School board incumbents fare well in DuPage County in pandemic election

  • Upper from left, Robert Bruno, Adam Collins, Jodee Dunham, Abigail Emerson and lower from left, Jason Loebach, Chris Martelli, Millie Sessions and Tayyaba Syed ran for Glen Ellyn District 41 school board seats in Tuesday's election.

    Upper from left, Robert Bruno, Adam Collins, Jodee Dunham, Abigail Emerson and lower from left, Jason Loebach, Chris Martelli, Millie Sessions and Tayyaba Syed ran for Glen Ellyn District 41 school board seats in Tuesday's election.

 
 
Updated 4/7/2021 8:47 AM

Numerous incumbents in DuPage County's most contentious school board races appeared to hold onto their seats Tuesday, fending off a flood of opposition candidates in an election largely seen as a referendum on COVID-19 restrictions and the pace of reopening classrooms.

Unofficial results indicated voters seemed to favor experience over new blood as many districts shifted to return to in-person learning after spring break while navigating a possible pandemic resurgence in DuPage.

 

From Naperville to Glen Ellyn, sitting board members fought off challengers who focused their campaigns on expediting school reopenings.

The debate sparked protests across the suburbs as frustrated parents called for their children to return to classrooms while school leaders said they were following the advice of health experts. It also made for clear fault lines in large fields of candidates.

In Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200, 10 candidates jumped into the school board race. Current board President Brad Paulsen was among the incumbents who won another term by comfortable margins.

"There's no doubt that during this election cycle and the entire school year, you could see and feel and read how people's politics and their views of the seriousness or the lack of seriousness of the pandemic influenced how they behaved toward the school district and the school board and our superintendent," Paulsen said Tuesday. "And that made its way all the way into the election season as well."

District 203

In Naperville Unit District 203, incumbents had a strong showing Tuesday.

With all but three of the 111 precincts unofficially counted in DuPage and Will counties, current board President Kristin Fitzgerald was leading the field of nine candidates with 7,437 votes.

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She was followed by Vice President Donna Wandke and fellow board member Charles Cush with 6,557 and 6,075 votes, respectively. Amanda McMillen was on her way to winning the fourth open board seat with 6,007 votes.

Seemingly out of contention were Adam Russo with 4,378 votes; Bill Eagan with 3,681; Robert Reed with 3,498; Thomas Binkowski with 3,444; and Christi Helm with 1,915.

The three incumbents defended the reopening process and the board's decision to provide relief to taxpayers by rebating $10 million in surplus funds resulting from two months of mandatory school closures. But many of the challengers said the money should have been used for efforts to bring students back into classrooms sooner.

District 87

In Glenbard High School District 87, all four incumbents looked to have solidified wins.

With 173 out of 176 precincts reporting, sitting board President Judith Weinstock tallied the most votes with 7,544 followed by fellow board members Bob Friend with 7,480; Mireya Vera with 6,123 and Jennifer Jendras with 5,868.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The four appeared to beat out newcomers Kermit Eby with 5,699 votes; Nicole Dawson with 5,630; Cyndi Covelli with 5,318; and David Dejanovich with 4,503.

Weinstock, a retired Glenbard West teacher, was aligned with Friend, the longest-serving member, Vera, and Eby. All four were supported by the district's teachers union.

During the campaign, Weinstock highlighted the district's investment in weekly saliva testing, thermal imaging cameras to check student temperatures and other COVID-19 safety measures.

Jendras ran with a trio of challengers -- Covelli, Dawson and Dejanovich -- on a slate dissatisfied with the district's handling of the pandemic.

District 41

In Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41, voters backed the two incumbents.

Board President Robert Bruno had 2,665 votes, and Vice President Jason Loebach had 2,578, with all but one precinct reporting, according to unofficial results.

The top candidate, however, was newcomer Tayyaba Syed with 2,788 votes.

Also winning a board seat was Chris Martelli with 2,066 votes.

Falling short were four challengers who failed to reverse the board majority. Abigail Emerson collected 1,940 votes. Millie Sessions had 1,928. Jodee Dunham had 1,620, and Adam Collins netted 1,558.

Bruno, Loebach, Martelli and Syed favored the district's approach to the COVID-19 crisis. All four received the endorsement of the teachers union.

The two incumbents, both elected four years ago, said the district has kept students safe by consulting health experts and adhering to ever-evolving state guidelines. Over the course of the pandemic, the district provided at least some daily in-person and remote learning and now leads a countywide initiative to address learning disruptions through a summer program for students.

On the opposing side, Emerson, Collins, Sessions and Dunham contended the board moved too slowly to restore full in-person instruction, pointing to families of special needs children who were struggling with the learning models. Dunham's social media posts, some of which praised a QAnon conspiracy theory adherent and showed resistance to mask rules, became campaign fodder in recent weeks.

District 200

Voters in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 favored a mix of incumbents and new voices for four school board seats.

With all precincts reporting, challenger Mary Yeboah led the pack with 5,041 votes, according to unofficial results. Paulsen, the board president was in second with 4,671 votes, followed by electoral rookie Angela Blatner, who secured 4,355, and board member Rob Hanlon, who had 4,312.

Rounding out the field were Tom Paulsen with 4,188 votes; Amanda Spans with 4,166; Michael Evans with 3,869; Kevin Nickell with 3,741; Anjali Bharadwa with 3,028; and Steven Gross with 1,075.

Yeboah, who was making her second bid for a board seat, put a spotlight on persistent academic achievement gaps in the district.

Blatner, Nickell, Evans and Spans ran on a pro-reopening slate.

College of DuPage

In the College of DuPage board election, voters reelected the lone incumbent, Heidi Holan, with nearly all precincts reporting in.

Holan, who garnered 39,234 votes, was followed by candidates Florence Appel with 34,739 and Deborah Sajdak with 29,723.

Eight candidates are vying for three spots on the board.

Other tallies were: Nick Howard with 29,128; Donald Potoczny with 29,005 votes; Daniel Malloy with 23,478; Andrew Manno with 22,007; and Sheng "Texa" Sun with 14,166.

All results are unofficial. College of DuPage includes Cook, DuPage and Will counties.

Appel, Potoczny and Howard ran on a slate with the backing of COD faculty.

The partial election results do not include up to 6,678 outstanding mail-in ballots countywide. Ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday and received within 14 days to be included in final tallies.

• Daily Herald staff writer Scott C. Morgan contributed to this report.

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