4 New Members Join Fields on Iowa City School Board

IOWA CITY – With five seats in play and only one incumbent running, change was coming to the Iowa City school board in Tuesday’s election no matter what.

And the four newcomers elected to the seven-member board said they hope they can improve communication and restore trust with the community – and among board members.

“It seems like it’s a battle on every issue” with the current board, said Karla Cook, a retired math teacher. “It seems like with what I’ve heard at the (candidate) forums, things will go more smoothly.”

Cook garnered 78 percent of the vote in a contest with Julie Van Dyke to fill a vacant seat with two years remaining on its term.

Winning the four seats with four-year terms were Marla Swesey (66 percent), Jeff McGinness (64 percent), Sally Hoelscher (51 percent) and incumbent school board President Patti Fields (42 percent).

Fields just edged vocal school board critic Phil Hemingway (41 percent) for the final spot, followed by Bob Porter, Jeff Alden and Jim Tate. See the results here.

Results are unofficial until they’ve been canvassed by the Johnson County Board of Supervisors Sept. 16.

Perhaps more than any recent election, the school board challengers expressed a desire to change the direction of the board. Their feelings were spurred by last year’s contentious redistricting debate, a desire for more openness among board members and administrators and recent financial problems.

Swesey, a retired elementary school teacher, said her sense is that the board has lost the trust of many members of the public. She thinks her experience in education can help the board tackle important issues in an engaging way.

“I know what it’s like in the classroom,” she said.

Hoelscher, a freelance writer, said one of the things she heard most while campaigning was the need for the board to be more accessible. She also wants the board to do a better job with long-term planning.

McGinness, an attorney, also spoke of the need for better planning and said he wants the board to be more forward-looking.

Fields, who works for United Way of Johnson County, has stressed the value her six years on the school board would bring with so many new members.

She said it’s exciting to have some fresh perspectives on the board, but her experience will be important “for continuity and as we’re getting through the next couple of years.”

Turnout was 5.95 percent, according to preliminary unofficial results from the Johnson County Auditor’s Office. That’s actually an above average turnout rate compared with board elections the past decade.