The Utah Board of Education did not see the same surprising turnover this year as it did in the previous two elections, which saw almost every member either leave or unseated.
Most of the incumbents who ran easily secured their spots Tuesday night. And two faced no challengers at all.
But the small bit of shuffling that did happen likely means the board will lean more to the right than it already does.
In perhaps the biggest election upset, Terryl Warner, the longest continuously serving member and a moderate voice, was defeated by Jennie Earl, a conservative proponent of local control and a strong advocate for home-schooling, to represent northern Utah. The board, too, will lose one of its more liberal members, Kathleen Riebe, who will have to step down mid-term after winning a seat in the state Senate.
“I think it’s going to be a little more conservative now" without those two, said Spencer Stokes, a lobbyist whose own term on the state school board ends this year and who didn’t run for re-election. “Just one person may shift the balance.”
While Earl joins the board replacing a more moderate member, another conservative, Joel Wright, is leaving and will be replaced by Cindy Davis, who also is considered a moderate. That, essentially, makes for an even ideological swap. (Stokes’ spot will be filled by Scott Hansen, who is considered more in the center of the spectrum, like Stples). Altogether, there will be four new faces.
But Riebe’s replacement will almost surely be more conservative than she is. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert will be responsible for recommending someone to fill her spot, and that nominee will have to be approved by the Senate, which is heavily Republican.
“It’s an interesting dynamic,” Stokes said.
Currently, five members of the 15-person board could be considered right-leanin, while three are left-leaning. The rest fall somewhere in the middle.
Now, it’s likely only two will be considered more liberal.
Riebe said Thursday that she doesn’t see the board leaning so much as left or right but focusing on what kinds of school demographics are represented. With the new members, she fears it will be weighted by people with experience in charter and home-schooling — not traditional public schools, which nearly 90 percent of the state’s students attend.
"My concern is that the population of our schools won’t be represented,” she said.
Riebe gave two suggestions to the governor’s office for her replacement. But she worries the process, with the Senate confirmation, will be partisan, when school board elections are not supposed to be (at least not yet). It’s unclear, too, when the position will be filled.
Warner, who could not be reached for comment, was appointed to fill the remainder of a term in 2014 when Tami Pyfer was selected to serve as the education adviser to the governor. She was formally elected to her position six months later. Only one board member, Janet Cannon, has served longer than Warner, but her terms were split.
Those elected to the board serve four-year terms, which are staggered so that every two years half of the body is up for election. The new members will be sworn in in early January.
Earl, who won by nearly 22 percentage points and teaches at a charter school, said she intends to focus on empowering parents to be more involved with education and how Utah can do things differently than the nation. “We don’t have to jump on board with what everybody else is doing.”
Utah Board of Education 2018 elections
District 1 • Jennie Earl 60.98 percent; Terryl Warner (incumbent) 39.02 percent
District 2 • Scott Hansen 61.28 percent; Craig Pitts 38.72 percent
District 3 • Linda Hansen (i) 73.66 percent; Thomas Nedreberg 26.34 percent
District 5 • Laura Belnap (i) 64.82 percent; Patrick Riley 35.18 percent
District 6 • Brittney Cummins (i), unopposed, 100 percent
District 9 • Cindy Davis 69.3 percent; Avalie Muhlestien 30.7 percent
District 14 • Mark Huntsman (i), unopposed, 100 percent
Note: These results are not final.