Our recommendations for state education boards

The Detroit News
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This election should bring more political balance to the three university boards and State Board of Education. Although they may not get as much attention as other statewide races, the eight-member boards that guide Michigan's top universities and K-12 public schools serve an important role.

Michigan's Constitution calls for these independent boards to oversee the finances and presidents of the major universities. Currently, the boards are weighted heavily toward Democrats — 75 percent of each board. Having a more balanced representation of Republicans and Democrats would better reflect views of the state. All three university boards have two eight-year positions open.

And two positions are up for grabs on the State Board of Education. Members serve for eight-year terms, and they have the vital job of overseeing K-12 public education by making policy recommendations and appointing the state superintendent. The board is in need of leaders willing to guide schools and the Legislature as it works to increase teacher accountability and implement other reforms.

Our endorsements are as follows:

University of Michigan Board of Regents

Regent Julia Donovan Darlow, a Democrat, is finishing her first term but is not seeking re-election. Fellow Democrat Kathy White of Ann Arbor is looking for a third term. Our support goes to Ronald Weiser of Ann Arbor, a Republican powerhouse with a wealth of experience in business and in politics. Weiser, who is an alumnus of the university, is the former U.S. ambassador to Slovakia and served as the state party chair for the Michigan Republican Party from 2009 to 2011. He also spent several years as the national finance chair of the Republican National Committee. He cares about the university and has good ideas to keep tuition down.

Robert Steele of Ypsilanti is running again for a spot on the board and he should get it this time. Steele is a cardiologist and an alumnus of UM. He says he'd help the university to do more to attract and retain highly educated young people.

Michigan State University Board of Trustees

Democrat incumbents Faylene Owen of East Lansing and George Perles of East Lansing both want another term on the board. Perles was Michigan State's head football coach from 1983 to 1994, and Owen founded her own market research and consulting firm.

But our choices are former Republican trustee Melanie Foster of East Lansing, who lost her seat two years ago after one term on the board, and Jeff Sakwa of West Bloomfield, also a Republican. A personal real estate manager, Foster has a clear understanding of issues affecting the university and the role of the board of trustees. Sakwa, president of a commercial real estate company, is committed to keeping tuition low and ensuring students are prepared for their careers.

Wayne State University Board of Governors

Incumbent Democrats Debbie Dingell and Eugene Driker are not running again. Republicans Michael Busuito of Troy and Satish Jasti of West Bloomfield would be good additions. Both candidates ran for the board two years ago. Busuito is a plastic surgeon and a fiscal conservative, and Jasti has built a career in banking and is committed to streamlining costs at Wayne State.

Their Democratic opponents are Marilyn Kelly of Bloomfield, former chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, and Dana Alicia Thompson of Detroit, a clinical professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School.

State Board of Education

The past few years, the Democratic majority on the State Board has focused too much of its time on criticizing charter schools and not enough time on raising overall performance for public schools. Rather than work with Gov. Rick Snyder to address problems with the lowest-performing schools, the board often pushed against these ideas — leaving the Legislature to muddle through complex education issues.

Two positions are up on the board. Incumbent Casandra Ulbrich of Rochester Hills is vice president on the board and vice president for advancement and community relations at Macomb Community College. Incumbent Democrat Daniel Varner of Detroit is not running again.

Republicans Maria Carl of Macomb Township, a former child development instructor, and Jonathan Tade Williams of Jackson, a political science professor at Kellogg Community College, would add a fresh perspective to the board.

Democrat Pamela Pugh Smith of Saginaw is also running; she owns a business that promotes economic sustainability in urban communities.

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