Duneland voters sent one very loud, very clear message on Tuesday: they want
to see change in the Duneland School Corporation.
By a whopping margin—nearly two-thirds of the votes cast—challenger Kristin
Kroeger defeated incumbent Nick Jurasevich in the non-partisan race for the
Jackson Township seat on the Duneland School Board.
Kroeger took 60.70 percent of the vote to Jurasevich’s 39.21 percent, and
she won 29 of 30 precincts. Only Westchester 18 went for Jurasevich and only
by a margin of two votes.
Yet Duneland voters sent one other message on Tuesday: in the open at-large
seat on the School Board, they prefer experience. In that race former School
Board member John Marshall easily defeated three others with very nearly an
outright majority of the vote.
Marshall took 49.90 percent, to Dane Lafata’s 21.32 percent; William
Barkow’s 19.38 percent; and Daniel Vondrasek Sr.’s 9.41 percent. And
Marshall did win every precinct.
The natural assumption might be that Jurasevich lost on the referendum
issue, in which the School Board—including Jurasevich—voted to pursue a new
property tax in the face of a massive shortfall in the General Fund.
There was rancor in the community about the referendum, no doubt.
But Kroeger for her part, and Jurasevich for his, doubt in fact that the
referendum played a crucial role in her win. For one thing, as Kroeger told
the Chesterton Tribune today, she herself supported the new property
“I think it’s bigger than the referendum,” Kroeger said. “The feeling,
either right or wrong, is that the leadership of the School Board and the
Administration hasn’t been consistent with the community. They want someone
on the Board to provide leadership and vision.”
In going door to door, Kroeger added, “very few people made the property tax
an issue in this election. They do want to know what we’re doing with it and
what we’ll do in seven years when it’s up. But most people know that I
supported it and why. I have two children in the district and they would
have been drastically affected.”
Instead, Kroeger pointed to a more deep-seated dissatisfaction among the
voters. “What I heard is that people were just ready for a change,” she
said. “They think that Mr. Jurasevich had his time and that it’s time for a
change. Which is what I campaigned on, and they got my message. And people
were really well informed about this race. They had read all the articles
and were making an informed choice.”
So what specifically are folks seeking and expecting from the newly composed
“The first thing, I think we have to do a much better job of communicating
what our goals are, what our challenges are, how we make decisions,” Kroeger
said. “We have to change the tone. That’s our No. 1 priority. I think we can
do that pretty easily. But it requires proactive thought, not reactive. We
need to manage the message. We need to start generating big ideas,
provocative ideas, to do things differently.”
One example: the partnership between the Town of Chesterton and CHS Building
Trades, in the construction of a public restroom facility in Thomas
Centennial Park. That kind of partnership between the community and the
schools Kroeger said she finds appealing. “There are probably dozens of ways
the community can help the schools,” she said.
Does Kroeger foresee any changes in the Duneland School Corporation’s
administration? She does, with “Dr. Dave Pruis’ proximity to retirement.” If
Pruis does opt to retire, she said, “I think there’s an opportunity to move
some people around.”
But Kroeger was blunt on one thing. “I think there’s going to be a lot of
change,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a wild ride for the next four
Kroeger did take a moment to thank both her supporters and Jurasevich, whose
campaign she praised warmly.
Jurasevich, meanwhile, wasn’t prepared either this morning to attribute his
loss to his support of the referendum. “I’m sure the property tax played
some role in it,” he told the Tribune. Yet “surprisingly” the subject
rarely was broached by the voters. “That’s why I’m hard pressed to put my
finger on anything in particular.”
“Most people asked: ‘What’s your agenda? What do you stand for,’” Jurasevich
said. “I heard very little about the referendum. That kind of surprised me.
But I give credit to the voters. They want to hear about the candidate.”
Jurasevich also thanked both his supporters and Kroeger. “I have absolutely
no complaints,” he said. “We both gave it our best efforts. And I wish
Kristen all the best of luck in the future.”
Marshall’s impression of the race isn’t that much different from Kroeger’s.
He too saw little to indicate that the referendum played a major role in his
race, although of course none of the candidates for the at-large seat were
on the board when the vote was taken to pursue it. “It’s a difficult thing
to gauge,” Marshall said. “Pretty much everyone running for the School Board
supported the referendum.”
“Definitely I think any incumbent would have had a difficult time, though,”
Marshall quickly added. “Because people want to see something different.
People may not be that happy with the way the school system is operating,
whether that’s just or unjust.”
“We’ve got some challenges,” Marshall conceded. “There’s an outcry for
better communication. The voters want more transparency in the way the
school system is run. They want the School Board to take a more active role
at meetings. They want the administration and staff to be held more
accountable. They want a louder voice than they think they have.”
Does Marshall see any near-term changes in the administration?
“That’s a tough question to answer,” he said in response. “I think there
needs to be improvement, a greater energy level, in how we operate. On the
whole I would like to see improvement in how we’re organized. We have good
people at the top, some great minds, but there’s always room for
improvement. But do I see a change down the road? It’s premature to answer
There is one bright spot on the horizon, Marshall noted: the election of
Democrat Glenda Ritz to superintendent of public instruction. Ritz beat
Republican Tony Bennett with 53 percent of the vote.
“Ritz is a friend to public schools,” Marshall said. “She supports a change
in the school funding formula. She’s the exact polar opposite of everything
that Bennett stands for.”
When Marshall is seated on the School Board in January, it will be his
second full term. He was originally seated to finish the term of Mike
Griffin, who resigned his seat.
“I want to thank everybody who supported me in the election, for giving me
the honor of serving the Duneland School Corporation,” Marshall said.