The East Lansing Educational Association (ELEA) – the union for the district’s teachers – is expected to announce endorsement of four candidates for the four open seats on the ELPS School Board later today.
The teachers’ union is backing incumbents Tera Chambers and Kath Edsall, plus newcomers Tali Faris-Hylen and Jim McEvoy in the Nov. 8 election.
History teacher Mark Pontoni, vice president for the union, told ELi late Tuesday night that the union expects to send an email blast to its members on Wednesday indicating this recommendation.
But the union’s choice of four candidates doesn’t match up with a slate of four who have now sent out a joint mailing. That slate includes Chambers, Edsall, Faris-Hylen and Lind Brown-Wren. The teachers’ union endorsed the first three, but their fourth choice is McEvoy.
A joint campaign of this type – involving a single mailer sent on behalf of a four-candidate slate – is unusual in East Lansing politics.
By law, a joint mailer like this requires a high level of coordination of the campaigns participating. All four candidates’ campaigns are listed as sponsors on the mailer.
The mailer itself positions the four candidates as sharing “progressive” views, saying they will “advocate for underserved populations in our district, including students of color, LGBTQIA+ students, and students with disabilities” and “promote diversity in hiring practices as well as continued DEI and social justice work.”
But at least three other candidates – McEvoy, Rob Sumbler and Amanda Cormier – have also described themselves as progressive.
Candidate Mike Feldpausch objects to these kinds of descriptions by candidates running for what is legally a “nonpartisan” office.
ELi asked all 10 candidates for comment on the slate and the mailer. Feldpausch replied by email, “The four candidates here are entitled to run as a slate. It’s curious for this nonpartisan position that they make their like-minded politics the center of their campaign.”
Feldpausch called himself “the only one running as a true nonpartisan with the focus being board transparency, engagement with parents and caregivers, and returning to at least pre-pandemic test scores. These four don’t mention parents anywhere in this announcement, nor do they mention academic achievement.” (The mailer does mention the candidates are district parents, as are the other candidates.) Feldpausch argues that diversity ought to include “diversity of beliefs,” which he says he doesn’t see in this slate of four.
According to a statement from Pontoni received this morning, the union is not recommending voting for Feldpausch.
“The MEA [statewide teachers’ union] interviewed seven of the candidates for the School Board. At least one candidate declined to be interviewed by us, and we take that as a very negative sign heading into this election,” Pontoni wrote. “For that, and other reasons, we are not endorsing Mike Feldpausch for a Board position.”
According to Pontoni, the MEA organized the interviews and ELEA members participated. Seven candidates agreed to be interviewed, but he did not name which.
Pontoni wrote, “The seven candidates we interviewed were all good candidates with varying levels of experience. We felt strongly that the Board under the leadership of the two incumbents [Chambers and Edsall] has done a really nice job for kids in our district.”
Several candidates commented for ELi on there being a slate running together.
Chambers told ELi by phone she had considered not running for reelection, but then the joint mailer idea arose out of conversations with Faris-Hylen.
“And obviously we’ve got a lot of great candidates,” Chambers said, “so it wasn’t a diss on anyone else.”
But, she added, “work on the school board is a collective process, so part of the motivation for running for me is being excited about who I was running with,” including Brown-Wren and Edsall.
McEvoy confirmed to ELi by phone, “I am not running on a slate with anybody.” And, he said, he was not disappointed to not be asked to join the slate.
“I have talked to the members of the slate and I think they are all fantastic and I would be happy to serve with any of them,” McEvoy said.
In his comment to ELi, Sumbler said, “Mailers are expensive, and school board races don’t have the level of fundraising that you see in larger races. It just makes sense to pool your resources together with other like-minded candidates to be able to send out a mailer like that. I’d also like to add that, from the candidates that I’ve seen the most from (that being the members of the slate, Jim McEvoy and myself), we have plenty of very good choices for the East Lansing School Board, and I’m excited for the future of the East Lansing Public Schools.”
Cormier told ELi by email, “I don’t really have a comment on the slate. I support many of these candidates, as we have similar views and goals for the district.”
Candidate Steven J. Davis replied to ELi’s request for comment only to say, “I wish all candidates the best of luck!”
Candidate Tyler Allan Smith did not respond to multiple requests for comment, nor did Edsall.
ELi reached Faris-Hylen, who runs a public relations agency, by phone, and she said she would consider the request, but did not provide comment by the deadline indicated. ELi also reached Brown-Wren who said they would contact us later, but they did not respond to follow-up requests.
There’s no doubt this is an intense political season for school boards nationwide.
Here in East Lansing, Pontoni said the teachers’ union wants to “see a Board that puts kids first…ahead of the political agendas of either the far left or the far right.
“School Boards have become the battlegrounds for the divisive national politics of the past several years, and students are losing because of it,” he said. “We feel adding Tali Faris-Hylen and Jim McEvoy to the Board gives us our best chance to keep the Board focused on our students and out of the dangerous rhetoric that is paralyzing School Boards across the country.”
As a reminder, there are 10 candidates on the ballot and voters can choose up to four. ELi asked three sets of questions to all the candidates, and six responded. You can read what they say about their political orientations; how they view needs in the areas of academic curricula and mental and physical health; and what they want to see done about school safety. Find our general election guide here.