Ten candidates face off for TCAPS board

Oct 5, 2018

The Board of Education for Traverse Area Public Schools could look very different in January. Five of its seven seats are up for grabs.

 Board President Erik Falconer and Treasurer Scott Hardy are not seeking re-election. That’s two seats. Then board members Jan Geht and Kelly Clark stepped down this summer, vacating their seats. That’s two more. And Vice President Sue Kelly’s term is up; she’s running for re-election. 

Board members Doris Ellery and Jane Klegman will remain on the board; they’re not up for re-election.

Ten people have stepped up to compete for those five available slots. Eight people are running for four-year terms; the four candidates with the most votes in November will join the board. 


Credit Michigan Secretary of State

Two people are running for one two-year term to replace Geht, who stepped down from TCAPS this summer after he took a job out of state. 


Credit Michigan Secretary of State

Overall, the ten board candidates are divided. Five of the candidates are campaigning as a group – Team5TCAPS – and are running on a similar platform. Generally, they say there needs to be more transparency and accountability within TCAPS. The other five candidates are more supportive of decisions made by the current board.

All candidates agree the board has faced some tough decisions in recent years. Just this past year, the board twice hired third-party investigators to look into allegations against Superintendent Paul Soma. The Traverse City Administrators Association – a group of principals and assistant principals – complained of bullying and gender-based discrimination by the district superintendent and the executive team

In March – shortly after those allegations came out – the board renewed Soma’s three-year contract and gave him a raise. That same month, they hired the company, Rehmann, to investigate alleged gender-based discrimination. In June, their findings were that while Soma engaged in “combative verbal interactions with subordinates and staff,” he had those interactions with both men and women. Therefore, the report said, there was no evidence of gender discrimination, and Soma was cleared. 

Since then, the board has changed how it evaluates the superintendent. The new evaluation includes more pointed expectations that the superintendent maintain a healthy work environment and positive staff relationships.

In August, the superintendent and executive team, facilitator and the TCAA attended a retreat. In written anonymous comments, most TCAA participants had positive things to say  about the retreat and said a lack of communication was one big reason things went downhill last school year and that opening up the conversation was a start to rebuilding trust.

"Today I learned that I am not the only one hurt. I also learned that we do have a collective desire to move forward and make TCAPS great again," said one commenter.

Also in recent years, the board has made some controversial budget cuts – including closing three elementary schools and dissolving the International Baccalaureate program. 

IPR asked each candidate about the allegations against Soma, budget cuts and why they want to serve on the board. You can learn more about each candidate by listening to their interview and reading their biography below.


Matt Anderson
Credit Morgan Springer

Matt Anderson has been on the TCAPS Board of Education since July 2018 when he was selected to fill a vacancy. Anderson has worked as a businessman in Traverse City for two decades, and he’s currently the president of Global Marine Insurance Agency. Anderson has served on the board at Pathfinder School, Traverse Bay Sunrise Rotary Club and was director of the TC Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Corp. He has a MBA from University of Michigan. He and his wife have a daughter at Traverse City Central High School. Anderson graduated from TC Central in 1985.


Anderson says he’s been impressed with the current board:

“I know there’s been some difficult decisions that have been made by the leadership, and I think that’s exactly what leadership does. You have to look at what’s the good of the whole organization today and also looking ten years down the road and how is this going to be a viable organization.”

Making budget cuts:

“As in any organization, if and when cuts have to happen, I think you have to look at each line item, and you have to look at those decisions that affect the community as a whole and not look at any particular interest group.”

On allegations against Soma:

“That was prior to my time on the board, and so I prefer to look forward on how we can move together and heal those things as a district in the future.” 


Rhonda K. Busch
Credit Morgan Springer

Rhonda K. Busch retired from TCAPS in 2017. Most recently she taught third grade at Old Mission Elementary School. Busch didn’t stop working for TCAPS after she retired; now she’s a guest teacher and reading interventionist at Traverse Heights Elementary School. Busch grew up in Mount Pleasant. She and her husband Bob have children who went to TCAPS, and her grandson is currently a TCAPS student. Busch has a masters in education from Marygrove College. She is a part of Team5TCAPS.


Why she’s running for the board:

“I want to lend my knowledge and my expertise to leading the district. I believe that I have a contribution yet to make.”

On allegations against Soma:

“After the investigative report was released, there was no evidence to support gender bias. However, our superintendent was equally harassing to both genders. At that point, there should have been ... a consequence put in place.”

Busch says future budget decisions must come with more transparency and accuracy:

“I believe there have been some misrepresentations of facts.”


Pamela Forton
Credit Morgan Springer

Pamela Forton was a math teacher at Traverse City Central High School for 18 years. She retired in July. She grew up going to TCAPS schools – as did her children. Her husband Rick works in the TCAPS maintenance and facilities department. Forton has represented the teachers union in negotiations, served on the district improvement team, been a substitute bus driver and a member of the Bertha Vos Elementary School PTO. Forton has a masters in technology education from Ferris State University.


Why she’s running for the board:

“As a teacher, I saw things that I thought, ‘we can do that better.’ And I believe I have the knowledge to help make some of those changes.”

Forton says the board may have done too much to address allegations against Soma:

“The other thing that bothers me is the amount of money that was spent … tens of thousands of dollars. That should have gone to something else. That should have gone to educating students, to help our students achieve.”

On making budget cuts:

“We’ve had to make a lot of decisions over the last couple of years. Some have been popular, some have been not so popular, but the thing is, it’s always been done in the best interest of all students.”


Patricia Henkel
Credit Morgan Springer

Patricia Henkel works as a marketing manager at GTB, an advertising company. Before that she worked in digital marketing and as a stay-at-home mom. Henkel has been a member of the Traverse City Co-op Preschool board and the Old Mission Peninsula Elementary PTO. She is co-founder of Design Dance Company in Traverse City. Henkel grew up in Ann Arbor and went to the University of Michigan. She has a degree from Stetson Law School in St. Petersburg, Florida. She and her husband Jeff have four children and three of them are TCAPS students. She is a part of Team5TCAPS.


Henkel says she’s running for the board because she’s passionate about education: 

“I also am running because our district has been distraught and in discord. We’ve seen a ton – 26 out of 31 administrators – who have taken the unusual and unprecedented case of having a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the superintendent.” 

Henkel says allegations against Soma show unacceptable behavior: 

“I’ve read through that report, and I’m just astounded that we don’t have more interaction from the board in setting some clearer expectations for the superintendent to encourage and require behavior that’s acceptable.”

On making hard budget cut decisions:

“A lot of the discontent in the decision-making process has been lack of transparency, lack of input.”


Melissa Hogan
Credit Morgan Springer

Melissa Hogan is a physician assistant by trade. She worked at Munson Medical Center for 12 years. She works as a volunteer for LEAP – Learning, Enrichment and Athletic Program – in TCAPS and has coached basketball and track through the program. Hogan is a member of 100+ Women Who Care, a philanthropic group. She attended Alma College and earned a degree in medical sciences from St. Louis University in Missouri. She grew up in a suburb of Grand Rapids and has lived in Traverse City since 2004. Her son goes to East Middle School.


Why she’s running for the board: 

“What I would like to see improved is more of a reconnection with the outside community. ... Many people who don’t have those direct connections with TCAPS really are completely unaware of the areas where TCAPS really could use extra support just in the way of volunteering time.”

About allegations of bullying and gender-based discrimination against Soma: 

“I think this did make a positive impact on him, and I think that he has heard – finally – what people are saying, and more importantly, to me it appears that he is taking active steps to try to remedy that.”

Hogan wants to avoid future budget cuts through state funding and community support:

“The community at large may even consider a small bump in the millage at some point down the road to help support some of these programs as well.”


Sue Kelly
Credit Morgan Springer

Sue Kelly has been on the TCAPS Board of Education for four years, serving as vice president for the past two. Kelly has been a realtor in Traverse City for over 30 years. She was the president of both the Traverse City Area Association of Realtors and the state chapter of the Women’s Council of Realtors. Kelly grew up in Indian River where her father was a superintendent, principal and teacher in the school district. She got her associates degree in business management at Northwestern Michigan College. Kelly has two grown children; her son went to TC West Senior High School.


Why she’s running for the board: 

“TCAPS is a phenomenal organization. In the last four years, we have done some very hard work, and it has been very purposeful, moving the district forward both with student achievement – academic success, with budgeting – sound financial planning, with curriculum. ... and it is all for one purposeful objective; it’s for educating students.”

On making budget cuts and closing schools:

“The schools that were closed allowed us to take resources that were educating just a few and put those resources in areas that will impact many.”

On allegations against Soma and hiring investigators: 

“The board has supported the decisions 100 percent, and I think we did the very best we could under the circumstances.”


Cathy Meyer-Looze
Credit Morgan Springer

Cathy Meyer-Looze is an assistant professor and program director in the Educational Leadership program at Grand Valley State University. She is also an instructional and leadership specialist for the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District. Meyer-Looze has worked as a TCAPS principal, assistant principal and director of professional development. She has her doctorate degree in Educational Leadership from Eastern Michigan University and a masters from Central Michigan University. Meyer-Looze grew up in Frankenmuth. She and her husband live in Traverse City with their daughter – who is a student at TC West Senior High School. She is a part of Team5TCAPS.


Why she’s running for the board: 

“I’m serving in a district that I’m very passionate about and that I love and that I wish to serve.”

How the current board could have done better:

“I think before the district can do the job they need to do, the board actually needs to hold themselves accountable, and I don’t think the board has done that.”

On allegations against Soma and how the board handled it: 

“Usually where there’s smoke there’s some kind of fire ... Let’s listen to the majority of the leaders that we have. What are the issues? And how can we work together to solve the issues.”


Erica Moon Mohr
Credit Morgan Springer

Erica Moon Mohr is a realtor in northern Michigan. Before she sold properties, she worked in pharmaceutical and biotech sales. Moon Mohr volunteers in TCAPS and has served on a number of boards, including the Great Lakes Children’s Museum. She was born and raised in Traverse City, attended TCAPS schools and went to Western Michigan University. Moon Mohr’s parents taught in northern Michigan and her mother-in-law was TCAPS associate superintendent for 20 years. She and her husband have two children; they are both TCAPS students. She is a part of Team5TCAPS.


Why she’s running for the board:

“I am deeply concerned about where we are at as a district, and so I was always taught to not sit on the sidelines, to get involved and to make a change.”

She says she is still concerned about the allegations against Soma:

“Clearly there’s an issue. So I would definitely set very specific goals and then measure those goals, and if they’re not being reached, then action is taken.”

How she would approach balancing the budget:

“I think to involve the community more on those decisions. Sometimes it felt like those decisions were already made before the community was brought in to any of that, and I think that’s where there is this lack of trust from the community. At least that’s what I’m hearing.” 


Deyar Jamil
Credit Morgan Springer

Deyar Jamil is an attorney, but she has spent most of her career as a federal agent investigating white collar crime. She has served on the board of the Chicago Mosaic School. Jamil was born and raised in Michigan, growing up in the Detroit area. She went to University of Michigan and has a law degree from Wayne State University. Her children go to West Middle School and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Middle School. She is a part of Team5TCAPS.


Jamil says she’s running because the board and TCAPS need to change:

“All of us on Team5 believe that the board should be more of a check and balance on ... the executive team. That doesn’t mean an obstacle to, but that we as a board will need to ensure that the information presented by the executive team to the board is accurate, ...  and we need to consider alternative perspectives before we just rubber stamp any recommendations by the superintendent or the executive team.”

On how the board handled allegations against Soma:

“I think the board has failed the community miserably on that. They had an opportunity to call out Superintendent Soma on his behavior; they failed to do that.”

She says cuts do need to be made when there is a limited budget:

“I would argue – and I have established this already – that cuts are being made based on costs that ... have not been proven.”


Jeff Leonhardt
Credit Morgan Springer

Jeff Leonhardt has taught in public schools for nearly three decades. Most recently he taught social studies at East Middle School. He retired this year after teaching in TCAPS for 18 years. Before that he taught in Switzerland, Washington State and Oregon. Leonhardt has a masters in curriculum and instruction from the University of Oregon and an administrator certificate from Grand Valley State University. He grew up downstate, and his parents worked for public schools. His wife was born in Traverse City and was a TCAPS student.


Why he’s running for the board:

“Towards the end of my career, teachers were asking me and encouraging me to run for the school board. So that’s ... [a] main impetus for me getting involved in the school board.”

On how the board handled allegations against Soma:

“I think they went through the process as they were advised, and that they did what they had to do. I don’t know that I would have done it any differently.” 

On budget cuts:

“I don’t have a good answer on what needs to be cut. I feel like we’ve cut, cut, cut. And at some point the state has to stop taking money from the K-12 fund and start funding districts equally.”