TRAVERSE CITY — Fifteen names are in the hat for a single open seat on the Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education.
TCAPS officials released the candidates’ names Monday night along with a timeline to choose the interim board member who will serve the remaining two years of Pam Forton’s term. Forton announced her resignation effective immediately Nov. 23. The board has 30 days to fill the vacancy.
The open seat drew an unusual amount of interest for a local governing board, but the TCAPS Board of Education has been the center of controversy, criticism and conversation the last 14 months.
Trustees drew heavy criticism after the unexpected and sudden resignation of former Superintendent Ann Cardon in October 2019, an action that led to recall efforts against three board members and a lawsuit from the Record-Eagle alleging violations of the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act.
Three sitting board members — Ben McGuire, Jeff Leonhardt and Jane Klegman — were voted out in November, another odd occurrence as incumbent school board candidates win back their seat about 85 percent of the time, according to a recent Ballotpedia study. Newcomers Josey Ballenger, Flournoy Humphreys and Scott Newman-Bale were elected and begin their four-year terms Jan. 1.
The 15 are David Barr, Rebecca Cairns, Amy Collins, Megan Crandall, Kris Ernst, Jeremy Henner, Melissa Hogan, Ian Kramer, Dannielle McGuire, Monique Oose, Andrew Raymond, Nicholas Roster, Kevin Smiley, Justin Van Rheenen and Hannah Witte.
Barr and Crandall are former TCAPS trustees.
Crandall, in her letter, said she is concerned that filling a fourth seat with another first-time TCAPS board member would be a challenge, adding that current Trustees Matt Anderson and Erica Moon Mohr have just two years of experience. Board President Sue Kelly was elected in 2014.
“There has been little board stability or cohesion over the last (two to three) years, with the result that there is a worryingly low level of institutional knowledge among governance team members,” wrote Crandall, who served nine years as a TCAPS trustee.
Cairns worked with Easter Seals and General Electric. She was also part of the cancer program at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Collins is a registered nurse with 22 years experience as well as a faculty member at Northwestern Michigan College.
Ernst is a life and wealth management consultant. Henner served in the U.S. Air Force and at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. He was also the chair of the Michigan State Bar Association.
Hogan has 12 years experience as a physician assistant at Munson Medical Center. Kramer is surrounded by TCAPS teachers. His parents, two siblings and wife are all TCAPS teachers.
McGuire is the sister-in-law of current Trustee Ben McGuire. She is also a reading specialist, adjunct professor at Ferris State University and an education law student at Pepperdine University. Oose is a demographer and statistician for the U.S. Census Bureau.
Roster is also an instructor at NMC as well as the assessment coordinator and a member of the curriculum committee for the college. Smiley worked 35 years for the Michigan Department of Corrections before retiring and is the president of the music boosters club that serves TCAPS.
Witte is the youngest candidate at 21 years old. She is a TCAPS graduate as well as president of the NMC honor society and a student representative for the NMC Foundation.
Van Rheenen is a familiar name and face to the current trustees — although maybe not a welcome one to some. He is a co-founder of the TCAPS Transparency movement that was formed shortly after Cardon’s resignation. Van Rheenen has been an outspoken critic of the board and also spearheaded the recalls against Kelly, Anderson and Forton.
The logistics of serving on a board with two people he tried to recall is something Van Rheenen said he tried to process while considering his candidacy. Despite the confrontational nature of his relationship with the board, Van Rheenen is hopeful he will get a fair look. He also said he would remove himself from his role in TCAPS Transparency if appointed.
“I want to be able to work together with them,” he said. “I don’t have any ill will toward anyone who will be on the board next year.”
Raymond, although familiar with the recent controversy surrounding the board, views himself as a true impartial candidate focused simply on board business and good governance. Raymond is the chief financial officer for Kalkaska Memorial Health Center and has previous board of education experience at Elk Rapids Public Schools.
“Coming in as an outsider without any ties to what’s happened in the past allows me to come in with a fresh set of eyes and fresh thoughts without any preconceived notions,” Raymond said.
The list of candidates could have been 16. Current Trustee Ben McGuire submitted his application to serve the remainder of Forton’s term but withdrew his name from consideration late Monday afternoon. McGuire said he would have resigned from his current term, which ends Dec. 31, and then have been sworn in to the vacant seat shortly after had he been selected.
McGuire, who finished in fifth place among the six candidates in the November election, said he consulted legal counsel at the Michigan Association of School Boards before applying and was told doing so was allowed. News of his application, however, drew criticism from some in the community. McGuire said he withdrew because he did not want to become “the story” and distract from the board’s responsibilities.
“This needs to be about the district,” McGuire said. “My application is going to cause nothing but stress for me and issues for the board for the next two years.”
Ballenger called McGuire’s withdrawal “appropriate” and said his candidacy would have “appeared insensitive to the community.”
“Although the three of us newly elected trustees will not be voting on this appointment, the selection of a neutral, highly qualified candidate is an opportunity for the current board to set the tone for relationship-building with the new board members,” Ballenger said.
Candidates are required to submit written answers to questions from current trustees by Dec. 11. The board will narrow the field to finalists at the Dec. 14 meeting and then interview and appoint a new trustee Dec. 21.