Utah school board: Republicans hold leads in 3 of 5 contested races

The state school board will be majority Republican.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Students spill into a hallway of West High School in between class periods on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. Three Republican candidates are leading across five contested races for Utah’s state school board, according to early returns late Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

In the battle for five separate Utah school board seats, two Democrats are holding leads, according to returns as of Friday morning.

Republicans are leading in the other three contested races, returns indicate. Three of the board’s seats were uncontested; in each, a Republican will take office.

Together, the Utah State Board of Education’s 15 members oversee public K-12 education, setting statewide policies and producing curriculum within boundaries set by lawmakers. Its members also ask the Utah Legislature to fund school programs and provide feedback on bills that affect education.

The board’s remaining seven seats are currently held by Republicans and were not up for election this year.

District 1

Republican incumbent Jennie Earl held a significant lead in the race for District 1, which includes Box Elder, Cache, Morgan, Rich and Summit counties. She received about 77% of votes tallied as of early Wednesday.

Earl and Democratic candidate Curtis Benjamin competed to represent District 1. Earl has served on the state school board since she was elected in 2018. She has taught students with special needs for five years and teaches math at a private school, according to her board biography.

Benjamin taught and coached high school students for over two decades, according to his website.

District 5

Democratic candidate Sarah Reale leads in District 5, which contains West Valley City and most of downtown Salt Lake City. Reale had received about 59% of votes tallied, returns early Wednesday indicated.

“I’m feeling good, because in a partisan race that shouldn’t be partisan, we brought a great message — and so far the voters have resonated with that,” Reale said late Tuesday.

Republican Laurel Fetzer and unaffiliated candidate William Fisher are also competing for the seat. Reale has been an educator for 12 years at Salt Lake Community College, and has almost 20 years of experience in higher education, according to her website.

Fetzer is a mother of four children, and has served on PTA boards and community councils at her children’s schools for seven years, according to her website. Fisher taught high school for 11 years, and campaigned as an unaffiliated candidate since the position was previously non-partisan.

The boundaries of District 5 changed during this year’s redistricting process. A portion of the newly drawn district was previously represented by Carol Lear, who represented District 7 and ran this year to represent the newly drawn District 6. Reale said Lear has been a mentor to her, and that she admires Lear’s non-partisan attitude towards her role on the board.

“She’s super focused on what is the law, and what is best for teachers — and I really respect that about her,” Reale said. “I’ve put the focus of this campaign on teachers, because I believe when you support teachers, you support your students.”

District 6

Democratic incumbent Carol Lear is poised to be reelected to the state school board, and would now serve in District 6, which contains northeast Salt Lake County and southwest Summit County.

Lear ran against Republican challenger Melanie Monestere and captured about 71% of votes tallied as of Friday morning.

“Big thanks to everyone who turned out to vote this election,” Lear said in a tweet Wednesday afternoon. “I am thrilled and honored to continue my service on the Utah Board of Education. Because of your support, we can keep working to improve the lives of students and educators in Utah.”

Lear was first elected to represent District 7 in 2016 and reelected in 2020. She competed in this year’s District 6 race after boundaries changed in this year’s redistricting process, but she will still represent much of her original district.

Lear was a high school teacher for five years and has served on community councils, according to her board biography. She was an adjunct professor at Utah State University’s Education Leadership department for 20 years, and now represents school districts, charter schools and parents at her private law practice.

Monestere also worked as a lawyer, according to her website. She decided to stay at home after the birth of her second child, and later volunteered at her children’s school and served on the parent board.

District 8

Republican candidate Christina Boggess is leading in District 8, which covers most of southern Salt Lake County, including Taylorsville and Kearns, returns Wednesday evening indicate.

Boggess currently holds about 56% of the votes tallied, leading Democratic candidate Audryn Damron by about 4,183 votes.

Boggess has served for over 21 years “in a variety of educational roles and situations,” including over a decade at the elementary level and the same at the secondary, her website states.

Damron has been a teacher for 11 years and currently serves as a special education teacher at Cottonwood High School in Granite School District, according to her website.

District 14

Republican candidate Emily Green will represent District 14, which contains Beaver, Carbon, Emery, Grand, Juab, Millard, Sanpete, and Sevier counties, along with parts of Iron and Utah counties.

Green received about 86% of votes tallied as of early Friday, far ahead of Libertarian challenger Richard Jensen.

Green has volunteered with the Iron County School District for almost 10 years, according to her campaign biography. As PTA president at her children’s elementary school, she worked to amplify parent voices and raise thousands of dollars for educational resources, she said.

Uncontested races:

Three of the board’s races were uncontested, meaning that without a challenger, the following candidates will take office:

  • District 2 (part of Weber County): Joseph Kerry, a Republican.

  • District 4 (parts of Davis and Salt Lake counties): LeAnn Wood, a Republican.

  • District 11 (parts of Salt Lake and Utah counties): Cindy Davis, a Republican, currently serving in District 9.