Michigan Democrats sweep State Board of Education election

In a year in which the education debate has been dominated by Republican culture war attacks — from LGBTQ inclusivity to teaching critical race theory — Democrats have swept the races contested Tuesday in a varsity and K-12 race slate in Michigan.

Democrats Pamela Pugh and Mitchell Robinson won two contested seats on the State Board of Education, which sets educational standards for Michigan schools. Their victories maintained a Democratic majority on the board and denied overtures to Republican candidates who argued the schools were indoctrinating students into communist, Marxist, and “perverted” ideologies.

Pugh, an incumbent, won just over 25% of the statewide vote, while Robinson got just over 24%.

Democrats also won the two contested seats on each of the boards of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University, according to unofficial results from the 83 counties.

Republican activists and parent groups had framed the state’s education debate this election year on “parental rights,” seeking to rid public schools of so-called “woke” ideology about race, gender, and gender. history and other subjects, while saying they were frustrated with schools that they felt were not transparent about lesson plans and diversity initiatives.

Certainly, a number of candidates for parental rights won positions on local school boards on Tuesday. But on board openings subject to statewide votes, they were excluded.

The eight-member State Board of Education (SBE) serves staggered eight-year terms. The board is currently tilting 5-2 in favor of the Democrats, with two Democratic seats being those to be elected this year. (There is also a vacancy pending following the departure of another Democratic member this summer. Governor Gretchen Whitmer is expected to fill that opening, presumably with a Democrat.)

Michigan also elects the boards of its three largest universities through statewide voting. MSU’s board of trustees is under intense scrutiny after years of criticism and infighting over the university’s failure to improve sexual misconduct policies and protections.

Here’s who won each of the races.

State Board of Education

Pugh and Robinson won their races on Tuesday against Republicans Tamara Carlone and Linda Lee Tarver. Robinson passed Carlone for the second seat by less than a percentage point.

Pugh, from Saginaw, is the current vice chair of the board and previously worked in public health roles. She is a co-founder of Regeneration, LLC, a “catalyst for economic sustainability and healthy urban communities,” according to her biography on the Board of Education website.

Robinson, from East Lansing, defined himself as a “career educator” with more than 40 years of experience. He is currently an Associate Professor of Music Education at Michigan State University.

Current SBE chairwoman Casandra Ulbrich, also a Democrat, has chosen not to run again.

Republicans Carlone and Tarver had strongly criticized the public education system, accusing schools of liberal “indoctrination” and keeping parents out of education decisions.

State Superintendent Michael Rice, who is hired by the council, recently came under fire for teacher training videos. A video showed an instructor suggesting that there might be circumstances in which a teacher might not let parents know how their children identify at school about their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Rice defended the videos, saying schools want to partner with parents, but there may be instances where revealing a student’s gender identity or sexual orientation to a parent without that parent’s consent. student could endanger the safety of a student.

Michigan State University Board of Trustees

Three of Michigan’s 15 public universities have universally elected boards of trustees.

At Michigan State University, starter Renee Knake Jefferson won with newcomer Dennis Denno. Jefferson won 24.9% of the vote while Denno received 24.4% of the vote. The two Democrats edged Republicans Mike Balow (24.2%) and Travis Menge (23.2%).

The board currently has five Democrats and three Republicans. That will grow to six Democrats and two Republicans once Denno replaces Trustee Melanie Foster in early 2023.

Michigan State University interim president Teresa Woodruff assumed her new role last Friday. She replaced Samuel Stanley Jr., who resigned after citing his lack of trust in the MSU board of directors, which seemed to share the same sentiment about Stanley, with several members questioning whether he had honored safeguards. scholars relating to sexual misconduct.

University of Michigan Board of Trustees

Democratic incumbents Michael Behm and Kathy White each won another term. White received 25.2% of the vote while Behm received 24.6%.

They beat Republicans Lena Epstein (23.9%) and Sevag Vartanian (22.3%).

Their re-election means the Democrats’ current 6-2 board advantage will not change.

Santa Ono, the new president of the university, started in mid-October. He has already announced the creation of a new office of ethics and compliance in response to UM’s wavering response to years of sexual assault and misconduct by faculty and staff. He told Bridge Michigan that he is listening to faculty, students, state leaders and members of the community at large to see what the future of the university should look like.

Wayne State University Board of Governors

Incumbent Democrat Marilyn Kelly and newcomer Danielle Atkinson received about 24.9% of the vote on Tuesday, with Kelly winning slightly more votes.

Atkinson will replace Democrat Dana Alicia Thompson, who has decided not to run. Democrats will retain a 6-2 majority.

The current president of Wayne State University, Mr. Roy Wilson, has announced that he will be stepping down next summer. The board is in the process of finding a new chair.

Isabel Lohman is a reporter for Bridge Michigan. You can reach her at ilohman@bridgemi.com.

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