Shortly after four people elected earlier in the month were sworn in on April 30, members of the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education voted unanimously to elect William “Wes” Smithing the new board president.
Smithing, a 50-year-old resident of Hollywood who works as a facilities design and construction manager for United Ground Express, replaces Garry Gryczan as president. Gryczan and Tim Walsh both decided not to run for third terms in the April 2 election.
Elected to the school board only two years ago, Smithing will lead a fairly inexperienced school board. Laura Hruska is, by far, the experienced member of the board, having just been elected to her fourth term. No other board member has more than two years of experience in the job.
But Hruska could not turn that experience into the board presidency. Hruska did not directly address whether she wanted to be president, saying that she was fine with Smithing as president. Hruska has never been a board officer in her 12 years on the school board.
“I feel completely comfortable,” said Hruska said noting that she is the board’s delegate to meetings of the Illinois Association of School Boards.
Smithing said he reached out to Hruska before the biennial reorganization meeting and told her that he was seeking to become school board president.
“I had reached out to Laura and asked for her support,” Smithing said.
Smithing was a member of the school district’s contract negotiating team. In that role he worked closely with superintendent Kevin Skinkis.
“I really think that kind of set the stage for everything else,” Smithing said.
The president of a school board works with the superintendent to set the agenda at each meeting and sometimes serves as the spokesperson for the board.
After Smithing was elected board president, board member Gina Sierra nominated Ramona Towner for vice-president, a motion that seconded by new board member Thomas Jacobs.
Hruska suggested that one of the three new board members be selected as vice-president of the board as a way bringing the board together. But the board voted 6 to 1, with Hruska casting the only no vote, to make Towner vice president.
The newly constituted board plans to have a retreat this summer and to reexamine board and district goals and perhaps commission a strategic plan for the district.
The reorganization meeting was the last one for Gryczan, Walsh, and John Keen, who were all first elected eight years ago. While Gryczan and Walsh did not seek a third term Keen did. However, he finished fifth in a race for four seats, 93 votes behind Hruska.
Skinkis, who took over as superintendent a few months after Gryczan, Walsh, Keen, and Hruska were sworn in 2011, thanked the departing members, noting they came into office at a tough time, following a failed referendum and facing unpopular budget cuts.
But, Skinkis said, over the past eight years the board worked to improve finances at RBHS, restoring many of the things that were cut.
“I appreciate all the support and hard work that you put into that and helping rebuild our financial structure here,” Skinkis said.