One incumbent could hold seat on Detroit school board

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Just one Detroit Public Schools Community District school board incumbent was among the top vote-getters for seven seats on the reconstituted board.

With 99.9 percent of the votes in early Wednesday morning, LaMar Lemmons was seventh with 3.26 percent of the vote. The top vote-getters were Angelique Peterson-Mayberry, at 4.46 percent; Georgia Lemmons, a certified teacher and LaMar's wife, with 4.15 percent, Iris Taylor, at 3.87 percent; Misha Stallworth, the youngest candidate to run at 27, at 3.65 percent; Sonya Mays, at 3.39 percent, and Deborah Hunter-Harvill, at 3.29 percent.

Coming in at eighth place was another incumbent, Tawanna Simpson, with 3.18 percent, followed by Yolanda Y. Peoples, at 2.84 percent in ninth place.

Four of the top seven, Peterson-Mayberry, Taylor, Hunter-Harville and Stallworth ran on the same “5 for the Future” slate.

There were 63 candidates for seven seats.

If LaMar Lemmons makes the cut, “this would be the first time a husband and wife served on a Detroit schools board at the same time,” he said shortly after 1 a.m.

He did not want to get too excited yet.

“It’s still too early because all the votes have not yet been counted, so I think it would be premature to comment on being in the top seven at this point,” he said.

Incumbent Herman Davis, the former board president who had garnered 1.8 percent of the vote, said he was confident he might still end up in the top seven.

“I know I did all the things I think I needed to do,” Davis said. “I feel I have a good chance of winning because I’ve worked hard in the city all my life and people know and trust me.”

Davis has been on the school board for 16 years; two and a half of those years as president.

The newly elected board will take office in January when the district’s emergency manager is to step down.

The new school board, which has fewer members than the current 11-seat board, will have power over academics and will select a superintendent. Finances still will be watched by the state through a Financial Review Commission.

Despite lawn signs dotting properties across the city, full-color mailings from candidates touting their qualifications, robo-calls and endorsements by media, some voters still found the task daunting.

Mario Morrow, president of Mario Morrow and Associates, a Detroit communications and public relations firm, said it took him more than a week to do his due diligence researching the candidates.

He did not vote for any of the 10 incumbents who are running.

“I knew at least half of the candidates running and I still had to do a lot of research, so I can only imagine that the average Joe did not, because I’m a political gadfly,” said Morrow, whose children — now 21 and 13 — attended Detroit Public Schools before he said “it became a disaster and I pulled them out.”

“I voted for all newcomers because I did not have a high level of respect for current board members, because they didn’t get the job done,” he said.

Retired district teacher Christal Bonner, whose son is a senior at a Detroit public school, said selecting a candidate from such a huge pool was, in fact, quite easy.

“It was very easy because I went with the tried and tested,” Bonner said. I voted for most of the incumbents, as well as Dr. John Telford, who is a former DPS superintendent.”

She complimented the incumbents.

“They are faithful fighters for quality education for every single child,” she said.

This election marks the first time in seven years an elected school board will have power over a district that has been losing millions of dollars and thousands of students for years, and has been under the oversight of four emergency managers since 2009.

Judge Steven Rhodes, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in February 2016, will leave his office in January when the board is sworn in.

The new board becomes part of the new district for which Snyder signed into law a $617 million state aid package in June. At that time, he said it marks “a new day” for families.

The plan will help pay off $467 million in operating debt from DPS and provide $150 million in startup funding for a new debt-free district.

Voters were faced with such a long list of candidates because the legislative process wasn’t completed in time to hold a primary election, according to Snyder’s spokeswoman, Anna Heaton. She said they consulted with the secretary of state in an attempt to hold a primary election but were unable to meet the time frame.

The school board has continued to meet regularly, even though they had no real power.

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