County school board races are an aspect of election season that is all too frequently overshadowed by larger state or federal campaigns. And yet, public schools remain the heart of many communities– Livingston County included.
The Hartland Consolidated Schools Board of Education race has more candidates than any in the county, with nine candidates vying for three seats, and another two candidates competing for a partial term ending in 2024. Of the 11 candidates, Victor Bugni, Meghan Glabach, and George Skendi all completed the GIGO News questionnaire.
Victor Bugni is running for a two-year partial term on the Hartland Board of Education. He currently serves on the board, having been appointed in November 2021 following the resignation of Charlie Aberasturi. Bugni has an Educational Specialist degree from Northern Michigan University, a bachelor’s from Michigan State, and a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Saginaw Valley State University. He has also been endorsed by the Michigan Education Association.
The three top priorities of Bugni’s campaign are achievement, opportunity, and resources. It is up to the board, Bugni asserts, to create policies that facilitate achievement. Achievement is demonstrated through the mastery of skills and contents, and the tools used to measure and enhance achievement vary: Bugni cites “early childhood students knowing self-awareness and cognitively appropriate content, elementary students performance in reading and math, and high school students in dual enrollment, AP courses, and career technical experiences” to name a few. As for student opportunity, Bugni explains that any opportunities offered by the district should ideally “expand thinking through career exploration, coursework, and fieldtrips.” Bugni is a firm believer that programs in music, theatre, athletics, STEM, and career technical education must be available for all students in addition to traditional courses. Finally, Bugni adds that in order to provide opportunities and increase achievement, educators must have access to proper resources. Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions, and transportation, food service, classroom supplies, and buildings all facilitate a system where students can thrive.
Victor Bugni has an extensive background in education. Throughout his career, he has served as a superintendent, administrator, and teacher, and held various district leadership positions across the state. From 2015 to 2022, Bugni worked for the Michigan Department of Education to design policy, provide guidance, and advocate for students and educators. Through these experiences, Bugni has become well-versed in the realms of data use, staffing, certification, formative assessment, school support and reform, literacy, instruction, school improvement planning, and state and federal planning.
Prior to his current position, he was employed by the Michigan Department of Education (2015-2022) where he worked to create guidance, to design policy, and to advocate for students and educators. He feels good about the work he has engaged in such as formative assessment, data use, state and federal planning, instruction, literacy, staffing, certification, school support and reform, and school improvement planning. Currently, Victor Bugni serves as the Director of Instructional Services at the Saginaw Intermediate School District.
Bugni adds that he is dedicated to “providing educators with an understanding of the Michigan Educational system and how to best serve all learners.”
In her bid for reelection, Meghan Glabach cites her primary goal as “ensuring that Hartland remains a premier school district that provides a quality education for all.” Glabach notes that, while her experience with curriculum is limited to her time on the board, she is well-versed in financial matters due to her position as a healthcare executive. During 2020– undeniably one of the most challenging years for public education and the public at large– Glabach was voted Volunteer of the Year for her dedication to community well-being.
One of her main concerns is advocating for appropriate funding and allocation to support competitive wages for educators. Glabach emphasizes that the teachers, staff, and administrators are a foundational part of the district, and are instrumental in creating and maintaining a successful educational environment. Teacher retention and competitive wages, she adds, are particularly important in a continued labor shortage.
Learning loss in the wake of COVID is another area of concern.
“Although our district has maintained a phenomenal educational experience and has continued to benchmark well against others throughout the state, it is imperative that we continue to monitor the rebounding efforts from COVID,” Glabach explains. “This will allow us to maintain a pulse on the growth of our students, and ensure we provide intervention where appropriate. This will take collaboration from our educators, district administration, and certainly our students.”
Glabach also touches on the highly politicized social and educational climate. She describes the polarized environment as a detriment to educators, who struggle under the strains of micromanagement and constant analysis. Glabach highlights the importance of support and adaptability, stating that “It is imperative that we continue to support our teachers and staff, pivot when necessary, and embrace positive changes within our district to remain a united community focused on educational success, and truly raising good humans.”
To fully address these issues and develop lasting solutions is easier said than done. It’s a delicate situation, and, as Glabach notes, one that takes time, dedication, and communication. Glabach seeks to foster a strong relationship with teachers, staff, and administration while also listening to the community. Meghan Glabach and her family are proud of their deep roots in the Hartland community, and she seeks to continue her work on the board to ensure that students and the community are successful.
For George Skendi, the motivation behind his bid for a seat on the board is rooted in policy-making and enforcement. Though Skendi does not elaborate on what this policy entails, he does reference maintaining clear fiscal allocations and guaranteeing that the public is involved in district policy. This populist approach is reflected in his concern that the public education system is drifting from public desires.
Chief among Skendi’s beliefs is the value of inclusivity, with his website proclaiming, “we should respect all belief systems– both religious and political. We need to have open communications to find common ground.” He adds that it is the duty of schools and families to work together, ultimately teaching children how to work together.
Despite the emphasis on community building and social development, Skendi also asserts that the curriculum needs to be objective as compared to subjective, with a heightened emphasis on math, science, and reading. He also emphasizes the importance of U.S. history in conjunction with world history, accompanied by geography. The latter, he notes, is something that many American students lack knowledge of, especially when compared to their international peers.
Thom Dumond has served on the Hartland Consolidated Schools Board of Education since 2008. During his tenure, Dumond has held numerous positions on the board, including serving as board President from 2013 to 2022. Currently, he holds the office of treasurer.
Dumond’s campaign for re-election has been a quiet one. Throughout his time on the board, Mr. Dumond has consistently reiterated his belief in public education, noting that his decision-making process is driven by the desire to do what’s best for Hartland students.
Hartland’s ‘Clean Slate’ is composed of Glenn Gogoleski, Greg Keller, Bob Merwin, and Michelle Blondeel. The latter is running for a partial term ending in 2024. None of the candidates opted to complete the GIGO candidate survey to personally address their objectives, perspectives, or goals. The Clean Slate webpage cites a series of issues at the heart of their campaign, including transparency, accountability, parents’ rights to curriculum access, and a call to “end the threat of boys in girls’ sports and restrooms.”
While little is known about the personal views of Keller or Merwin, the nature of joint candidacy implies congruent philosophies. So little is known about them that their Republican endorsers list them as a single entity: “Greg Keller & Bob Merwin.” According to their biographical information on the Clean Slate website, Merwin is a Hartland alum, longtime resident, and small business owner. Keller has a background in mechanical engineering and business administration.
The Clean Slate mission statement also includes a rallying cry against “divisive policies that teach kids what to think.” This is a thinly veiled reference to the supposed teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in public schools. Similarly, at a 2022 HCS Board meeting, Michelle Blondeel accused the district of allowing CRT to run rampant through the schools, calling it ‘reverse discrimination’ by “replacing math with learning to hate white people.”
Glenn Gogoleski also spoke at this meeting, and his speech on the wedge being driven between teachers and parents by “out-of-district agitators, political activists, and union representatives” has been repurposed in its entirety as one of the guiding principles of the Clean Slate. The slate’s response to the FAQ of whether or not they support teachers is a word-for-word replica of Gogoleski’s comments in April of 2022. The members of the Clean Slate, like any school board candidates, claim to support teachers. And yet, not only do the official statements directly contradict this sentiment, members of the slate seem to thrive off the vilification of teachers and public education.
Ironically enough, the Clean Slate seems to specialize in mudslinging. Along with the usual anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments and thinly veiled references to the supposed implementation of Critical Race Theory (CRT), the slate makes baseless claims that teachers are “imprinting personal political beliefs on our children” and “teaching our children how to be completely accepting of ANY and ALL behavior, no matter how abhorrent it may be to family values.” Furthermore, they imply that they themselves were being targeted by a “leftist orthodoxy.”
Recently, Glenn Gogoleski’s estranged sister spoke with GIGO News, detailing her brother’s beliefs. Glenn Gogoleski, she notes, is one who indulges in racist and extremist views.
To his credit, Mr. Gogoleski did reach out to GIGO News in remonstrance of the comments. However, much of Gogoleski’s rebuttal seemed to confirm his sister’s allegations rather than refute them.
Despite their cries for transparency, the Clean Slate has declined to discuss their campaign with the public.
Ed Gentile’s motivation to run for school board stems from his concern over the growing divisiveness in the community. In a questionnaire for the League of Women Voters, Gentile pointed to the misinformation directed at schools and staff as a threat to education. Such criticisms are typically rooted in political extremism.
“If we don’t start to calm the division within the community,” Gentile said, “I believe it may elevate quickly into a crisis for our schools.”
As someone with 20+ years of Human Resources experience, Gentile is no stranger to communication and conflict remediation. The philosophy behind his campaign is one of trust, integrity, transparency, and unity. Gentile strives to create an environment based on open communication and respect for all parties: students, teachers, parents, and the community overall.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Gentile’s campaign is seen in the way he addressed the public in the wake of an act of vandalism. On October 6th, Gentile released a video statement in front of a duct-taped campaign banner– someone who opposed his candidacy had destroyed it in the middle of the night.
Gentile explained that initially, he’d planned to use the torn signs as an opportunity to discuss the out-of-control divisiveness seeping through the community. However, his rhetoric changed when he received a call from a complete stranger. The stranger had seen the ruined signs and brought his family along to repair them with duct tape.
“This random act of kindness is what I have always expected and thought existed in this community,” Gentile continued. “We need to be better. We need to come together.”
Gentile pointed out that the sign was symbolic of Hartland: a seemingly unbridgeable gap mended by the people of the community.
This brand of optimism is not a trait typically seen in the heat of election season. And yet, the anecdote speaks volumes about not just Gentile and his candidacy, but Hartland as a whole.
Michelle Hemeyer has served on the Hartland Board of Education for seven years and currently acts as the Board’s secretary. She explained her bid for re-election in the League of Women Voters questionnaire,
stating that “the community deserves someone with working knowledge of our district, our policies & processes in Hartland.” Hemeyer asserts that the challenges of her time on the board have given her valuable experiences and insight that in turn provide the district with “a sense of stability and consistency.”
Hemeyer’s objectives in this campaign are the same goals that she’s sought to achieve throughout her tenure: the support and safety of students and the recruitment and retention of staff.
Trish Mrozek has been relatively quiet in her campaign and has declined to answer questions about her platform. However, like Blondeel, she has vocalized her beliefs at school board meetings. Mrozek has firm ties to Hartland Consolidated Schools, even donning a class of 1988 varsity jacket for a board meeting in April of 2022. Here, Mrozek said that, while she respects teachers, she’s unhappy with the curriculum being taught in schools. She neglected to elaborate, but took the opportunity to iterate her stance on the perceived “bathroom issue.”
Mrozek’s speech can be best described as an attack on transgender students, as well as the educational community that supports them. She went as far as to claim she’d planned to arrange “bathroom trips” for her children and others whose parents held similar viewpoints so that they wouldn’t have to use school bathrooms– bathrooms used by students who identified as transgender.
Mrozek has declined to communicate with GIGO News and does not appear to have a candidate website, opting instead to refer to her candidacy on occasion through her personal Facebook page. Given her vehement vocalization of personal prejudices, it remains to be seen whether Mrozek seeks to fight for the district’s children or against them.
For more information on upcoming elections, including candidate lists and polling locations, visit the Livingston County Clerk Elections Division.