TCAPS Names New Board Member
By Beth Milligan | Oct. 29, 2019
A new face will help the Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) board navigate one of its most turbulent periods in recent history, assisting with repairing community relations and choosing a new superintendent for the district.
Benjamin McGuire was appointed to the TCAPS board Monday night, selected by a 3-2 vote of the board (Jane Klegman and Erica Moon Mohr were opposed, while Matt Anderson was absent). McGuire was sworn into office and took his seat effective immediately, filling a crucial vacant board seat created by the resignation of Doris Ellery, who announced in September she was stepping down for personal reasons. McGuire was one of nine candidates who applied for the open position, with each applicant publicly interviewed for 15 minutes Monday before board members made their selection.
McGuire is the technology director of Meadow Brook Medical Care Facility in Bellaire and former technology director of Forest Area Community Schools. A TCAPS parent of two Central High School graduates and a current Central High sophomore, McGuire helped mentor the First Robotics Team at Central High. He says he sees himself as an “advocate for students, an advocate for appropriate and responsible technology use within the district, and as a voice for the responsible use of public funding.”
McGuire talked to trustees about the challenges he faced growing up in a large family in poverty, saying a public education was critical to his and his siblings’ ability to attain successful careers and move up the economic ladder. “Good education, especially for younger kids, is a wonderful investment and pays dividends,” he said, adding that public schools were “powerful engines for equity.” McGuire cited an uneven “playing field” in state funding for schools and declining student populations as challenges facing TCAPS, as well as a perception “gap” between the district and the community. In his written application, McGuire said he hoped to give back to the school system by serving on the board: “I was raised to view this participation as part of my civic responsibility and engagement,” he wrote.
McGuire was one of three finalists favored by board members, who also backed candidates Josey Ballenger – a senior analyst and project manager in the U.S. Government Accountability Office – and Douglas Morgenstern, a vice president at Huntington National Bank. A difference in opinion over the preferred ranking of those candidates led to the final split vote, with board members who supported McGuire citing a need to add more diverse voices and backgrounds on the board.
“Technology (experience) for one thing, and the fact that he does still have kids in TCAPS – I think most of us don’t at this point,” Board Secretary Pam Forton told The Ticker about why she supported McGuire. “He talked about bringing in more families, and that is part of the issue: Everybody in Michigan is losing students, and our area in particular is aging. We don’t have anybody like him on the board. We’ve got business people, we’ve got retired teachers, but that’s a little bit different.”
McGuire admitted to being surprised at his selection after the meeting, citing the strong field of candidates. “I’m excited to be on the board, I really am,” he said. McGuire agreed that his “broad base in technology” would be an asset to the board, saying he understood the technology needs of students as well as district technology challenges like emergency preparedness. “It helps to have a broad range of experience on a board, so that…at least when you’re looking at presentations and proposals for projects, somebody has some idea of what you’re talking about,” he said.
The appointment comes during a contentious period fueled by the recent abrupt resignation of Superintendent Ann Cardon and public backlash over unanswered questions about her departure. Attempting to heal community relations – as well as eventually hiring a new superintendent – are two of the biggest challenges now facing the board. McGuire acknowledged that the TCAPS board is likely to face recurring issues that “stir people up,” but said he hoped his lack of baggage would be a benefit. “The nice thing is that I’m the new guy coming in,” he said, adding his immediate focus would be getting up to speed on key issues as a new board member, such as district finances.
Several other notable candidates with various ties to TCAPS also applied for the board vacancy. Patricia Henkel, who was part of a slate of five candidates calling themselves the Team5 TCAPS in the hotly contested 2018 election, was a runner-up for a board seat. Henkel called on four board members to resign during her interview – including Forton, Klegman, Jeff Leonhardt, and President Sue Kelly – and said her appointment would help repair community trust in the board. Former TCAPS employees Donna Olendorf, Katie van Houwelingen, and Bill Smith also interviewed, as did HT Snowday, a finalist in 2018 for an interim board seat. Snowday told trustees they couldn’t make a bad choice, given the “slate of excellent candidates” applying for the seat, and encouraged the board to use their selection to “restore faith” from the public in TCAPS.
Following McGuire’s appointment Monday, the new board member took his seat and participated in his first action as a trustee – approving a new board vice president to replace Ellery. Klegman nominated Leonhardt for the role, a motion seconded by Forton. Leonhardt’s selection was unanimously approved by the board, with Leonhardt assuming the vice president role effective immediately.