Four new members of the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 school board were sworn in Thursday night as the RB board underwent its biggest change in many years.
The new board is facing a major financial crunch after the defeat of RB’s tax referendum on April 5. The school may need to make major cuts to deal with a multi million dollar budget deficit in coming years.
This board is expected to be very different than the previous board. Members will probably be far less deferential to the RB administration than past boards. The new board is also far less experienced than the outgoing board.
Taking the oath office were Laura Hruska, who served on the board from 2005 to 2009, Garry Gryczan, John Keen, and Tim Walsh.
The new board elected Matt Sinde as its president by a five to one vote with one abstention. Sinde was chosen over newly elected board member Tim Walsh who was nominated by Hruska.
Voting for Sinde were holdovers Dan Moon and Mike Welch and newly elected board members Gryczan and Keen. Hruska cast the only vote for Walsh. By the time Walsh had an opportunity to vote Sinde had already received the majority of the votes so Walsh abstained.
“For the people who voted for me I appreciate it,” Sinde said after taking the gavel. “For those who didn’t I hope to earn your trust.”
Sinde was elected to the RB school board in 2009 when he ran with Moon and Welch as part of a team.
Keen was elected board vice president prevailing over Walsh by a five to two margin with Walsh and Hruska voting for Walsh.
Sinde said that the board faces big challenges.
“With the referendum vote we have a big challenge ahead of us,” Sinde said. “We have to aggressively and wholeheartedly throw ourselves into it. We need to get the past behind us.”
Sinde, who some have said has the style of bull in a china shop, also serves as the chairman of the Brookfield Zoning Board of Appeals and chaired Brookfield’s 20/20 Master Plan committee. Sinde also served as a president of the school board of the St. Louise de Marillac Catholic School.
Hruska served on the board for four years before losing a race for reelection in 2009. She won in a comeback bid this year. Moon, Sinde and Welch have been on the board for two years while Gryczan, Keen, and Walsh are serving on a school board for the first time. The new board showed its inexperience as it fumbled a bit searching for the proper procedure to elect a president.
Moon floated the idea to have the new board president serve a one year term instead of the customary two year term, but the board decided that would be against its established policy so it decided to stick to a two year term for the board president for now.
The board also decided by a 4 to 3 vote to accept a recommendation from Interim Superintendent David Bonnette to change its meeting schedule to hold two meetings a month during the school year, one of which will be a committee of the whole meeting, in an effort to make meetings shorter to avoid making key decisions late at night.
Voting to change the schedule were Sinde, Welch, Keen and Gryczan.
Five members of the board, Moon, Sinde, Welch, Keen and Gryczan were elected with the support of a group led by, among others, Jerry Buttimer and Chris Robling, who have been very critical of the previous board majority.
This is perhaps the best educated school board in RB history. Three of the four new board members, Gryczan, Keen, and Walsh, hold MBAs although Keen works as a doctor and Walsh is a lawyer.
Departing board members say goodbye
The four departing members of the Riverside Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education said their goodbyes at a brief meeting of the old board before the new members of the school board were sworn in last Thursday.
The four departing members, Larry Herbst, board president Jim Marciniak, Sue Kleinmeyer and MariAnn Leibrandt had almost 30 years of experience combined on the RB board. Kleinmeyer and Leibrandt also served for a combined 13 years on the Brookfield District 95 Board of Education and both are past presidents of the District 95 board.
Herbst was the longest serving member on the district board having been elected to three terms and serving for 12 years. He was president of the RB board for six years.
Known for his sometimes jocular style Herbst played a major role in transforming RB into the school that it is today.
“It’s such a much better place to work, to go to school in, to be a student in, to be an athlete in,” said former RB board member Bill McCloskey. “He had a big role in that.”
Herbst credited McCloskey and his former board colleagues Nancy Chmell with having big roles in transforming RB.
“I don’t think anybody had a bigger influence on the culture of the school as Nancy Chmell,” Herbst said in his farewell.
Herbst also thanked the staff at RB.
“It’s been a privilege and honor to work with you guys,” Herbst said.
Kleinmeyer was appointed to the RB board in August 2001 after serving five years on the District 95 board. She was reelected to the RB board twice, but like Herbst, Marciniak, and Leibrandt, decided not to run for reelection this year.
Kleinmeyer advised the new board members to know their roles and to always think of what’s best for the students when making decisions.
“Know your roles and stay within them,” Kleinmeyer said. “You have some great administrators. Guide them and let them to their jobs.”
Kleinmeyer also took a veiled shot at the critics of the old board.
“To the vocal minority make sure your battles are chosen wisely and are really for the greater good of the school,” Kleinmeyer said.
Leibrandt asked the new board members to keep moving RB forward.
“The promise of going from good to great is not just a phrase,” Leibrandt said. “Be the next visionaries in public education. The school is to be showcased.”
Marciniak was elected four years ago and served as board president for the last two years. He had an often uncomfortable role between the three other incumbents and Moon, Sinde and Welch who were elected two years ago on a platform of reform. He made the briefest parting statement speaking for less than three minutes.
“I hope we can have a better public discussion about public education,” Marciniak said no doubt referring to the often angry comments pro and con about the referendum and other RB issues on the Landmark’s website and other places.
District 208 Interim Superintendent David Bonnette presented the departing board members with plaques and Herbst and Marciniak also received recessed gavels symbolic of their service as board president.
Bonnette said their service to RB will be forever remembered for their role in the renovation and expansion of the building.
“Thank you for countless hours of service,” Bonnette said. “The real lasting tribute for your work is at the northwest entrance where your names will be on a plaque. It’s been a real pleasure for me for the last two years to work with you.”
Assistant Principal Tim Scanlon made a statement from the audience on the behalf of the staff.
“Thank you very much,” Scanlon said. “The four of you have been great people to work with.”