When new school board members are sworn in early next year, the boards in Richfield and Bloomington will look very different.
That’s because last week voters in those two cities took the somewhat unusual step of ousting the incumbent members seeking reelection — all of them.
And for the most part, many of those long-term school board members saw overwhelming defeats.
In Richfield, voters elected Christine Maleck, Tim Pollis and Peter Toensing. They will be replacing longtime members David Lamberger, Sandy Belkengren and John Easterwood.
Maleck said one of the common complaints she heard on the campaign trail was that none of the incumbent candidates currently had children in Richfield schools. Each of the challengers who won do have school-age children enrolled in the district.
“The demographics in Richfield have changed a lot in the past 15 to 20 years,” Maleck said. “I think a lot of voters supported us because we are living the life of a typical Richfield parent who’s really involved in our schools.”
Another factor that seems to have influenced the Richfield school board race was a controversy that occurred last year and involved a decision to spend $200,000 to install lights at the high school baseball field.
Many parents saw the purchase as a waste of money, particularly in light of the fact that the district was forced to make more than a half-million dollars in cuts after a referendum failed in 2011. Both Lamberger and Belkengren voted to approve the purchase.
In weeks leading up to the election, that issue resurfaced, as evidenced by letters to the editor to local media outlets.
“There is definitely a group of parents who harbor resentment over that decision,” said Maleck, who said she was also opposed to the lights purchase. “I think they made their feelings known on Tuesday.”
In Bloomington, it does not appear that any one single school controversy drove the election, though recent infighting among board members definitely put off some parents.
More importantly, parents say, there was just an overwhelming desire to inject the board with new blood. They did so by electing Ricardo Oliva, Jim Sorum, Tom Bennett and Dawn Steigauf.
“I think it sounds a bit cliché to say change was needed, but in this case change was needed,” said Linda Batterson, president of Bloomington’s Parent Teacher Student Association Council. “Still, I think a lot of us were stunned it was a complete sweep.”
The three incumbents who were defeated — Arlene Bush, Tim Culver and Lyle Abeln — have a combined 50-plus years of experience on the board. In fact, Bush is one of the longest-serving school board members in the state, having been elected to the board 32 years ago.
Bush said she wasn’t sure what compelled voters to vote the way the did, but she has no hard feelings. She plans to volunteer for the schools as well as stay involved with the local Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s so important to be involved in your community,” she said, “and I’ll continue to do what I can to help.”