TRAVERSE CITY -- Employee unions in Traverse City's public schools endorsed an incumbent and two new candidates for school board.
Members of associations representing teachers, food service employees and support staff back incumbent Suzann Brooke and newcomers Julie Puckett and Diane Viskochil for three open seats in the Nov. 3 election.
Brooke and Puckett are running for two, four-year terms on the seven-member board, along with Julie Davis, Kelly Hall and Mary Manner.
Viskochil is challenging Gary Appel, who was appointed in January after member-elect Amy Sutherland resigned, to fill the remainder of Sutherland's term. The winner of that race will serve immediately through December 2012.
Endorsements were based on interviews with the candidates held last week.
The selected candidates were chosen in part because they've worked as teachers, said John Scrudato, president of the Traverse City Education Association.
"We're not looking for a puppet," he said. "We're looking for independent thinkers who know something about education."
Earning union endorsements can be a predictor of election outcomes. In 2007, Marjie Rich and Megan Crandall earned employee support and were the two top vote-getters at the polls.
Brooke, Puckett and Viskochil each said they appreciated the endorsement.
Several of the interview questions related to union concerns, Puckett said, but they also asked about candidates' intentions for running.
"When I was a teacher myself, when we chose someone to endorse, it was because we believed in them," she said. "I value their opinion."
Viskochil said she has been asked to participate in forums and fill out questionnaires, and said an endorsement is "part of the democratic process."
She spent 24 years as a teacher in the district.
But working as an instructor was not the only factor, said Rolayne Casler, president of the Food Service Employees Association, adding that her group wants board members who don't believe in privatizing services.
"Food service is self-sufficient," Casler said. "We generate our own money that we give back to the general fund. When we're looking at candidates, those are the things that are very important to us."
Brooke said she is against privatization, and represents a wide variety of community members, despite her teaching background.
"I'm not the sole voice of anybody," she said. "We have for a long time been a family of employees, and I think that's a very important thing to maintain."