New Year, New Board
By Craig Manning | Jan. 1, 2021
Today (January 1) marks a passing of the baton for the Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) Board of Education. Though newly elected members won’t officially take their positions until an organizational meeting on January 11, terms officially expired at midnight for former board members Jeff Leonhardt, Benjamin McGuire, and Jane Klegman. Taking their seats will be Josey Ballenger, Scott Newman-Bale, and Flournoy Humphreys, who will join Sue Kelly, Matt Anderson, and Erica Moon Mohr – along with the newly appointed Andrew Raymond, selected by the board last month to fill a seat vacated by Pam Forton. It’s the second time in three years that the TCAPS board will kick off a new year with a majority of new members.
The Ticker reached out to four TCAPS board players – two outgoing, two incoming – to get their perspectives on the changing of the guard.
Jane Klegman, first elected to the TCAPS Board of Education in 2016.
Ticker: There's been some suggestion that the results of the election [the voting out of three incumbents] were a referendum on the existing board, specifically the handling of Ann Cardon's arrival and departure. Anything you'd like to say to clear the air?
In regard to Ann Cardon and closed meeting documents, has anyone asked why the person who requested a closed meeting won’t give approval to release the documents? They are the only one who has that right. Because we are not legally allowed to discuss information from a closed meeting, we were easy targets for attacks. We have no way to defend our actions without opening TCAPS to legal action from the person who requested a closed meeting.
Ticker: What are some of the big issues new board members are going to have to make decisions on?
They will be negotiating contracts with all our bargaining groups. They are going to have to decide what to do with Central Grade School: renovate, sell, or knock down and build a new school. Where will that money come from? There may have to be closings of buildings, as the cost could be too high to operate them. The unknown educational and emotional issues we have started to see relating to COVID-19 and virtual education are all new issues.
Benjamin McGuire, appointed in October 2019 to serve out the remainder of a term vacated by former member Doris Ellery.
Ticker: What advice would you give to incoming board members?
My first bit of advice is that education isn't just for our students; it is also important for the members of the board. They will need to become knowledgeable in the current TCAPS policies and goals, in the role of public governance boards, [and] in the areas in which they will be making decisions. The more effort they make to learn to be a better board member, the more effective they will become. My second bit of advice is that, in every discussion and decision, they should ask themselves if this decision or discussion is centered on the primary function of the Board of Education: educating our students and the community.
Ticker: What do you think will be the biggest issues the new board will face?
School finance will be the biggest issue over the next couple of years. There is an expectation that state budgets are going to be negatively impacted [by COVID-19]. TCAPS is already running on a fairly lean budget, and most of its funding is aimed at the classroom. Consequently, if cuts become necessary, it will involve very difficult decisions about where to make those cuts. There won't be a lot of low-hanging fruit where savings can be made that don’t have a significant impact on students.
Josey Ballenger, newly elected
Ticker: The new board will be a mix of two members who were targeted by a recall campaign, one who was a voice for greater transparency on the board, three newly-elected members, and one member appointed by the old board. How do you foresee the board coming together as a functional unit when it seems like it's been forged from significant tension and upheaval?
It’s reasonable to assume that it will take some time for the board to build trust among its members, and certainly with the community. However, all of us bring strong skillsets and knowledge of the district, and I am optimistic at this point that we all want to see the board and the district succeed. We will work toward building consensus and achieving results.
Ticker: If you had to pick one key value that you want to bring to the table as you join the board, what would it be?
Balance. On the surface, that may not sound like such a powerful word, but it encompasses many qualities that I believe are important for a good board member, in both an analytical approach and professional conduct: weighing the short- and long-term costs and benefits of different scenarios, open-mindedness, civility, and giving credit where it’s due as well as identifying areas for improvement.
Scott Newman-Bale, newly elected
Ticker: What goes into getting ready to take that board seat for the first meeting?
Just getting up to speed, I probably have already spent well over 100 hours since the election. That's through Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) training, reading, and talking to everyone I can. You've got to learn how complicated a school system is. It’s a very large institution, and it’s a $100 million-dollar-plus budget. People don't think of it that way, but it's a very large thing to manage, and it's unique in that it's in the public eye. So I’ve been learning the functions of a school board, how the law affecting public office works, and some of the history of decisions.
Ticker: The new board members are in a unique situation from past boards, in that you’re doing all your training virtually and that your meetings for the foreseeable future will also be virtual. Does that change the dynamic of joining the board?
I think so. There’s a lot of new people involved, and everyone's trying to figure out what the intent of the other person is. That's really hard to do virtually. We’re still going to hit the ground running because we’ve been preparing. I know that the other new board members have also been working hard and trying to learn as much as they can, so we're going to be ready to go. But even now, the situation is that there’s so much going on, and so much changing so fast, that it’s going to be hard to adapt to everything. I ask for patience and time.