Utah’s Board of Education eliminates a leadership position — effectively demoting a conservative member

Alisa Ellis, running for State School Board 12. Courtesy photo

The Utah Board of Education re-elected its same chairman and vice-chairwoman Tuesday night — but voted to eliminate a third leadership position, effectively ousting the strongest conservative voice from its governance team.

“I disagree that we are dysfunctional because we are diverse,” said Alisa Ellis, who was cut out from her post as second vice-chairwoman.

The board voted 8-7 to get rid of that title and move to a two-person leadership model, reverting to the structure it had before 2015. Ellis, a proponent of local control who has railed against new science standards for including too heavy an emphasis on climate change and evolution “as a fact and not a theory,” will now return to being a regular member in January.

“We don’t always agree, but that is what gives us strength,” she added.

Mark Huntsman will stay on as chairman. And Brittney Cummins will continue serving as vice chairwoman. Both are more moderate voices on the board which, after shuffling this year, now leans slightly to the right.

This will be a third term at the helm for Huntsman, who was first elected in 2014 to the 15-member board that governs public education in the state. He previously served for eight years on the Millard School District board and represents much of central and southeast Utah.

He faced a challenge from another conservative member, Lisa Cummins, but won 13-2 in a single round of voting.

“I have learned an awful lot about policies and procedures and governance,” he said. “I’m committed to doing my very best. And I’m committed to being fair and reasonable.”

Brittney Cummins, no relation to Lisa Cummins, who teaches part-time in Granite School District, won 8-5 after a second round of voting. She went up against Ellis and Janet Cannon.

Both Huntsman and Brittney Cummins were among those who voted at the start of the hourlong leadership elections to remove the second vice-chair position.

“It just seems that leadership runs better and it’s more clear who we go to as board member when there’s only two people,” said member Laura Belnap, who proposed the change. “I like the consistency of having two people to report to instead of three.”