TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Area Public Schools fulfilled a longstanding request for a document that caused outrage in the community and sent a superintendent packing less than three months on the job.
Two court decisions compelling release of the letter in 10 months and a unanimous vote from the TCAPS Board of Education on Monday ended a 20-month fight for transparency between the district and the Record-Eagle for the document. The Record-Eagle filed a lawsuit against TCAPS in January 2020 after a Freedom of Information Act request from Oct. 10, 2019, seeking the document was denied — as was the subsequent appeal.
The letter, which then-TCAPS Board President Sue Kelly wrote before distributing it for an Oct. 7, 2019, closed session, lays out criticisms against Ann Cardon, who was 68 days into her tenure as the top administrator of northern Michigan's largest school district. Ten days later — and after widespread backlash against the board for its lack of transparency about the events — the board formally ratified Cardon's resignation and paid her $180,000 in a separation agreement.
Kelly wrote in the letter that she "observed mismanagement and manipulation" from Cardon that she felt obligated to bring before the board, stating the previous two weeks had been "very unsettling" for many in the TCAPS central office.
Kelly believed Cardon's public support of a weighted formula for student funding, which TCAPS trustees strongly disavowed via a unanimous board resolution shortly before Cardon's tenure, was a "flagrant and intentional insult."
The issue apparently quickly deteriorated the relationship between Kelly and Cardon, prompting Kelly to tell Cardon on Sept. 24, 2019, that "if we can't get past this difference of opinions we will have to agree to separate," according to the complaint letter.
Kelly went on to lay out her complaints about Cardon arising from Cardon wishing to pull back on the frequency of one-on-one meetings with trustees, the possible retirement of then-Associate Superintendent Jame McCall, and Cardon's alleged inability to lead and implement the Blueprint, which was a new districtwide strategy the board approved in January 2019.
Kelly accused Cardon of putting her in a position to lie to "back up a lie she (Cardon) herself made." She also wrote Cardon has a "low level of respect and consideration" for board members, teachers and other district bargaining groups. Kelly felt Cardon was not keeping the board fully informed about the goings on within TCAPS.
In the final paragraph of the six-page complaint, Kelly asks if the other board members are capable of a partnership with Cardon.
"What are we willing to accept from ourselves?" Kelly wrote. "What are we willing to accept for our kids? Do we have a double standard between what we teach and what we do?"
Speculation of what happened in the closed session and the letter's existence spread through the community in the days following the Oct. 7 meeting.
Scott Newman-Bale was one of many vocal community members demanding an explanation for Cardon's sudden exit. Newman-Bale is now president of the TCAPS Board of Education.
Newman-Bale said he isn't sure how the letter's now public release will affect the former superintendent, but he does not expect it to be a negative for Cardon.
"I think it's just an employment issue and a conversation that should have been heard," he said.
Newman-Bale said it has been frustrating trying to "do everything perfectly by the book" as they worked toward releasing the letter. The process was slow with many hoops to jump through.
"I'm just now happy that we are definitely at a point where we can start moving forward," Newman-Bale said.