The Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education has a new president.
At the board’s reorganization meeting on April 28, Mike Welch was unanimously elected to the post of board president. At the meeting Matt Sinde, who has served as president for the past four years, announced he would not seek another term as president.
Sinde then nominated Welch to succeed him as board president. After Welch was elected board president, Sinde was unanimously elected vice president.
“I’d like to thank Matt Sinde and John Keen for their time and service as president and vice president of the school board over the last four years,” said Welch after being elected board president. “They did an amazing job. As the president of the board, I want to serve all stakeholders in the district while continuing to improve the opportunities and experiences for all the students at RB.”
Welch, an Internal Revenue Service agent assigned to the United States Attorney’s Office in Chicago, was first elected to the board six years ago when he ran on slate with Sinde and Dan Moon.
Although Welch and Sinde have been close allies and ran together on the same slate in both 2009 and 2013, they have very different personalities. Welch is careful, quiet and low-key while Sinde can be outspoken and brusque. During his six years on the school board, Welch rarely has said a lot at meetings.
Throughout his time on the board, Welch has preferred to stay out of the limelight, but he is highly respected by fellow board members who listen when he does speak. Welch is knowledgeable about finance and budget matters, and he likes to delve into the details of things.
The board president presides over meetings, helps shape the agenda and signs various documents, but overall does not have any greater power than any other board member. But the board president often sets the tone for the school board, and Welch could be a less controversial leader than Sinde sometimes was.
The school board was stung by a big defeat on April 27, when the Brookfield Village Board voted 5 to 1 against granting a special use permit to allow the school to build a new parking lot.
There was no turnover on the school board this year after all four incumbents up for re-election ran unopposed. But despite the lack of opposition in this year’s election, a significant segment of the RBHS parent community has been unhappy with the school board.
Those parents view the board as too focused on finances, sports and numbers and not as concerned as they should be about education and especially the fine arts. Board members dispute that characterization.
Welch, a Riverside resident, is the father of two daughters who graduated from RBHS. He initially ran for the school board with Sinde and Dan Moon on a slate that was recruited and backed by, among others, Chris Robling and Jerry Buttimer. Welch was an indefatigable campaigner who spent many hours going door to door, ringing doorbells and talking to voters in both the 2009 and 2013 campaigns.
Sinde said he decided that four years as board president was enough for him.
“I feel that right now that I should step down as president and have somebody else take over the reins of president and help lead this board for the next two years,” said Sinde at Tuesday night’s meeting.
After the meeting Sinde briefly talked about his four years as board president.
“It was interesting,” Sinde said. “I think we did good. We got a lot of things accomplished. It’s time to share the leadership.”
Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Sinde’s term as board president was a new three-year teachers’ contract that was agreed to in 2013. That agreement includes a pay freeze for teachers this year and modest pay increases the other two years.
The agreement was reached despite what had been significant tension between the faculty and the school board in the wake of a failed referendum in 2011. Cutbacks since the referendum defeat have caused pain and upset among faculty, parents and students.
Over the last four years the District 208 school board has generally worked well together, and relationships among board members have improved a great deal after an initial period of tension when board members Laura Hruska and Tim Walsh were at times at odds with the board majority and sometimes felt isolated.