Traverse City News and Events

Leadership Changes Come To TCAPS Board

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 12, 2021

Debate over balancing experience and institutional knowledge with trying to usher in a fresh start following years of controversy led to an overhaul of board leadership at Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) Monday – with newcomer Scott Newman-Bale elected board president and veteran trustee Erica Moon Mohr taking the reins as vice president.

The organizational meeting was the first time board members met in the new term after Newman-Bale, Josey Ballenger, and Flournoy Humphreys swept out former board members Jeff Leonhardt, Benjamin McGuire, and Jane Klegman in the November election. The subsequent resignation of Pam Forton and appointment of her replacement, Andrew Raymond, created a majority turnover on the board, with only Moon Mohr, Board President Sue Kelly, and Treasurer Matt Anderson continuing on into 2021 as trustees from the previous term. That term was often marked by controversy, including the resignation of former superintendent Ann Cardon, lawsuits over alleged board transparency violations, and attempted recalls of multiple board members.

Trustees both new and old Monday acknowledged the lingering impacts of those controversies and expressed a desire for TCAPS to start fresh in 2021. “There’ve been questions repeatedly asked to us about how we can move forward together as a group, and I’d like to say that this is the perfect time to come and commit to the future of the district,” said Kelly, as the board prepared to pick leadership officers for the new term. Suggesting that she, Moon Mohr, and Anderson were all “here with baggage,” Kelly suggested that the trio “step aside and let new board members take the highest level leadership positions on the board.”

The recommendation set up an uneasy debate as board members weighed electing brand-new trustees – some of whom are coming in with no previous school board experience – immediately to top leadership roles ahead of longer-serving members with more institutional knowledge. Discussion ultimately led to two nominations for board president: Newman-Bale and Moon Mohr, both of whom expressed their desire to serve while also stating support for the other’s selection.

“I don’t seek the position, I'm not campaigning for it, but if that is the choice I will be honored to do it, and I will make sure I do it with inclusion and moving forward in a positive direction,” said Newman-Bale, who is a TCAPS parent and the CEO of Short's Brewing Company. Kelly and Anderson advocated for electing Newman-Bale, with Kelly saying he was “well-liked and appreciated through all of the TCAPS community” and Anderson citing the positive optics of picking new blood to head the board. “I think the best thing right now for TCAPS...would be to get a fresh start with some new leadership,” he said.

Other incoming trustees supported selecting Moon Mohr, noting that she stood alone in voting against other board members during some district controversies and “has a lot of community support,” according to Raymond. Humphreys said Moon Mohr is a “good listener,” has proven board experience under her belt, votes her conscience, and is “not afraid to speak truth to power.” Moon Mohr also advocated for her selection, saying that she had a “50,000-foot” view of TCAPS and would bring community connections, integrity, passion, and an open-door policy to the president position.

With most trustees stating they would be happy with either candidate at the helm, a motion was made first to elect Newman-Bale – with board members then voting 4-3 to narrowly approve the motion. Anderson, Kelly, Newman-Bale, and Ballenger supported the motion, while Moon Mohr, Humphreys, and Raymond opposed it, citing Moon Mohr as their top choice. Following Newman-Bale’s selection, a motion immediately followed to elect Moon Mohr as vice president, which was unanimously passed by the board.

Ballenger said she thought the combination of Newman-Bale and Moon Mohr in the top two board roles would make for “an incredible team,” and also pointed out that officer roles are only one-year terms at TCAPS. “In one year, we’ll be in a much different place and we’ll probably have some musical chairs,” she said. Moon Mohr said she was happy to move forward as vice president with Newman-Bale in the president role. “I’m super excited about this board, and I really think we can focus on the positives and get the focus back on our students and staff,” she said. The remaining two officer positions on the board were also split between new and incumbent trustees; Anderson was unanimously reelected as board treasurer, while Ballenger was chosen to serve as secretary.

Newcomers and veterans also divvied up key committee assignments at the Monday meeting. While agreeing as a group to review the entire committee process in the coming months – including the makeup and focus of each subgroup – trustees talked through their interests and strengths before assigning volunteers to each committee. Assignments for the most influential committees included Board Communications (Moon Mohr, Anderson, Kelly), Board Curriculum (Ballenger, Moon Mohr, Kelly), Board Finance & Operations (Anderson, Raymond, Humphreys), and Board HR/Policy (Humphreys, Ballenger, Raymond). As president, Newman-Bale is automatically assigned to several committees, including Board Agenda Review, Reinstatement Committee, and District Network.

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