortunate to be included as one of the three candidates to advance to the Governor with 7 out of 12 votes. There were five candidates in my district for the 2012 election, so two of them were no longer candidates after this decision.

LI: Do you think it fair that voters weren’t allowed to decide their electoral fate?

KK: No, I don’t think it was fair that voters were unable to choose who they wanted. I think that to fairly represent the voters on the state board, the voters should have been able to select someone who would represent them. Instead, an unelected panel chose who represented the people of the district—not the people of the district themselves. My district, like all school districts in Utah, is huge and covers a lot of people. It would have been best for the people to decide.

LI: After you passed the screening committee, what happened?

KK: I was given the opportunity to have an audience with another vetting committee. I thought I would be meeting with the Governor himself but learned that I would be going through another group of people. In this interview, it was very apparent they had already made up their minds before I had even entered. I was asked about the state standards and I reaffirmed that I wanted to raise the bar for children throughout the state. The reason I was involved with homeschooling in the first place was due to the fact the school system was unable to meet my children’s academic needs. The standards were getting lower and lower. While in public school my children were seen as brighter than the rest, when in fact they were just taught classic academic standards. I wanted all children to have access to those standards and success.

During this second interview process, I noticed the gentleman sitting on the far right who I was told would be “friendly” and open minded about our decision to homeschool. He just sat back and looked down most of the time. Two people on the committee did most of the speaking: Lt. Governor Bell and a woman on my right, I believe it was Christine Kearl, the Governor’s Education Advisor. It felt like they were pampering me and trying to console me by giving me accolades and praising me as a proactive mother. The Lt. Governor kept telling me I was over qualified and wouldn’t relate to those who are the 90+ percent of the Utah population who are at poverty level and prefer to drop their kids off at the school doorstep and not worry about what they were learning.

Bell also said they were very concerned about the Ogden area and “getting things in control” there.  I tried to convey my volunteer work with the poor and experience working as a citizen to improve their situations and how to motivate children to learn both here in Utah and California. When I walked out, I already knew their verdict. The tone, the comments, the feeling in the room was clear: I would be the eliminated candidate in this round. On June 21 I received the email declining my opportunity to allow the voters to decide whether or not I would represent them. They chose the two male candidates in my district, both of them lawyers.

Because of this process, the voters in my district never saw my name on their ballots nor were given the opportunity to consider and judge my views and ideas.

LI: Do you feel that your views on Common Core played a factor in this process? If so, how?

KK: I wondered if the committee’s decision against me was because I had been (respectfully) asking questions through email, prior to my interview, trying to understand why certain decisions had been made. My intent was to understand—especially if I was to be working with these people. Through my research determining whether or not I wanted to be a candidate, I had run across several concerning things and I wanted to investigate and come to my own conclusions.

I thought it would be in my best interest as a candidate to read through the contracts and listen to the meetings regarding them. One in particular was the SBAC contract I had found. I had been told that the standards were state-led and that the federal government had nothing to do with the new state standards. This was concerning. I had emailed some concerns but never heard anything back.

LI: Two legislators are each running bills this next year to repeal this screening process and allow voters to determine who should be elected to the state school board. Why do you think this is important?

KK: I feel that if the public would have been given the opportunity to review my qualifications and ideas, I may have had a good chance at winning the election. The voters, and not an appointed committee, should be able to decide who they want to represent them.

LI: Finally, if you were given two minutes to share a message on this subject with the entire Utah legislature, what would you say?

KK: In a representative form of government, we shouldn’t suppress the actual representation. The current process to narrow down the voter’s options of state school board candidates does not allow people to decide who should represent them. Imagine having somebody determine who we could vote for in other elections, such as the legislature or even for Governor. We wouldn’t stand for that, so we shouldn’t stand for this.