Huntley School District 158 voters clearly want a change, said Gina Galligar, one of the candidates leading Thursday in the April 4 election.
Galligar was part of a slate of candidates who ran on a platform of lowering taxes and were backed by a Wisconsin-based political action committee funded at least in part by former congressional candidate Catalina Lauf.
The incumbents on track to lose their seats, though, worry the focus will be less on finances and more on “culture war” issues, they said.
Based on incomplete and unofficial totals, incumbents Jonathan Dailey, Melissa Maiorino, William Geheren and Kevin Gentry were losing Thursday to challengers Galligar, Laura Murray, Andrew Bittman and Michael Thompson.
Murray led the crowded field for the three four-year seats with 2,091 votes followed by Bittman, 1,947, and Galligar, 1,946, according to unofficial results. Of the incumbents, Dailey earned 1,157 votes; Maiorino, 1,081; and Geheren, 618.
Three other candidates for those seats earned more votes than at least some of the incumbents: Katherine (Kate) Policheri had 1,604 votes; Paula Yensen, 1,182; and Stephen G. Buchs, 863.
For the open two-year seat, Michael Thompson had 2,136 votes to incumbent Kevin Gentry’s 1,036. A third candidate for that seat, Andrew Fekete, received 1,146.
While not final, the totals from Tuesday’s results include early voting, mail-in and Election Day ballots, according to the McHenry County Clerk’s Office website. Late-arriving mail-in ballots and provisional ballots are not included in the totals.
The results will be finalized April 25.
Geheren, who had served on the school board for the past 12 years, said he was disappointed in the results.
“There probably were too many candidates and the candidates that won were well funded,” Geheren said. “They were able to afford tons of signs. They had tons of meets and greets, ... giving away food and drinks. They put a lot of money into what they were doing.”
The four campaigns were funded by a political action committee, the McHenry County Citizens for Lower Taxes. While state campaign finance reports for the months leading up to the April 4 election are not yet due, the committee reported one donation of at least $1,000, which was $15,000 from Catalina for Congress, according to Illinois State Board of Elections reports.
“Her values happen to align with ours,” Thompson said in an interview, adding that donation was not different from the $300,000 Illinois Democrats spent on local school board campaigns.
“We ran on a platform that was very clear on what we stood for,” Thompson said.
“The truth is, we were elected because our values as candidates resonated with our community,” Thompson said in a written response to questions emailed to him.
While the candidates ran on a platform of reducing taxes, Geheren said he was concerned that once the board is sworn in, they might have another agenda.
“They were running on the ticket of ... the incumbent board just passed the largest tax increase in the history of Huntley schools,” Geheren said.
The board increase the property tax levy by the maximum allowed under state law, which limits how much levies can be raised by to the rate of inflation plus new growth in the community.
He was concerned, Gehren said, that Huntley schools could become part of “culture wars funded by political motives in the Republican party.”
In his written response, Thompson took exception to that characterization. “It is time to stop the name calling and addressing the four of us as ‘extreme right’ candidates.”
Thompson said his issues were not around LGBTQ students but instead “about pornographic materials in schools that were never intended to be in high school or lower level schools.”
He pointed as examples to “This Book is Gay” and “Gender Queer.: A Memoir” The books, he said, provide descriptions of “how underage children can find sexual partners on an app” or how to have sex and would not be acceptable if describing heterosexual relationships.
Both books have been the subject of bans and attempted bans. First published in 2014, “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson is a how-to about gay relationships. “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” written by Maia Kobabe, who is nonbinary, is a 239-page graphic novel designed to help others who are struggling with gender identity to feel less alone.
They have been called book burners, Galligar said. “We support all students regardless of anything, color, race, sexual orientation. We want to make sure the education is appropriate for all students.”
Every one of the four, she added, wants to make sure that books in school libraries is “age appropriate in the schools.”
As a speech therapist working in Algonquin-based Community School District 300, Galligar said she also wants to ensure teachers and paraprofessionals in the schools feel supported and have better working conditions. With a teachers union contract set to expire in 2024, negotiations should start this year, she said.
Ensuring Huntley’s special education programs and curriculum are meeting student needs is also high on her priority list.
“I don’t believe special education is fully staffed or full funded at the level that it needs to be,” Galligar said.
Both Galligar and Thompson said they wanted to host meeting with residents, outside of school board meetings, for more two-way communication.
“The format of the board meeting, when we have the sessions open for public comment, it is not conducive to conversations. (Parents) can state their concerns, make a statement, but they don’t receive an in-depth response,” Thompson said.
Town hall forum-style meetings could perhaps open up that communication, he said. “By holding these kinds of town halls, it will benefit our community and our teachers.”