IOWA CITY – An incumbent and two newcomers won seats on the Iowa City school board in a record-setting election Tuesday.
Board member Tuyet Dorau was the top vote-getter, followed by challengers Chris Lynch and Brian Kirschling, in a field of nine candidates seeking three open seats in a race that drew more interest than any recent school election. Dorau and Lynch live in Coralville and Kirschling is from Iowa City.
“I think my voting record proves I’m a person that looks at the entire district, and that’s what people want,” Dorau said.
Dorau collected 43 percent of the vote, Lynch 36 percent and Kirschling 35 percent, according to preliminary results from the Johnson County Auditor’s Office. Phil Hemingway of Iowa City, who lost a spot on the board by 89 votes two years ago, came in fourth by 104 votes. Incumbent Karla Cook was fifth.
A total of 8,750 ballots were cast, which is a turnout rate of 11.88 percent.
The record number of voters in a regular Iowa City school election had been 5,814 in 1995, when a bond issue to build a new elementary school also was on the ballot, according to the Auditor’s Office. The turnout rate that election was 10.83 percent, the only time in recent history double digits was reached before Tuesday.
Turnout was such that County Auditor Travis Weipert wrote on Twitter that his office had to send more ballots to precincts in the early afternoon. Coralville ran out of ballots and had to photocopy some and hand count them, delaying the returns.
Kirschling praised the record turnout.
“I think that there’s so many issues facing our district and so many big things that we’re about to embark on that, obviously, everybody’s been paying attention,” he said.
Interest in this year’s election was fueled by a series of high-profile issues in recent months, including a controversial diversity policy and the approval of a facilities plan that calls for the construction of four new schools and the closure of Hoover Elementary in a few years.
The facilities plan, in particular, received a lot of attention in the campaign.
Hoover parents advocated for candidates who supported keeping open their eastern Iowa City school. Other community members said the school site is needed for the expansion of neighboring City High and backed candidates sharing that view.
Results at the precincts east of the Iowa River showed split support largely between Kirschling, Hemingway, Cook, Sara Barron, Jason Lewis and Gregg Geerdes. Meanwhile, Dorau and Lynch, the only candidates from the western half of the district, were the overwhelming favorites at the Coralville, North Liberty and West High precincts.
Lynch said geography clearly played a role in the outcome, but he believes the three elected will be “global thinkers” making decisions based on what’s best for the whole district.
“My focus is going to be our district moving forward together,” he said.
It’s not clear if Tuesday’s election could change the Hoover decision. The facilities plan was approved by a 5-2 vote, with Dorau and board President Marla Swesey opposed, although Swesey indicated she reluctantly thought Hoover should close.
Cook and Sarah Swisher, who did not seek re-election, voted with the majority and soon will be off the board. Kirschling has said the decision should not be revisited. Dorau and Lynch oppose Hoover’s closure but were noncommittal Tuesday night while not ruling out revisiting that decision at some point.
The new board will have input on the facilities plan’s implementation, with Superintendent Stephen Murley charged with bringing to the board in November a timeline for the projects.
Tuesday’s victors are to be sworn in at the school board’s Sept. 24 meeting.
Results are unofficial until the canvas of votes Sept. 13.