TRAVERSE CITY — The general election is months away, but two locals have already jumped into the race for seats on the region’s largest school district.
Josey Ballenger and Scott Newman-Bale both filed and announced their candidacy for seats on the Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education in the past few weeks. Three seats on the board will be up for grabs Nov. 3.
The deadline for candidates to file is weeks away — July 21 — but Grand Traverse County Clerk Bonnie Scheele confirmed that only Ballenger and Newman-Bale had filed as of Tuesday.
Current TCAPS trustees Jane Klegman, Jeff Leonhardt and Ben McGuire, whose terms end this year, did not return calls for comment regarding the status of their candidacy.
Klegman is one of the longest-serving board members, elected in 2016, along with Board President Sue Kelly, who was elected in 2014. Leonhardt was elected in 2018 and then named vice president after Doris Ellery resigned in October. McGuire was named an interim trustee to replace Ellery.
Ballenger said the race will come down to which candidates are the “most qualified and compelling” — be it incumbents or newcomers.
“I have no idea what the field might be,” Ballenger said. “But with three seats on the ballot this November, I do believe I will be among the most qualified and a new face to serve our community with integrity and always putting what’s best for students first.”
Newman-Bale enters the race calling himself a “consensus builder” and a “bridge builder,” two qualities he believes TCAPS needs after a turbulent eight months that saw former TCAPS Superintendent Ann Cardon resign after 78 days on the job, fiery and critical public comments, discord on the board and recall efforts against board members Kelly, Matt Anderson and Pam Forton.
Newman-Bale was visible in the early stages of the public backlash against the TCAPS board in October and November, but he said he pulled back from the movement and can offer an independent voice and vote as a trustee.
Newman-Bale believes a dose of humility on the board would be a nice change of pace.
“We’re getting to a point where we need to say, ‘OK, we’ve got to turn the attention to the future, to the kids, to the system,’” Newman-Bale said. “Obviously, you don’t forget the past, but we’ve got to put in place a structure so everyone can move in the same direction.”
Ian Ashton is the co-founder of TCAPS Transparency, a group formed in the weeks following Cardon’s resignation in October, and one of many leading the recall charge. Ashton said the election in November is “going to be huge” for the district and the community.
“It will be interesting to see how any current board members run their campaign and the language and tactics they might use based on what they’ve been saying publicly about the recall effort,” Ashton said. “I’m excited to see if it’s what you would hope and expect for a school board or if it’s going to be more of what we’ve already seen.”
Ashton called the announcements from Newman-Bale and Ballenger “refreshing,” adding that he’s heard from many people who are upset about the recall effort being sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic but who also “can’t wait for November.”
Ballenger, a parent of two TCAPS students, was a finalist for the interim seat now filled by McGuire and said she’s been working toward becoming a TCAPS trustee for several years.
She has been a steady presence at board meetings for the past 18 months and also volunteers in the classroom. She’s also worked at the U.S. Government Accountability Office for 18 years and has previous board experience, serving for the Michigan Legacy Art Park board.
With the continuing challenges presented to school districts during the pandemic and the looming funding cuts, Ballenger said now is the time for a board with good governance and financial prudence.
“We’re potentially looking at a billion-dollar shortfall for the education budget in the state. TCAPS would just be a portion of that, but we’re probably going to have to make some tough decisions — just like we have in the past,” she said.
Newman-Bale also has two children at TCAPS and serves as the chief executive officer for Short’s Brewing Company, a role he believes gives him a strong financial background along with his master’s degrees in business administration and finance.
He said he is encouraged by the district’s direction after John VanWagoner was selected as the next superintendent and the announcement that Jame McCall, whom he referred to as a “lightning rod” for criticism and controversy, will retire at the end of July.
Newman-Bale said he is concerned about the pending lawsuit against TCAPS from the Record-Eagle, which accuses the TCAPS board and President Sue Kelly of violating the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act relating to the circumstances surrounding Cardon’s departure.
“The community just needs to know that the people they elect, and the board in general, is making independent decisions and basing that solely on what is best for the education of our kids,” he said.