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(The city of Williamston is split over two new policies governing transgender students in public schools. For more on that, see the new print edition of City Pulse.)
TUESDAY, OCT. 16 — Voters in Williamston will decide on Nov. 6 whether to recall and replace four board of education members at Williamston Community Schools who voted last year to support policies to support transgender students.
The challengers — enabled by a petition signed by more than 1,400 residents earlier this summer — contended additional parental involvement is necessary to protect educational integrity at the school district. The incumbents just want to ensure all students are made to feel safe and comfortable while they’re at school.
The ballot will list 12 candidates for six positions on the board, but it won’t specifically differentiate between existing trustees and recall election challengers. Some think the voting language — which is technically accurate and legal — could be confusing to local residents at the polls. City Pulse is here to provide some clarity.
The incumbent trustees are listed below in the order they will appear on the ballot, next to the name of their respective challengers. Incumbents, if elected, will serve out the remainder of their existing terms. Challengers, if elected, will replace them and serve the balance of their partial terms.
Terms are six years. Walter Holm and Karen Potter are running against Nancy Deal and Greg Talberg, respectively, for partial terms that will expire in 2020; Debbie Hutchinson and Craig Hagelberger are running against Sarah Belanger and Christopher Lewis for partial terms ending in 2022.
Jeffrey West, who is also running for the school board this year, wasn’t targeted in the recall election largely because he voted against the passage of the policies. He will face off against Julie Conley and Michele Bisard for a full term that expires in 2023. Scott Gaffner is also running unopposed for a partial term expiring in 2020.
Here’s a closer look at the candidates:
Sarah Belanger (incumbent)
Belanger, 32, is a third-generation Williamston Community Schools graduate and served on the board for the last two years. She works at Lansing Community College as a field instructor for child development and owns her own business, Sarah Belanger Yoga LLC. She previously served as an academic specialist at Michigan State University, where she graduated with a master's degree in applied arts. She also has a bachelor's degree in child development from Central Michigan University and three children enrolled at the school district.
Hutchison did not respond to multiple interview requests from City Pulse.
Hagelberger, 48, works in international telecommunications consulting and has lived in Williamston for decades. He has a bachelor's degree in business administration from Shorter University, a private, Christian college in Georgia, and touted his involvement in several, local church groups. He also has two daughters enrolled in Williamston Community Schools.
Christopher Lewis (incumbent)
Lewis, 43, is a digital director for Fox 47 News and has served on the board of education for more than two years in two separate terms. He has a doctorate in educational leadership from Eastern Michigan University and a master's and bachelor's degree from Miami University and Western Michigan University, respectively. He worked in higher education administration for more than 20 years, serves as the chairman of the organizations committee at Downtown Lansing Inc. and has worked as a liaison to Cooley Law School. He also has two children — an eighth grader and a fifth grader — attending Williamston Community Schools.
Nancy Deal (incumbent)
Deal, 50, is a special education teacher with Ingham ISD and has served on the board for the last four years. She has a bachelor's degree in special education and early childhood development from Michigan State University and was previously a board member for the Ronald McDonald House Charities. She also served on the Education Commission at St. Martha Parish and School in Okemos.
Holm, 41, has a bachelor's degree in science information systems from Carnegie Mellon University and works with computers, networks, technology, security, implementation, design, engineering and management. He also has one child at Williamston Community Schools.
Potter, 40, has a master's degree in education from Grand Canyon University and a bachelor's degree in business and information system management from Purdue University Global. She works as a sales director at Covenant Eyes and has volunteered locally for years, coaching softball, baseball, soccer and judging for Business Professionals of America. She also served as an adjunct professor at Baker College of Owosso and has two children who graduated from the school district.
Greg Talberg (incumbent)
Talberg, 48 is a high school teacher and has served on the board — currently as president — for the last four years. He has a master's degree in teaching and educational leadership from the University of Florida and Michigan State University, respectively. He also has two children who attend Williamston Community Schools.