LSA freshman Lucas Cole is more invested in school than the average freshman — not just when it comes to his classes in the University of Michigan’s Residential College, but all of Ann Arbor’s public schools. Shortly after graduating from Skyline High School last spring, Cole launched a campaign for the Ann Arbor School Board of Trustees.
He said his experience as a former student informed his perspective as a candidate.
“I think that if you talk to students in the district, from what I’ve experienced, students really know that they don’t have a voice, that people don’t really care what they think and they’re upset by it,” Cole said. “But they don’t really know how they can get their voices heard, so I want to be that advocate.”
While some people were first hesitant to support him because of his age, Cole worked to convince voters that his experience as a former student in the district is an asset. Now as a college student, Cole is balancing classwork with campaigning.
“I find that as a college student, I actually have more flexibility with my time in some senses,” Cole said. “There’s less in-class time, so while some students might do a lot of extracurricular activities and things like that, this is what I spend my time on: campaigning and talking to voters.”
Cole is running against seven other candidates for the four open seats on the school board. He has teamed up to run with U-M alums Rebecca Lazarus, a business consultant, and Bryan Johnson, an associate director of admissions at the Ross School of Business. All three emphasize the progressive aspects of their campaigns, including calls for increased diversity among the Ann Arbor Public School teachers and administrators in addition to criticism of the amount of standardized testing students undergo.
Lazarus, who previously ran in 2016, said properly funding schools is a central issue.
“My top priority right now would be the students and supporting the teachers to support the students, getting them the resources that they need and, of course, fighting Lansing all the way up,” Lazarus said. “We’re all accountable for how we fund education, from the school board to the mayor to the governor, all the way up to the Oval Office and our Congress representatives. We have to really work together and understand that how we fund education is the most important thing.”
Johnson emphasized the importance of name recognition and early planning in their campaign.
“One thing about our campaign is we were the first school board candidates to really hit the ground running and to get literature and to get signs out, and we thought about waiting to put those out,” Johnson said. “But I think that we made the right decision to get out early, so I do think that we’re getting to be pretty well-known throughout the community.”
In an effort to increase voter awareness, Lazarus, Johnson and Cole attended a meeting of the Washtenaw County Democratic Party to seek an endorsement last month.
Lazarus said they aimed to be included in the WCDP’s voter guide, which is mailed out across the county to prospective voters.
“We weren’t going to get financial support from the Democratic Party,” Lazarus said. “All we were going to get was our name listed on the endorsements of who to vote for if someone does look at that list of Democrats, showing that we have the same values as the Democratic Party, but it is a nonpartisan ballot that we’re on.”
Lazarus, Johnson and Cole each received endorsements at the WCDP meeting in September, but a voting mix-up complicated the process. In a statement, WCDP Chair Chris Savage said anyone who was a member of the Michigan Democratic Party on the day of the meeting had been allowed to vote.
“However, our bylaws require that people be a member of the Michigan Democratic Party at least 30 days before they are permitted to vote,” Savage wrote. “Our bylaws do NOT require the 30-day requirement to request our endorsement and I mistakenly carried that over to the voting, too.”
Lazarus said following the contested vote, the WCDP decided not to list endorsements for school board in the voter guide.
“It ended up that they were just going to not endorse anybody and were just going to list us all and we were all going to be on equal footing and that was the end of it, but then there was still some more complaining and now they want to have another endorsement meeting for a re-endorsement on Monday,” Lazarus said. “I think two weeks before the race, the election, it’s like really you’re taking away time from critical campaigning and canvassing time to go stand in a room, fight for an endorsement that we felt we really earned over a month ago and take time away from our campaigning process. To me, this didn’t seem very democratic.”
Johnson said they would be attending, even though the voter guide had already been mailed without school board endorsements.
“At one point we discussed not even going back for a number of reasons, but the main thing, the main reasons that we wanted to go back is because we thought about what message we’re sending to voters by not going,” he said. “There’s just a lot more to gain, and there could be people that even hear about the drama of the whole thing and just want to see what we’re about, and we’re really excited to get out and talk to those people.”