Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 1, 2013

Forum: TCAPS Board criticisms unfounded

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — The Traverse Area Public Schools Board of Education has authorized ballot proposals for the upcoming November election that would enable the district to continue its long-term capital plan. Recently we have become aware of general criticisms of the Board’s stewardship of the district’s fiscal resources. We wish to correct misconceptions.

TCAPS has consistently demonstrated its financial responsibility. Since 2002, the rate that the district is required by the State to pay for employee retirement costs has more than doubled from 12 percent to 30 percent of salaries, resulting in $9 million in increased costs. Additionally, TCAPS’ funding was cut by the State by $470 per student over two years in 2010 and 2011, leaving the district with a structural deficit exceeding $5.5 million.

In the face of these challenges, TCAPS has implemented budget reductions that have kept the district in a financially stable position. Since 2009, over $11 million in budget reductions have been implemented and the remaining structural shortfall stands at only $500,000. This amount will be eliminated through budget reductions and increased revenues from expanding service this fiscal year. Since 2010, TCAPS has decreased compensation costs by 13 percent. This was accomplished by eliminating positions, freezing or reducing salaries, decreasing benefits and increasing employee insurance co-pays.

The Board is proud that it has been able to continue developing programs for all students and increase student achievement in the face of extraordinary fiscal challenges.

n Our two main high schools rank in the top 4 percent nationally.

n This past year, our MEAP results significantly outperformed the state in the percentage of students who scored proficient or advanced in all grade levels tested in reading, writing, science and social studies.

n We have gone from a district with slowly declining enrollment throughout first decade of this millennium to stabilizing enrollment in 2010 and increasing enrollment in 2013.

Suggestions that we have a “bloated” administration ignore relevant data and facts. On a per-pupil basis, our administrative costs are lower than three-quarters of the districts in the state. Moreover, we have found opportunities to leverage these costs by consolidating operations with other districts. We provide transportation services to Kingsley Public Schools, food services to the Suttons Bay school district, and business services to the Suttons Bay Montessori school. The reason these districts have chosen TCAPS over other public and private vendors is because we are the lowest-cost provider and we offer quality services.

Neutral third parties have consistently recognized the district’s financial responsibility. TCAPS continues to carry a Standard & Poor’s “AA” Bond rating, and we have received national recognition for excellence in financial reporting eight years in a row.

The TCAPS Board wholeheartedly agrees the district must be vigilant in pursuing its responsibility to be open, transparent, accountable, and fiscally responsible. We would be happy to meet with any interested person to discuss these and other issues relating to TCAPS. Our bond proposals are solid, reasonable and responsibly designed to meet the capital needs of the district and the students we serve.

About the authors: Kelly Hall is President of the Traverse Area Public Schools Board of Education; Eric Falconer is a TCAPS trustee

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