TRAVERSE CITY — The United States of America will not have a new president for another eight days. Probably.
The Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education did get a new president Monday.
TCAPS trustees, by a 4-3 vote, selected Scott Newman-Bale over Erica Moon Mohr to lead a board with four fresh faces, Newman-Bale’s included. He replaces Sue Kelly, who remains on the board but whose final 14 months of her two-year tenure as president were rife with controversy and criticism that resulted in a stalled recall effort.
Newman-Bale said he is “willing and honored” to fill the responsibility of the role.
“All the stars are aligned,” he said. “We have a solid board, a solid superintendent. The staff are amazing. The teachers are amazing. We’re in a really trying time, and we’re showing a lot of strength.”
Moon Mohr was also part of the controversy surrounding Kelly and former Superintendent Ann Cardon’s abrupt departure less than three months into a three-year contract. Cardon resigned from her post 10 days after Kelly purportedly issued a complaint letter against her during the Oct. 7, 2019, closed session. Moon Mohr was on the other side of the controversy and chastised Kelly as well as other trustees both publicly and privately for their actions against Cardon.
The community uproar led to the ousting of three incumbent trustees — Jane Klegman, Jeff Leonhardt and Ben McGuire — in November. Newman-Bale, Josey Ballenger and Flournoy Humphreys each earned a four-year term from the voters.
Former trustee Pam Forton, who was also a part of the attempted recall for her perceived role in Cardon’s exit, resigned three weeks after the election and was replaced by Andrew Raymond. He will finish out Forton’s two remaining years.
Trustee Matt Anderson nominated Newman-Bale because he felt Newman-Bale’s presidency would signal to the community the need to move on from past mistakes. Anderson said there were no winners during that tumultuous period — only losers. Anderson said he would have been able to work with Moon Mohr had she been elected president, but he alluded that it might have been difficult for Kelly and Moon Mohr to put aside their contentious relationship.
“We have made some mistakes. There’s been some things done and said that are very difficult,” Anderson said. “The district needs to recover from that.”
Newman-Bale is not completely free of the controversy either. Although he distanced himself from the TCAPS Transparency movement shortly after it was formed in October 2019, Newman-Bale was part of the first community gathering when nearly 90 people filled the Studio Theater to air grievances against TCAPS and the board.
Even then, Newman-Bale tried to remain optimistic. While others were calling for the proverbial heads to roll, Newman-Bale said at the time that TCAPS Transparency was intent on turning the situation from a negative to a positive.
“Now we have the momentum to make a change,” he said at the Oct. 24, 2019, meeting. “As painful as this process is going to be, hopefully in three to five years time, this is going to be the best thing that’s happened to us — and we’re going to turn in that way.”
That continued to be the message from all seven board members on Monday. Humphreys said she was encouraged by how “amicably and professionally” the selection of the president and other officers was.
“I really appreciate our senior board members ... for sticking to it, sticking with us,” she said. “Hopefully the community can see we’re all dedicated to working together and making decisions that our best for our community and students.”
Trustees unanimously filled the other officer positions on the board, appointing Moon Mohr as vice president, Anderson as treasurer and Ballenger as secretary. Ballenger said the Newman-Bale-and-Moon Mohr tandem at the top is a “great team.”
Moon Mohr, who earlier in the meeting made her case for the presidency, said she is happy to take up the torch as VP and is looking forward to working with the board and advocating for TCAPS, the students, the staff and the community.
“We can focus on the positives,” she said. “For the past years, it’s been very distracted. I’m really excited to dig deep and focus. All of us, we can do some really great things.”
TCAPS Superintendent John VanWagoner, who acted as the presiding officer before Newman-Bale was named president, called the process a “great start.”
“We have an opportunity to be an outstanding eight-member team,” he said. “We are the district’s leadership team.”