OTTAWA COUNTY — Two seats on the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District Board of Education are up for grabs this June, with five candidates filing to run.
Among them are two local school board members and another who ran for office as an Ottawa Impact candidate in November, but wasn’t elected.
The election doesn’t officially take place until Monday, June 5, but the race is taking shape. Board members aren’t elected by a public vote, but rather by representatives from local boards of education, many of whom chose their candidates the week of May 15.
How the board works
The board consists of five members, each living in one of the OAISD’s member districts. Those districts are Holland, West Ottawa, Zeeland, Hamilton, Saugatuck, Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Hudsonville, Coopersville, Jenison and Allendale.
Positions on the board are elected by the corresponding school boards. Each of the 11 boards votes on the candidates they’d like to elect, then select a delegate to cast the votes.
Current members of the board are Carol Slagh and Rick Dernberger of Zeeland, Robyn Afrik of Holland, Randy Schipper of West Ottawa and John Siemion of Grand Haven. Schipper and Siemion’s seats are up for election, but only Schipper is seeking another term.
State law prohibits the board from having more than two representatives from a single district at once. Because there are already two residents of Zeeland Public Schools — Slagh and Dernberger — on the board, candidate Eric Miller would be ineligible to serve if elected.
Five candidates filed to run in the election, including Schipper and would-be newcomers Marc Eickholt, Eric Miller, Vanessa Wilhelm and Roger Williams.
To run, candidates must be a registered voter in one of the OAISD’s member districts and either submit a nominating petition with at least 40 valid elector signatures or pay a nonrefundable $100 filing fee. Each candidate paid the filing fee except Schipper, who submitted signatures.
Schipper, a lawyer, has served one term on the OAISD board, to which he was elected in 2017. He’s also a member of the West Ottawa Schools Board of Education, a position he’s held since 2005.
Eickholt is currently a member of the Grand Haven Area Public Schools Board of Education. He was appointed in 2021, then elected for a four-year partial term in November 2022. Eickholt defeated OI-endorsed Thomas Hoekstra by 302 votes in Grand Haven.
He was formerly an application development manager at the OAISD.
Williams ran for a seat on the Grand Haven board in November and was backed by Ottawa Impact. He finished third out of five candidates in a race for two seats, coming in 715 votes behind the second place finisher.
His candidate page for that race is still active. Issues listed on the page include “obscene materials” in school libraries, the district “partnering with local community activist organizations” and Critical Race Theory.
Wilhelm, also from Grand Haven, is also a supporter of Ottawa Impact. She advocated for Williams and other OI candidates in the Grand Haven race. Her Twitter account links to a blog called “Restoring Ottawa,” which focuses on GHAPS and has posts about CRT, the contents of books and other issues.
Where we stand
Most of the member districts selected their candidates during meetings Monday, May 15, according to posted meeting agendas.
Allendale, Coopersville, Grand Haven, Holland, Hudsonville, Saugatuck, Spring Lake, West Ottawa and Zeeland were set to vote Monday, while Hamilton and Jenison will decide May 22.
Based on the meetings held Monday, it appears Schipper and Eickholt are the favorites for election.
The Sentinel was in attendance at Zeeland’s meeting, where Schipper and Eickholt were put forth for election with unanimous support. Holland and West Ottawa voted for them as well.
According to social media posts, Husdsonville and Spring Lake also voted for Schipper and Eickholt.
Allendale Public Schools, which had two Ottawa Impact candidates elected in November, voted for Williams and Wilhelm in a split vote.
OI newcomers Corey Mango and Liz Ramey voted for Williams and Wilhelm, along with Anna Hendricks and Kevin Holstege. Pam DeJong, Josh Thurkettle and Kim Cannata voted against supporting those candidates.
What happens next?
A special meeting to conduct the OAISD election will be held Monday, June 5. At that time, the delegates for each district will cast their votes.
The two candidates receiving the most votes will begin their six-year terms July 1.