Traverse City News and Events

School Board: Hear From Seven Candidates For Three Spots

By Craig Manning | Oct. 5, 2020

Four weeks from Election Day, The Ticker poses questions to the seven candidates vying for the three seats on the Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) Board of Education.

Josey Ballenger, 50, Senior Analyst/Project Manager at U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)
What letter grade would you give the current Board of Education and why? 
C-, based on three things that are important for a public board: fiscal responsibility, representing the community, and good governance.

What do you see as TCAPS’ biggest strength? Its biggest weakness? 
TCAPS' strength lies in the quality and commitment of its teachers, administrators, and staff, as well as the breadth of programming, all of which helps our students reach their potential, academically and beyond. Where TCAPS could improve is in maintaining prudent investments and avoiding a pattern of decisions that may sound reasonable in the short-term but have dire implications down the road. For example, the sale of Old Mission Peninsula School backfired because TCAPS lost those students – and, therefore, $2 million and counting in state per-pupil funding – for only a short-term gain of $1.1 million.

What specific changes would you work to bring to TCAPS?
I would work to rebuild confidence in TCAPS and the Board of Education by demonstrating good governance, fiscal responsibility, and community engagement. As a board member, I would apply my years of analytical and consensus-building experience with GAO and other board service, without a predetermined agenda or mindset. I would help cultivate a culture that is inclusive and accountable by focusing on results and treating my fellow board members, TCAPS staff, and the public with civility and respect. I would advocate that the Board restore a second comment period, and I would encourage the district to communicate TCAPS’ strengths, challenges, and plans to address those challenges.

Flournoy Humphreys, 56, Retired TCAPS Teacher; Host/Server at MAWBY Vineyards and Winery
What letter grade would you give the current Board of Education and why?
D. They have not been fiscally responsible, open, transparent, approachable, or trustworthy. They do not reach out to our community to build relationships, and do not listen to their teachers.

What do you see as TCAPS’ biggest strength? Its biggest weakness?
I see our teachers, support staff, and building administrators as TCAPS' biggest strengths. Honestly, I don't think TCAPS has a weakness. Unfortunately, I think the actions of the Board and union leadership in their handling of our previous superintendent, Ann Cardon, were and are an embarrassment and possibly made TCAPS look weak.

What specific changes would you work to bring to TCAPS?
I am running for TCAPS School Board because I love this community and this school district. TCAPS families, administrators, teachers, and staff deserve a Board of Education who will listen, protect, and support them to the full extent of their abilities. I will listen to our teachers and our families. I will visit classrooms so I fully understand teachers' needs. I want our board to be more open, transparent, and fiscally responsible. If elected I will work for these changes.

Michael N Hurd, 36, Assistant Manager at Qdoba Mexican Grill
What letter grade would you give the current Board of Education and why?
D. While I agree with the back-to-school plan, all the credit for making it work goes to the staff of TCAPS, who have been amazing. [The Board’s] failure to release information about the resignation of former superintendent Ann Cardon, at the public’s request has them failing to live up to the expectations of those people that they work for.

What do you see as TCAPS’ biggest strength? Its biggest weakness?
The biggest strength TCAPS has is its staff. During COVID, they have all stepped up to a job that I don't think any of them ever expected to have to do, and they have all been amazing. The biggest weakness, I feel, is that we lack a focus on students who are not headed for college. We could have more professional training programs and teach our students that they can have good, well-paying jobs without having to be in debt from years of college.

What specific changes would you work to bring to TCAPS?
If I am elected, I will try to start shifting the focus of TCAPS from ‘everyone needs to go to college’ to a system where we strive to find the best outcome for every student, whether it be college or an apprenticeship. TCAPS could partner with local and state businesses to help students find good jobs right out of high school – or even get training during their time in school – while still offering our exceptional college prep courses for those who want to go.

Jane Klegman, 62, Current TCAPS Board of Education Trustee
What letter grade would you give the current Board of Education and why?
I would give this Board, the majority who have only served two years, a B+. There are some things we have done very well, but there is always room for improvement. Being a school board trustee is incredibly complex, with a steep learning curve. Learning what you can and cannot do, what impact your decisions make on the TCAPS community, and what you are able to achieve takes time.

What do you see as TCAPS’ biggest strength? Its biggest weakness?
TCAPS' biggest strength is the dedication of our staff to do the very best for our students. I am so proud of the way our entire staff has met the challenge of educating our students during this pandemic. Our greatest weakness is the lack of funds. Our district receives thousands of dollars less per student than many other Michigan school districts. Trying to achieve equitable funding is an ongoing battle and one that I intend to continue fighting.

What specific changes would you work to bring to TCAPS?
Our community has to be made more aware of the needs of STEP (Students in Transition Empowerment Program) and our at-risk students. We need to expand our curriculum to be more inclusive and to teach about bigotry and prejudice, in all areas – be they racially-motivated, religious, or by sexual orientation. We are in the process of developing additional programs to educate not just our students, but all of TCAPS.

Jeff Leonhardt, 62, Retired Public School Teacher, Current Board of Education Vice President
What letter grade would you give the current Board of Education and why?
I oppose giving the Board a single grade. We are a diverse group of local citizens volunteering our time to improve the lives of kids and strengthen the schools and the community. A single grade is a way to simplify something that, frankly, should not be simplified. We get some things right and at other times we don’t. We celebrate what we get right and look to improve what we don’t.

What do you see as TCAPS’ biggest strength? Its biggest weakness?
TCAPS’ strength is that it provides a well-run district with diverse educational opportunities at the lowest funding provided by the state. A weakness has been inconsistency. The district, buildings, leaders, and teachers have often operated in silos. It would be more consistent if they operated in a system of systems so that no matter who is in what seat, the system is the same.

What specific changes would you work to bring to TCAPS?
I have no specific changes at this time. We are currently dealing with a lot of change and that is enough. I do want funding in the state of Michigan to become more equitable. With all that is going on regarding the pandemic, now might be an opportunity for the community to demand more of the legislature in addressing the glaring inequalities in per-pupil allocations. The community should be asking lawmakers: why are kids in Traverse City Schools worth less than kids in other districts?

Benjamin McGuire, 48, Technology Director at Meadow Brook Medical Care Facility
What letter grade would you give the current Board of Education and why?
B+. On the one hand, I think that the basic tasks of governance are being met. The new superintendent, chosen by the Board of Education, was an excellent choice, and progress continues on TCAPS capital projects, including the new Montessori school on Franke Road. On the other hand, the COVID pandemic and the response to the pandemic have split the Board's focus. This has led to some hasty decisions, like the changes in the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP). While much of the uncertainty continues, the Board of Education is adapting and is working to support the district in educating students in circumstances where there is no clear best path forward.

What do you see as TCAPS’ biggest strength? Its biggest weakness?
Our biggest strength is the quality of the staff. Our biggest weakness remains that our community is losing more families with young children than we are gaining.

What specific changes would you work to bring to TCAPS?
The first is building a better information architecture for the Board. Second, especially when faced with lots of ambiguity in our decision-making process, I intend to keep my decision-making process focused on our mission: providing a quality education for our community. Finally, I think that our Board culture needs some attention. Unlike corporate boards, elections tend to push members together without considering how these individual personalities and skillsets will work together. I believe that board member relationships can be improved by helping the Board understand how to give its members more energy and focus.

Scott Newman-Bale, 41, CEO of Short's Brewing Company; Executive Committee Member, Michigan Economic Development Corp (MEDC)
What letter grade would you give the current Board of Education and why?
C+. The Board has been its own worst enemy for the past several years, and it is all over trust. The current legal battle [over transparency] is a big distraction and is unnecessary. We need to move our resources and attention from the courtroom to the classroom. The way that many decisions are made seems rushed and lacks discussion that would lead to greater acceptance with the public. The canceling of the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) is a classic example that threatened our most at-risk students at a time they needed stability the most.

What do you see as TCAPS’ biggest strength? Its biggest weakness?
TCAPS has the resources to succeed in this challenging COVID era, one in which there will be many fundamental changes to the way education is delivered. The district has well-respected teachers and staff – and now, hopefully, administration. The district's weakness has been the behind-the-scenes drama surrounding the Board.

What specific changes would you work to bring to TCAPS?
My focus would be on three fundamental areas. Firstly, we have to immediately move to restore trust between all stakeholders: the teachers, unions, administration, parents, business leaders, staff, regulators, and legislature need to have confidence in one another. Second, we have to work on financially navigating through the next few years, which unfortunately will be about adapting and survival. Third, we have to build a cohesive strategy for pushing for equitable funding at the state level.

NOTE: Responses have been edited for length.
PICTURED (l-r): Ballenger, Humphreys, Hurd, Klegman, Leonhardt, McGuire, Newman-Bale

Comment

Munson Launches New Stroke Program, Becomes One Of First Hospitals In U.S. To Acquire State-Of-The Art Brain Imaging Machine

Read More >>

Trump Campaign Schedules Two TC Stops Before Election

Read More >>

As More Tenants Leave Downtown TC, DDA Explores Options For Relief

Read More >>

Nissley Earns High Marks In First NMC Evaluation

Read More >>

Kingsley Man Charged In Case Of Jogger Killed On River Road

Read More >>

Commongrounds Cooperative Development Awarded $1.5M State Grant

Read More >>

TCAPS Teachers Embrace "Crash Course" On Teaching 2.0

Read More >>

Sunrise Rotary Announces Its Grants

Read More >>

Here's The Latest On Traverse City's Absentee Ballot Numbers

Read More >>

A Nightmare For Michigan Bats?

Read More >>

Pugsley Is Our Entry Into Michigan's Space Race

Read More >>

Details Emerge On PFAS Contaminants In East Bay Township

Read More >>

Master Plan Approved For Civic Center; More Parks Projects Move Ahead

Read More >>

East Front Street Closure Planned Wednesday

Read More >>