Our Endorsements: For state education boards

The Detroit News

Editor's Note: The Detroit News is making recommendations in a number of state and local races on the Nov. 6 election ballot. To maximize our resources and give our readers a more balanced and comprehensive view of the candidates and issues, The News is using a different approach this year. Some of the selections will bear the traditional endorsement of the newspaper’s editorial board. In other races, we'll offer the personal recommendations of our editorial columnists, Nolan Finley and Ingrid Jacques, along with columns from an alternative viewpoint. As always, our mission is to provide our readers with the resources to help them make informed choices on Election Day.

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, and each board has two openings.

We believe it’s important to keep these boards as politically balanced as possible. The 2016 election gave the GOP a small boost on the boards, but that could easily be lost this November as all the seats up for election are currently held by Republicans. 

The university boards' top tasks include governing finances and hiring the president. Members of the State Board oversee K-12 public education by making policy recommendations and appointing the state superintendent. 

Our endorsements are as follows:

Michigan State University Board of Trustees

This is the most important race of the bunch, given the troubles facing Michigan State University. The university has been rocked the past year, following the conviction of university sports doctor Larry Nassar of sexual assault against dozens of female athletes over several decades. Restoring trust among students and the public is job No. 1 for the Board of Trustees, which will be responsible for hiring a new president. President Lou Anna Simon resigned in the wake of the scandal, and former Gov. John Engler has served as interim president. Two seats are open, following the decision of incumbent Republicans Brian Breslin and Mitch Lyons not to seek reelection.

The board is currently split 4-4 between Democrats and Republicans, and it should stay that way. We are impressed with Mike Miller, a businessman from Okemos, who has a strong resume and a personal reason for running: his daughter was a gymnast treated by Nassar. He has good ideas about what kind of president MSU needs, keeping costs down for students, and ensuring the university has the right policies in place to address sexual assault complaints.

Our nod also goes to Dave Dutch of Traverse City, who brings business expertise and a deep concern for repairing the university’s reputation.

They face Democrats attorney Brianna Scott of Muskegon and Kelly Tebay of Ypsilanti, who is the relationship manager at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. 

University of Michigan Board of Regents

Republican incumbents Andrea Fischer Newman of Ann Arbor and Andrew Richner of Grosse Pointe Park are seeking additional terms, and they should get them. The board has been heavily dominated by Democrats, and it’s worth at least preserving the three Republican voices.

Newman is seeking her fourth term on the board, and brings her expertise as a lawyer and years as a senior executive to the table. She regularly votes against tuition increases and offers sound views on important campus issues such as free speech. Richner, also a lawyer, is running for his third term. He makes the point that diverse views are important on the board, and we agree.

Democrats Jordan Acker, a lawyer from Berkley, and technology venture capitalist Paul Brown of Ann Arbor are also running.

Wayne State University Board of Governors 

Republican incumbents David Nicholson of Detroit and Diane Dunaskiss of Lake Orion want to keep their positions on the board, and we think they should. The Board of Governors is currently composed of five Democrats and three Republicans.

Nicholson, president and CEO of PVS Chemicals, was appointed to the Wayne State board by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2013 to fill a vacancy position. This is his first time seeking election. He has the right priorities, including ensuring Michigan taxpayers get a good return on their investment while keeping education affordable for the university’s students.

Dunaskiss is running for her fourth term on the board, and she brings that experience along with background as a small business owner and former public school teacher and administrator.

They face Democrats Bryan Barnhill of Detroit and Anil Kumar of Bloomfield Hills.

State Board of Education

Michigan’s governing board over public education is one of the most ineffective political bodies in the state, spending its time on ideological squabbles which do nothing to improve schools. K-12 education here suffers in large part because of the lack of leadership at the state level. But for now, this is the system dictated by the state constitution. The new board will be tasked with hiring the next state superintendent, following the death of Superintendent Brian Whiston earlier this year.

The State Board of Education is currently evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. And it should stay that way to maintain some equilibrium. We recommend incumbent Republican Richard Zeile of Dearborn, who seeks another term. There is also an open seat, left by Republican Eileen Weiser, who isn’t seeking reelection. Tami Carlone of Novi is a CPA with a business background and is the best choice to replace her.

Democrats Judith Pritchett of Washington Township and Tiffany Tilley of Southfield are also running.