For the second consecutive election it was not good to be an incumbent in the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 school board race.
First-time candidates Bill Durkin, Deanna Zalas and Tom Jacobs, who all live in Riverside, led the field in the April 2 election despite there being no other contested races in Riverside.
Durkin, the brother of Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, finished first with 2,881votes. Zalas was second with 2,600 votes and Jacobs was third with 2,379.
Incumbent Laura Hruska grabbed the fourth spot up for grabs edging fellow incumbent John Keen by 92 votes. Hruska received 2,263 votes to 2,171 for Keen. Former school board President Matt Sinde, who also finished last two years ago when he ran as an incumbent, trailed the field with 1,639 votes. Hruska, Keen, and Sinde all live in Brookfield.
In a generally low-key campaign Durkin and Jacobs ran the most aggressive races. Durkin said he purchased a “couple hundred” yard signs seen scattered around Riverside, Brookfield and North Riverside. Durkin was the only candidate in the race to have yard signs, which generally are very rare in RBHS school board campaigns.
Durkin also had about 2,000 pieces of glossy campaign literature. Durkin said that he spent about $1,500 on his campaign, much more than his competitors. Jacobs said he spent about $300.
Durkin and Jacobs were apparently the only candidates to do extensive door-to-door campaigning while Durkin and Keen were the only candidates who purchased newspaper ads.
“If I commit to something I try to do right and with my best effort,” Durkin said.
Once he got used to it, Durkin enjoyed face-to-face campaigning.
“You get to meet a lot of people,” Durkin said. “When you do meet people knocking on doors, the reception was good. It felt a little awkward at first. I was hesitant because I know what it is like. Sometimes I don’t like people knocking on my door.”
Jacobs, who campaigned on a platform of boosting civic engagement, also went door to door ringing bells for five consecutive Saturdays.
Jacobs and Zalas received some help from the Riverside Brookfield Education Association, the union that represents RBHS teachers, near the end of the campaign. The RBEA worked with the local office of the Illinois Education Association to provide Jacobs and Zalas with contact information for teachers who live in the district. Jacobs said he sent emails to the teachers on the list.
RBEA president Doug Schultz didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment from the Landmark.
Teachers were impressed that Jacobs talked of soliciting input from them during the only candidate forum of the campaign. For the past few years, many teachers have felt that they have not been listened to by the administration and school board.
Jacobs was very happy about winning a seat on the school board.
“I’m thrilled,” Jacobs said. “I think being elected is a big deal. I mean people put their trust into one’s perspective and my platform, so I’m very excited about it.”
Hruska’s edge over Keen came from North Riverside where she received 146 votes more than Keen. Hruska actually won two of the four precincts in the Komarek School district where there was high turnout because of a bond referendum that was defeated.
Keen may have been hurt by stating at the candidate forum that he thought the school board should put a tax increase referendum on the ballot in the next couple years in light of RBHS’s deteriorating financial condition. Keen said that it would be good to know whether the community would support raising taxes or not. That talk may have hurt Keen, especially in the Komarek district,
Keen, who has served two terms on the RBHS school board, said he had no regrets.
“What I wanted to do actually, just by running, is to let people know there’s issues coming up for RB, potential problems, and I see it as educating the community on those issues,” Keen said.
Hruska said she did no campaigning other than going to the candidate forum and a meet-and-greet session hosted by Indivisible Brookfield. She missed nearly three quarters of the candidate forum because she was leading a youth group meeting that evening.
Hruska said that she was very happy about winning her fourth term on the RBHS school board but was saddened that Keen lost.
“I worked with him for eight years,” Hruska said of Keen. “I thought he was a tremendous board member. There were six good people that ran; no bad choices.”
Keen angered some left-leaning voters last year when he questioned RB’s Tolerance Week, a view that Hruska also shared. Keen is known for having generally conservative views and he is typically not shy about expressing them.
A number of left-leaning voters voted only for Jacobs and Zalas in a bit of strategic voting designed to boost their chances. They were the only candidates those voters felt that they could support.
Keen said that he felt good about what he and departing board members Garry Gryczan and Tim Walsh and others achieved on the school board during the last eight years since the 2011 referendum was defeated.
“I was happy to serve two terms and it was an honor to do that and I think we accomplished a lot, Garry, Tim, and Laura,” Keen said.