Chesterton Tribune


Kroeger and Marshall win School Board vote

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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 tax.

“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 School Board?

“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 years.”

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.”

John Marshall

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 that.”

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.



Posted 11/7/2011