RACINE — Union-backed candidates pulled off shocking victories and decisively took control of the Racine Unified School Board in Tuesday’s election, spelling trouble for key initiatives from district administrators.
Unofficial results showed tight races across the district Tuesday night, but candidates supported by the Racine Education Association beat their administration-aligned competitors in most races.
The results could frustrate several key initiatives the administration of Superintendent Lolli Haws plans to implement, such as block scheduling, while giving renewed vigor to a teachers union weakened by Act 10.
Newcomer Michelle Duchow, a social worker at a school in Milwaukee residing in Sturtevant, ran unopposed for the District 1 seat representing Unified’s southwest corner and was virtually guaranteed a win. On Tuesday night, she also won a seat on the Sturtevant Village Board. Unofficial results showed her with 2,748 votes with all 14 wards reporting.
In a battle between incumbents for District 2’s seat on the southeast corner of the district, Racinian Dennis Wiser, former School Board president who has sided often with the union, seems to have narrowly defeated fellow incumbent and recent appointee John Koetz, of Mount Pleasant, who has often sided with the school administration, according to unofficial results. Unofficial results showed Wiser garnering 2,247 votes to Koetz’s 2,019 with all wards reporting.
In another race between incumbents in the city’s south-side District 3, retired principal Mike Frontier, who has often sided with the union, seems to have decisively defeated more-senior incumbent Pamala Handrow, director of Bethany Apartments and current vice president of the School Board, who has often sided with the district administration. He took 1,841 votes to Handrow’s 1,007 with all wards reporting, according to unofficial results.
“I think we stressed in my campaign that we need to work to build collaboration between administration and the unions,” Frontier said Tuesday night. “It’s hard work, but it’s a goal we need to pursue.”
In the third contest of incumbents for District 4 at the center of Unified Racine's Julie McKenna, a union-aligned board member with nearly two decades of experience, appears to have narrowly beat out , former state legislator Kim Plache, of Mount Pleasant who has sided with the district. Unofficial results showed McKenna with 2,293 votes and Plache with 2,186 with all wards reporting.
In the west-center District 5, incumbent and recent appointee Chuck Goodremote, a Modine Manufacturing Co. executive from Mount Pleasant who has often sided with district administrators, faced a challenge from union-backed newcomer Steve Hooper, a development technician for SC Johnson from Caledonia. Preliminary results showed Hooper winning 2,986 votes to Goodremote’s 2,421 with all wards reporting.
In District 6, representing the area around downtown Racine, newcomer John Heckenlively, a writer who has agreed with the teacher's union on many issues, bested Jim Venturini, an insurance sales executive who has expressed support for district administrators' views. Unofficial results showed Heckenlively with 920 votes to Venturini’s 836, according to unofficial results.
In the city’s northwest side District 7, union-backed incumbent Don Nielsen, a retired school counselor, appeared on the verge of fending off a challenge from Brian F. O’Connell, retired Racine development director. Unofficial results showed Nielsen with 1,816 votes, to O’Connell’s 1,252 with all eight wards in.
In the District 8 — which includes the north side of Racine, part of Caledonia and all of North Bay — School Board President Melvin Hargrove, a local pastor from Racine who has supported district administrators, lost to challenger Matthew Hanser, unified services director for the Illinois Education Association from Caledonia who has aligned himself with school unions. Hanser had 2,190 votes to Hargrove’s 2,177 with all wards in, according to unofficial results.
Late Tuesday night, Hargrove ruled out a recount despite such a close vote, but he said he is confident in the decisions he has made in the last year.
“I have no regrets at all as to what I’ve done,” he said. “I know I did what was right … the voters thought otherwise, so they’ll get what they voted for.”
In District 9, representing most of Caledonia and all of Wind Point, newcomer Bob Wittke Jr., a tax professional from Caledonia who has agreed with district administrators on many issues, appears to have decisively defeated fellow incumbent Kurt Squire, a retired UPS manager from Wind Point who has agreed with the teachers' union on many issues. Wittke had 3,230 votes to Squire’s 2,032 with all 14 wards reporting, unofficial results showed.