TRAVERSE CITY — Division on the Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education remains in full view of the public.
Some in the community have tired of it, pleading for trustees to step down in the face of a recall effort or simply put aside their differences and work together. Some within the district, including Interim Superintendent Jim Pavelka, hope the bad blood doesn’t run too deep and is capable of being drawn out.
That is why Pavelka announced Monday his plans to seek outside help from the Michigan Association of School Boards to begin the reparation. The news was met with a round of applause from another heavily attended board meeting.
Pavelka witnessed the division for the second time in as many meetings as a motion made by trustee Erica Moon Mohr died without another trustee supporting that it go to a vote.
The first was a recommendation to bring Josey Ballenger on board as an interim trustee at the Oct. 28 meeting. Ballenger received high praise from several trustees during the meeting, but Moon Mohr’s nomination was met with silence.
The second was Monday when she moved that a discussion item addressing how the board should move forward through these turbulent times be added to the agenda. That motion was also met with silence.
Moon Mohr said she made the motion after attending sessions regarding board dysfunction, building a restorative culture and overcoming obstacles during the four-day annual MASB leadership conference that began Friday and wrapped Monday. She would like to see the board have more informal roundtable discussions and get to know each other as people instead of as adversaries.
“What do we do now? If we’re going to serve the kids and the community, how do we move past where we’re at?” she said.
Pavelka said Moon Mohr’s comments had an impact on him, adding that he hopes the MASB session focused on how to select the next superintendent will include steps to help the board and community heal.
“This board may not agree on everything, but they have to work together for the common good,” Pavelka said. “If you don’t have that, you can waste a lot of time not moving forward.”
Moon Mohr has both privately and publicly called for the resignations of four trustees — President Sue Kelly, Vice President Jeff Leonhardt, Secretary Pam Forton and Trustee Jane Klegman — and, more recently, asked that all board members, including herself but not the newly appointed Ben McGuire, step down. Her statements outlining alleged bullying of former TCAPS Superintendent Ann Cardon by some trustees was one of the embers that lit public outcry and criticism of the board’s lack of transparency and proper governance.
That outcry continued at the meeting Monday as former TCAPS trustee Bill Smith called the board’s inaction in the face of controversy and apparent “get over it” attitude “unacceptable,” and then asked those on the board who were responsible for Cardon’s departure to “stand up and step down.”
Lynne Moon, as she had at the Oct. 28 meeting, said trustees need to act like professionals and begin working together for the sake of the students.
Others, like Fran Cullen, criticized community members for their “harassment” of the board and said their attacks on some trustees have been “armed with nothing but rumor and innuendo.”
Jody Mackey, a teacher at Traverse City East Middle School, said she is concerned about the lack of civility from the public and spoke highly of Leonhardt and Forton, both former TCAPS teachers.
“I find it disturbing at the number of folks jumping to conclusions, listening to one-sided, agenda-driven information, and participating in near hysteria over the resignation of Ms. Cardon,” Mackey said. “The toxicity isn’t coming from most of our board, but from an infected percentage of TCAPS staff and other folks in our community with axes to grind.”
Kelly said after the meeting the reason Moon Mohr’s motion failed was because those discussions often begin at the committee level and then move to the full board. Moon Mohr said there isn’t time to slow play this process.
“Here is something that is so pressing to our community, and it’s like you have to go to a meeting to go to a meeting to get a meeting,” Moon Mohr said. “All I wanted was for us to say the MASB would come in and help us through this.”
Details are not set, but Pavelka eyed the Dec. 16 board meeting for the MASB workshop.