Traverse City News and Events

Cardon Out, Pavelka In As Interim, Questions Remain At TCAPS

By Beth Milligan | Oct. 18, 2019

Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) Superintendent Ann Cardon resigned from the district effective immediately Thursday – a move that followed more than a week of rampant speculation about a potential rift between Cardon and some board members. The board voted 6-1 to approve a mutual separation agreement with Cardon – the terms of which have not yet been disclosed – and unanimously appointed former TCAPS Superintendent Jim Pavelka to serve as interim leader of the district.

Board members met for their second special meeting in a week at the TCAPS administration building Thursday afternoon, with an overflow crowd in attendance. With rumors swirling that Cardon was on her way out, more than a dozen public commenters took to the microphone to demand answers from the board and lament the seeming inevitable departure of Cardon, who has been on the job just two months. Former TCAPS band director Pat Brumbaugh said the “lack of accountability” to the public from board members about the controversy broke her heart, adding it was “time to clean house and start fresh.” Former TCAPS Associate Superintendent Jayne Mohr, meanwhile, said she was “deeply saddened and concerned” regarding Cardon’s treatment by the board.

Attendee concerns about Cardon’s fate appeared to be validated when Board President Sue Kelly announced following public comment that Cardon submitted a resignation letter and was leaving the district effective immediately. Cardon’s letter, which was read out loud, stated the superintendent was “disappointed” to be stepping down, but that “things are not working out well” and that it was in the “best interest of all concerned” that she resign. Cardon did not elaborate on the circumstances that prompted her sudden departure.

“I wish nothing but the best for the district,” Cardon wrote in her letter. “I appreciate all of the support I have received, and I ask the community to please respect this decision. It was not a decision I arrived at lightly, but it is the right decision for all concerned.”

Erica Moon Mohr was the only board member to vote against the separation agreement. “I don't support forcing Ann to leave,” she said, maintaining that Cardon was pressured into leaving. Cardon's contract language specifies she can leave the district by "mutual agreement" between her and the board, or if she resigns with 90 days' notice or is terminated for cause. Termination requires written notice of charges and an opportunity for a hearing before the board. The contract notes that termination can only occur for "reasons that are not arbitrary and capricious."

Board members refused to discuss the terms of the agreement, including any potential severance payout to Cardon, who had a three-year contract with TCAPS. Kelly told reporters they could submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the document if they wished to see it. With the exception of Moon Mohr, who has alleged that Kelly and three other board members waged a bullying campaign against Cardon over philosophical differences on budgeting, no one on the TCAPS board has yet publicly addressed the reasons for Cardon’s departure. Cardon has also declined to comment on the matter.

Following the vote, Kelly told audience members that TCAPS attorneys had advised board members they needed to appoint an interim superintendent. Board member Pam Forton made a motion to name former TCAPS Superintendent Jim Pavelka – who retired from the district in 2005 – to the position. The surprise move earned a spontaneous outburst of support from meeting attendees, with several current and former faculty members applauding the announcement.

“Apparently many people in the room do know Jim Pavelka,” said Kelly. “He was with the district for many years...he's very well-qualified. He knows the district, and he is willing to step forward and act as an interim superintendent for a period of time.” The board’s motion did not specify how long Pavelka will serve as interim superintendent, nor any details of his agreement. Board member Matt Anderson said he “couldn’t think of a better choice than Jim Pavelka,” adding he supported the selection “100 percent.” Moon Mohr, while expressing frustration that some board members appeared to know in advance Pavelka would be named while others did not, nonetheless endorsed his selection.

“I think Jim would be great,” Moon Mohr told The Ticker. “I know that he has a reputation in town and is respected. I would have handled (the selection) process differently…but that’s what happens here."

While Pavelka was not in attendance at Thursday’s meeting, he will start in his new role effective immediately.

The TCAPS board is scheduled to meet next on Monday, October 28 for a special board retreat at 4pm and study session at 5:30pm at the administration building.

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