Editorial: Our choices for state education boards

The Detroit News

Michigan’s constitution calls for statewide elections of the independent boards governing the state’s three major universities and the State Board of Education. Members serve eight-year terms, so it’s important to choose these candidates wisely.

Unfortunately, many voters don’t pay attention to these races, and the boards are traditionally dominated by union-supported candidates, as the unions are willing to invest the resources to get them elected.

As we have recommended in the past, we think there should be more balance on these important boards. Currently, they are very lopsided, with roughly 75 percent of each board composed of Democrats. Having more political balance would better reflect the range of views in the state.

Every two years, two positions on each eight-member board open. The university boards govern finances and hire presidents, among other tasks. Members of the State Board oversee K-12 public education by making policy recommendations and appointing the state superintendent. As Michigan’s schools continue to fall behind their peers in other states, strong leadership is more vital than ever to guide state education in a better direction.

Our endorsements are as follows:

State Board of Education

The Democratic majority on the State Board of Education has been obsessed this year with passing its proposed guidelines for gay and transgender students. Led by President John Austin, the board finally passed them in September. This was a divisive and odd priority, given all the other pressing issues facing the state’s public schools.

Gov. Rick Snyder, frustrated with the board, has bypassed it as much as possible. Last year, he moved the School Reform Office out from under the Michigan Department of Education and the board, so that he could have direct oversight. A more balanced board would help.

To that end, we recommend Republicans Tom McMillin of Rochester Hills and Nikki Snyder of Whitmore Lake. McMillin is a former state representative and a strong proponent of school choice. Snyder is a lactation consultant and teaches at Washtenaw Community College. She is especially interested in helping children with disabilities.

Austin, a Democrat from Ann Arbor, wants a third term. Ish Ahmed of Novi, an adviser to the chancellor at the University of Michigan, Dearborn, is the other Democrat in the race. Longtime Democrat incumbent Kathleen Straus of Detroit is not seeking another term.

University of Michigan

Board of Regents

The two Republicans on the Board of Regents could use some company, and the GOP candidates running this year are worthy of joining them. Ron Weiser of Ann Arbor has run several times for this position, and he should get it this year. The real estate developer is the former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and former Republican National Committee finance chairman. Weiser, also the former U.S. ambassador to Slovakia, cares deeply about making the university a better place for students. Also on the GOP ticket is Carl Meyers of Dearborn, a senior vice president of investments at Raymond James in Dearborn.

The Democrats on the ballot are both incumbents. Laurence Deitch of Bloomfield Hills, a lawyer, is seeking a fourth term on the board. Denise Ilitch of Bingham Farms is running for her second term on the board. She is president of Ilitch Enterprises.

Michigan State University

Board of Trustees

The Board of Trustees is the only board to have three Republicans. But we think it could use a few more. The two Democratic incumbents — Dianne Byrum of Onondaga Township and Diann Woodard — are seeking second terms. They both bring strong backgrounds and experience, but our support goes to Republicans William Deary of Jackson and Dan Kelly of Clarkston.

Deary owns Great Lakes Caring Home Health and Hospice and Kelly is an attorney who serves on the Oakland Community College Board of Trustees. Both candidates want to limit tuition increases and prioritize enrollment for in-state students.

Wayne State University

Board of Governors

Two seats are open on the Board of Governors, with Democrats Gary Pollard and Paul Massaron not seeking re-election.

Republican Michael Busuito of Troy doesn’t give up easily. He is running for the third election in a row to get on this board and he gets our support. Busuito is a plastic surgeon and is on the Wayne State University Physician’s Group board. He appreciates the importance of the university’s health to the comeback of Detroit and is a fiscal conservative.

GOP candidate Kim Shmina of Ira is a nurse practitioner and former Wayne State nursing instructor. She wants to make the budget a priority as well as student retention. We think she’d do a good job on the board.

Democrats Yvette McElroy of Detroit and Mark Gaffney of Detroit are also running. Gaffney is the former president of the Michigan AFL-CIO.