Change on TCAPS board as 3 challengers unseat incumbents
TRAVERSE CITY — Tuesday was an anomaly for a local board of education race.
All three incumbent candidates for the Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education were ousted from their seats.
Any incumbent losing is a rarity, three losing in the same race is an anomaly.
A Ballotpedia study found that, between 2014-16, nearly 85 percent of incumbents who ran for reelection retained their seats.
Challengers Josey Ballenger, Flournoy Humphreys and Scott Newman-Bale bucked that trend, defeating current TCAPS trustees Jane Klegman, Ben McGuire and Jeff Leonhardt to snag all three contested seats and four-year terms.
Ballenger gathered the most support, tallying 21,848 votes to Humphreys’ 16,336 and Newman-Bale’s 14,791. Klegman received the most votes for the incumbent slate with 12,251. McGuire garnered 10,299 votes, and Leonhardt 10,121. Michael Hurd, who dropped out of the race in October, still received 6,781 votes.
“Our community deeply cares about schools, as it should,” Ballenger said. “I’m happy to see our board move in a new direction with new leaders.”
The three-seat flip comes a little more than a year after TCAPS trustees faced community backlash for their handling of former Superintendent Ann Cardon’s unexpected resignation in October 2019. Klegman and Leonhardt — along with current trustees Sue Kelly and Pam Forton — were at the heart of the controversy surrounding Cardon’s exit.
Newman-Bale called the results a referendum on how the board has operated.
“We’ve known that trust has been eroded,” he said. “The board has had the position that it’s been a vocal minority speaking out against them to brush it off and brush it under the rug.”
McGuire does not expect the change in board members to make much of a difference in how the community views the board.
“There’s a lot of general unhappiness right now, and I don’t see it ending any time soon,” he said. “I think it’s going to linger for a while.”
Klegman doesn’t expect much change in how TCAPS is run, but she is hopeful the new board will work together.
Klegman suggested that Ballenger, Humphreys and Newman-Bale take advantage of training provided by the Michigan Association of School Boards. Klegman is concerned the trio “doesn’t realize what a board does.”
“The board is policy. Eyes in. Hands out,” she said.
Humphreys stayed up until after 3 a.m. checking results, but she had to be up early to get her five dogs to the groomer. She said rustling up her pups for a bath and a haircut might be easier than being a trustee on a potentially divided TCAPS board, but she is more than happy to take that challenge head on.
“I will make every effort to get along and work together,” she said. “That’s the only way we’re going to get anything done. We have to find common ground, and that needs to be our students and teachers.”
Klegman called the election a “popularity contest” and pointed out that the majority of her campaign signs had “gone missing.”
“That was interesting,” she said. “Even when I replaced them, they still went missing. That bothered me. That’s just not OK.”
Newman-Bale is concerned the lingering tension from the race could spill over with trustees Kelly, Matt Anderson and Forton — but he said it doesn’t have to be that way.
An interesting wrinkle to that will be when new trustees elect board officers.
Leonhardt was vice president, which means that vacancy needs to be filled. A change of president is also a possibility.
Kelly currently holds that position, and Justin Van Rheenen wants that “era” to be over.
Van Rheenen, a co-founder of TCAPS Transparency and a vocal critic of the board, said getting Kelly on board with the new direction could be difficult.
“Voters put the board on notice for years to come. We’re awake. We’re seeing what’s happening, and it’s not OK,” Van Rheenen said. “If you choose to continue to use our kids as pawns, as motives for what the public doesn’t want, we will vote you out.”
Van Rheenen spearheaded a recall effort against Kelly, Anderson and Forton that stalled earlier this year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. He’s not counting out the possibility of another recall.
“If those three are doing their job to the best of what the community wants, there’s no reason to look at a recall,” Van Rheenen said. “But it’s not off the table.”
Ballenger, Humphreys and Newman-Bale begin their four-year terms Jan. 1. Their first board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 11.
“I am ready to roll up my sleeves and let the real work begin to refocus our board on what matters most — the students, the teachers and the community,” Ballenger said.
Ed Haynor says
Yes, most incumbents win overwhelmingly, but I don’t know if those statistics, Bill states, are derived at, including incumbents who don’t have any competition or with competition. But either way, election competition is good.
Knowing that school board elections are non-partisan, where I live, there was only one political party on the ballot for all county government elections, a sad state of affairs. One has to wonder why county government positions are partisan in the first place. Why does the sheriff, county clerk, county treasurer, county register of deeds, etc., have to be a democrat or republican? At this level, shouldn’t voters want the most qualified person to handle their county and even township responsibilities. Or is it better to elect an unqualified partisan over a qualified person?
It’s been my experience as a school board member that the comment, “Ballenger, Humphreys and Newman-Bale take advantage of training provided by the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB),” is valid. Regardless of experience, new school board members need training in school board governance; veterans do too.
As a school board member, I learned at MASB’s Delegate Assembly meeting this past Thursday, in preparation for their Annual Leadership Conference this weekend, that MASB is going to offer any board member, newly elected or appointed, can receive Certified Boardmember Awards Program (CBA) 101 free of charge between now and the end of 2021. This course will be offered at their CBA events throughout the year, their online CBA 101 class, and at ISD/RESA sponsored CBA events. At this point, the class offering is so new, marketing materials have not been developed yet. If a new board member or the district secretary calls to register at MASB, they just need to let the MASB office know they are a new board member and they will not be charged for that class. MASB is also providing the book, “Becoming a better board member”, published by NSBA as a part of this program for all that take the class.
Margaret Currie says
Congratulations to the three new Traverse City Area Public Schools Board Members! I have complete confidence that at least one of them Ms. Ballenger, will do her best to improve the schools in that area.
I graduated from a small high school in Indiana, Union School Corporation which is located near Modoc, Indiana. In the past 10 years there has been talk of closing it due to lack of money to hire and keep good HS teachers. A very persistent school board didn’t listen to many in the community about closing the school and finally found a way to successfully keep it open. This small school, less than 350 in-house students in all grades, has 6,000 students due to virtual classes which has been/is a real blessing due to the pandemic. With the State dollars which have flowed in because of the virtual classes (the virtual students count the same as if they were in the building) the School Board is able to hire competent teachers, a social worker, and do needed repairs to the 1956-7 building. AND students who left to go to neighboring towns for a better education are now coming back to where they should really be. CBS National News did a segment on this about a year ago.
A good school board is essential to students learning and succeeding. May the Traverse City Board provide the leadership necessary to provide it for their students, again CONGRATULATIONS!
Lawrence (Larry) Kestenbaum says
I think school board incumbents are specifically vulnerable to defeat, because there is always an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the schools, in any community.
Here in Ann Arbor, we had an interesting equilibrium in place for a number of years. We had a nine-member school board with three-year terms; three seats were contested at each annual June election. School board elections were standalone, with no other races on the ballot.
We had a liberal faction and a conservative faction in the community. They would run slates of school board members each year — and won alternating elections.
Whichever faction had won the most recent election would have a 6-3 majority on the school board. Decisions would be made that outraged the other faction, energizing them to find candidates and work hard to get them elected.
During this period, every seat would change (factional) hands at each election. Incumbents were never re-elected.
Things have changed since then; the school board is down to seven members, with four-year terms, and the elections take place in even-year Novembers, with a vastly larger electorate. In the recent election, the three candidates endorsed by the Democratic Party were elected — including one incumbent.
To the extent that any board puts the students’ learning first — not politicizing education or turning it into a brainwashing ideological sandbox — that board will be successful and have done its job.
In a corollary to Clinton and Carville after Bush was unseated in 1992: “It’s the kids, stupid”
– signed, a veteran history teacher