Voters have achieved what massive community backlash, and even a court battle hasn’t: they brought decisive change to the Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Trustees.
In a refreshing turn, district residents took an unmistakable step Tuesday by sweeping three incumbent trustees off the school board and installing three new representatives who promise change for the public body. It’s a momentous change considering the substantial advantage incumbent candidates typically enjoy at election time. The rout sends a signal we hope the remaining trustees receive.
It also gives us hope.
The Traverse City Record-Eagle has spent the past several years fighting to pry the door open so our community can view the district’s decision-making processes. That bruising slog — often punctuated by slow or obtuse responses to records requests — escalated to a crescendo 13 months ago when former Superintendent Ann Cardon was quietly whisked from the district after 78 days on the job with $180,000 in her pocket.
The murky decision making process surrounding Cardon’s ouster opened a community-wide wound, dragging trustees’ loose relationship with transparency to center stage. And many of our neighbors finally witnessed the obfuscation we struggled against for years.
The upheaval that followed — an outcry some trustees cast off as misguided — is the catalyst that drove this week’s decisive change of direction. And we hope the trustees who weren’t escorted to the doors Tuesday will heed the message voters so clearly sent at the polls.
Message really isn’t the best word, either. What occurred Tuesday was a loud declaration of our values, and it is anything but misguided.
Our community no longer supports a board that pays only passing lip service to government transparency. A board that believes it has the right to make decisions behind closed doors. A board that tolerates district executives who play games with public records requests. A board that doesn’t believe the community it serves has the right to speak to trustees it elects.
A board that serves itself before it serves the public.
The fact is, TCAPS is an extraordinary school district, full of students, teachers and administrators who do extraordinary things. It’s the steward of the future of nearly 10,000 of our children, one of the most important functions we entrust to any level of government. Yet, somehow the elected representatives we sent to lead our schools in recent years have fallen woefully short.
Maybe that’s why the election outpouring we witnessed provides us such hope.
It proves we and many of our neighbors were not “misguided” when we called out trustees’ flagrant miscarriage of public trust a year ago. And it reaffirms our belief that the people we elect to lead our schools should serve our children first, the public interest second and themselves last.
Change often isn’t easy, or quick. The past year has been particularly divisive.
Our community has made its wishes, its values, clear.
We simply hope TCAPS trustees, both sitting and newly elected, heed the message.