Tuscola Intermediate School District

Losing leaders: Five school board chiefs step down

Gene Pierce, superintendent, Tuscola Intermediate School District
Gene Pierce, superintendent, Tuscola Intermediate School District

Plenty of incumbents are leaving area school boards this election season, with five board presidents not seeking re-election Nov. 8 and allowing write-in candidates – if there are any – to try to win election in Millington, Cass City, Reese and Deckerville.

The Advertiser surveyed 14 area school districts, finding that the following school board presidents are calling it quits: Jill Palm Lynch in Reese, Scott Murray in Millington, Scott Zimmer in Frankenmuth, Mike Hall in Marlette and Jon Block in Deckerville.

And a total of 14 incumbents are saying so long in the 14 districts, including Trustee Theron Nesbitt in Caro; Trustee Kirk VanWormer in Vassar; Vice President Craig Bellew and Trustee Dan Manwell in Cass City; Trustee Judith Grulke in Millington; Vice President Lori Ettema in Frankenmuth; Secretary Kathleen Tafoya in Reese; Trustee Brenda Kretzschmer in Owendale-Gagetown; and Trustee Jim Kreiner in Deckerville.

Gene Pierce, superintendent of the Tuscola Intermediate School District that trains school board members in local school districts, said he’s bothered by the fact there are fewer candidates for school board than there are board positions available in Millington, Reese and Deckerville.

“I understand why we may not be having so many people run,” Pierce said. “You’ve got so much more legislation, you’ve got people who are willing to file a lawsuit against the school district at the drop of a hat, and you’ve got a lot more people that are saying ‘Do I really want the stress of being on a school board when all of these things are breathing down our backs?’”

Many school districts ask a board member to seek election to a six-year term.

“The board members are paid a small amount for attending the meetings, but it’s basically a volunteer position,” Pierce said. “It’s getting harder and harder to get people to volunteer for these spots, and in many cases, it’s a six-year commitment to be a board member. That’s a long time.”

A board president fills a vital role on a school board, Pierce said.

“The board president sets the tone for the entire board, and if you boil it down, a board has just a handful of responsibilities: They hire, evaluate and fire – if necessary – a superintendent; they watch after the budget; and they set policy,” Pierce said.

“It’s when boards get involved in all of the day-to-day activities that things tend to go south.”

In Millington, Murray and Grulke aren’t seeking re-election, leaving three candidates running for four spots on the board. Board Vice President Gary Shreve and Trustee Dean Hennessy seek re-election, while challenger James Henderson Jr. seeks a spot on the board. The fourth spot could be filled by the write-in candidate collecting the most votes, though write-in candidates must properly file a declaration of intent with Millington Township Clerk Sheila Hebner.

In the Reese school district, Palm Lynch and Tafoya are stepping down, leaving two candidates running for four spots. Treasurer Cathy Brickel and Trustee Dawn Kalkman seek re-election. The other two spots could be filled by write-in candidates, though write-in candidates must file a declaration of intent with Denmark Township Clerk Nancy Heinlein.

In the Deckerville district in Sanilac County, incumbent Treasurer Spencer Osborne runs for one of two six-year terms. The other term could be filled by a write-in candidate, though any write-in candidate must file a declaration of intent with Marion Township Clerk Deborah Williamson. Also in Deckerville, board Trustees Jason McConnachie and Curt Vogel run unopposed for four-year terms, while newcomer Amy Dumaw runs unopposed for a two-year term.

Cass City’s school-board race features board Secretary Janine Meeker as one of four candidates seeking four seats. Emily Phillips, serving on the board after being appointed to her position, seeks election, as do newcomers Janet Richards and George Edgar Batty.

Batty runs as a write-in candidate, though other write-in candidates may become eligible to win election to the board by filing a declaration of intent with Elkland Township Clerk Ed LaBelle.

Contested races for school board seats are set in Vassar, Frankenmuth, Kingston, Marlette and North Branch. The area’s school board races are as follows:


Four candidates seek two seats: Board Trustee Jeff J. Fackler, and challengers Hobert Baker, Matthew J. Koch and Jon Ward.


There are two races in Frankenmuth Public Schools, the first a four-person battle for a trio of four-year terms. That contest includes board Trustee David Muller, Trustee Karen Uebler and newcomers David Abke and Bridget Isquierdo Smith.

The other race features three newcomers seeking one two-year term: Amy Cesar-Yearta, Travis I. Dafoe and Jason R. Lipka.


Board Secretary Ray Wolak hopes to win re-election to a six-year term, but he’s challenged by newcomers Sarah Schuler and Lane Walker. Scott R. Neff, also a newcomer, runs unopposed for a four-year term.


The area’s single biggest race is in the Marlette school district, where seven candidates vie for three six-year terms. The field includes board Treasurer Nik Woods, Secretary Gina Kraft and five challengers: Neal W. Bishop, Chris Clark, Scott A. Forbes, Nathan D. Hager and Jaime Macumber.


Four candidates square off for a trio of four-year terms in this northern Lapeer County district. The quartet comprises incumbent President Cory Mabery and Trustee Daniel Deshetsky; Larry Mabery, appointed as trustee and seeking election to the board; and newcomer Brenden Miller.


Three incumbents run unopposed for four-year terms: President Galen D. Smith, Secretary Susan Samson and Trustee Terry Coleman.


Incumbent board Secretary Paul Strasz and newcomer Barbara Ruckle run unopposed for a pair of six-year terms.


A trio of incumbents – Vice President Cindy S. Coxe, Secretary Pete Moceri and Trustee Nicholas Buggia – seek re-election to four-year terms.


Three candidates, running unopposed, pursue four-year terms: President Daniel Warack, Treasurer Julie K. Good and newcomer Kathleen Wood.


Six-year terms go to three candidates, with a trio of incumbents seeking the jobs: President Lori L. Kemp, Secretary Kurt Ewald and Trustee Brian Dyer.

Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at gilchrist@tcadvertiser.com

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