Three incumbents have been re-elected to another four years on the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education, with a first-time candidate from North Riverside also winning election, according to unofficial election results from the Cook County Clerk’s Office.
When updated vote totals were released by the Cook County Clerk on the afternoon of April 10, school board President Deanna Zalas, of Riverside, had edged ahead of North Riverside resident Nicholas Novak, who led by less than 20 votes on election night.
As of April 10, Zalas had 2,197 votes to Novak’s vote total of 2,181.
“I think it shows people appreciate the direction RB is going and how we’ve grown out of the pandemic and how we’ve charted our goals and agenda moving forward,” said Zalas.
That Zalas surpassed him in the days following April didn’t diminish Novak’s accomplishment. It’s Novak’s first attempt at winning elective office Novak, and even with updated totals on April 10, he appears to have finished comfortably ahead of two others elected to the board.
“I look forward to the opportunity. I’m thrilled the people elected me and have the faith I’ll do right by the school,” said Novak.
Also elected to fill the four four-year terms up for election were incumbent school board members William Durkin (2,073 votes) and Laura Hruska (1,844).
Trailing the field was first-time candidate Kenyon Duner, of Brookfield, who had amassed 1,636 votes, unofficially.
While poor weather during the middle of the day on April 4 may have depressed voter turnout somewhat, the lack of contested municipal elections in both Riverside and Brookfield also played a part.
In Brookfield voter turnout was about 12%, while in Riverside it was an abysmal 10.3%. In North Riverside, where there was a contested election for village trustee, turnout was noticeably higher at 26%.
As a result, voter turnout for the seats on the District 208 Board of Education was just 15% — a very low result for a contested election in the district. That’s even lower than the 16% turnout in 2021, when there were also uncontested municipal races in Brookfield and Riverside.
“The contested race in North Riverside really helped,” said Novak, who added that both Zalas and Durkin both reached out to congratulate him on election night.
In 2019, when Brookfield had its last contested municipal election, turnout for the RBHS school board race was 20.7%. The last time all three municipalities had contested municipal elections, in 2009, voter turnout for the RBHS school board race was 37.5%.
“You’d like to see more people engaged in these decisions,” said Zalas of the turnout. “That’s challenging, and there are some lessons the board can take from that. We need to better communicate out what we’re doing and get greater civic engagement down the road.”
Lach secures 2-year term
In the race for one two-year term on the District 208 school board, a battle between appointed incumbents, North Riverside resident Carolyn Lach was a comfortable winner with 1,654 votes compared to Michael Welch’s total of 1,180.
“It’s a honor and privilege to be elected against Michael Welch. I liked working with him,” Lach said.
About the contested election in North Riverside, she said, it “got the people out.”
The North Riverside turnout in the past two elections also has resulted in North Riverside having three residents on the RBHS school board,
Hruska, a Brookfield resident, won election to her fifth term on the District 208 school board, while Zalas and Durkin will be sworn in for their second terms after votes are certified by the Cook County Clerk later this month.
Riverside-Brookfield High School’s Board of Education is expected to seat the newly elected members at their meeting on May 9.
Novak, who grew up in Forest Park and is a relative newcomer, having moved to North Riverside in 2016, has had two sons graduate from RBHS and a daughter who will enroll there while he’s serving his first term.
Lach is new to the RBHS school board, having been appointed to fill a vacancy just six months ago, but she’s no stranger to the position. Lach had served on the Komarek School District 94 Board of Education from 2015 to 2021.
Welch, a former D208 board president who was appointed to fill a vacancy in 2021, had indicated that even if he was elected in 2023, it would be his last race.