The person who had the post and wanted to continue in it has it no longer. The person who didn’t want to the post right now has it anyway. That’s the result of the first meeting of the newly constituted Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education.
On May 3, the District 96 school board selected Mary Ellen Meindl as its president. Meindl defeated former board President Nancy Jensen by a 5 to 1 vote with Meindl abstaining.
Jensen, who nominated herself, cast the only vote for her to continue as board president, although new board member Michael O’Brien, who seconded Jensen’s nomination, appeared to hesitate before raising his hand to vote for Meindl. In addition to O’Brien voting for Meindl were Mary Stimming, Jennifer Leimberer and newly elected board members David Kodama and Art Perry.
Meindl, who said she did not seek the position, abstained out of respect for Jensen, a 10-year board member who served as board president for the last two years.
“I did not want to jump over Nancy,” said Meindl, who was elected in 2009. “I just didn’t feel comfortable voting for myself. It would not have changed the outcome.”
However, other board members thought a change was needed. The board president is elected every two years after the school board election. This year’s defeat of Hareena Wakely, the only incumbent board member who ran for re-election this year, seemed to convince board members that a change was necessary.
“The election results do indicate that we are beginning a transition now,” said board member Mary Stimming, who nominated Meindl for board president.
Stimming and Leimberer appeared to play key roles in pushing Meindl to become board president, although they were reluctant to talk about the process that led to Meindl’s selection.
“From both of them I heard, ‘You would be a good board president,'” said Meindl, who ran with a group candidates aligned with Jensen two years ago.
Meindl said that she had conversations with Stimming and Leimberer about the board in the four weeks between the election and her selection as board president.
None of the three would elaborate on those conversations, which also involved the newly elected board members. Stimming and Leimberer ran in 2009 on different slate than Jensen and Meindl. However, Meindl says that she has managed to develop a rapport with them in their two years on the board together. Other than Jensen, no other board member has served on the board for more than two years.
Meindl said that although she hoped to succeed Jensen as board president someday, she did not plan on pursuing the position until Jensen left the school board.
She said that walking into last week’s meeting, she was not sure what was going to happen.
“I was not 100 percent sure that I was going to be nominated,” Meindl said. “I would not have nominated myself. I wanted Nancy Jensen as president.”
Stimming declined to discuss the specifics of the conservations and planning that led to Meindl’s selection.
“It took twists and turns that none of us would have expected,” Stimming said.
Stimming went out of her way to say this was not a personal rejection of Jensen.
“This is not a reflection on her, it’s a reflection on the times we’re in,” Stimming said. “This is not about persons or personalities.”
What it does seem to be about is sending a message that this new board will be more responsive to parent concerns than previous boards have been in recent years. Some thought the old board was often dismissive of the concerns of parents and was too much of a rubber stamp for the administration.
“I think it’s somewhat symbolic,” said Kodama, who was the leading vote-getter in the April 5 election. “I’ve been on record stating my concerns about the disconnect between the board and the district. There are concerns of parents that I have not seen responded to. That is the reality of it. There was some sentiment that the results of the election should reflect a change of leadership.”
Many were angry about the contract the board entered into with for District 96 Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson two years ago. That contract was unanimously passed by the school board in the first full meeting of the board after Meindl, Leimberer and Stimming were elected two years ago.
Perry said change was necessary.
“I think there’s been a certain tone and attitude on the board for awhile,” Perry said. “A changing of the guard was needed.”
He added that Meindl was the right person to lead the board.
“I think that Nancy’s done a very admirable job, but in the spirit of moving forward, I thought Mary Ellen was the best choice,” Perry said. “I think of her as very much of a consensus builder, which I think we definitely need.”
In an attempt to keep her position as board president, Jensen pointed out that she had more time on the board than the other six members combined. Meindl declined to speak on her behalf before the vote.
Contacted Monday, Jensen was succinct.
“I’m disappointed, but I don’t think I have any other comments,” Jensen said. “Mary Ellen will do a great job.”
Meindl said she is ready to move forward.
“I can’t look at yesterday,” Meindl said. “I have to keep focused on today and going forward. Nancy and I’ve talked about me being president at some point. My belief is that I have the right skill set as far as being able to get people with differing opinions to work together.”