Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 24, 2013

Traverse City schools officials prepare for bond

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Area Public Schools officials said they’ve learned from last year’s failed bond campaign and hear loud-and-clear what voters want in a 2013 capital improvement project proposal.

Board members on June 10 will vote on several potential 2013 proposals that likely will be less ambitious and less expensive than last year’s $100-million ballot question that failed by nearly 7,000 votes.

District administrators boiled feedback from an extensive bond review that included the participation of more than 1,100 community members into a recommendation for two separate ballot questions, including a $35-million main proposal for reconstruction at three elementary schools, bus and technology replacements, and security upgrades at Central High School and West Middle School.

TCAPS Board of Education President Kelly Hall believes the public will support that proposal, as long as the district avoids missteps while promoting the ballot question.

“I’m very confident it will pass,” Hall said during a meeting with the Record-Eagle editorial board Thursday.

Many community members criticized the district efforts to promote last year’s bond proposal, and the Michigan Secretary of State ruled a piece of publicly funded TCAPS campaign literature violated state election laws by explicitly advocating for the passage of a ballot question.

TCAPS Superintendent Stephen Cousins said school officials will show voters they learned from that and are determined to avoid similar mistakes.

Hall pointed out the district’s previous promotion efforts, though flawed, provided voters with vital information about TCAPS’ capital needs.

“We’re not starting from ground-zero in terms of informing the voters, which I think is to our benefit,” Hall said.

A majority of the $35 million in the main proposal would be earmarked for reconstruction projects at Interlochen, Eastern and Glenn Loomis elementary schools. The three buildings are in various stages of disrepair, and the district will keep spending operational dollars on short-term fixes to long-term problems if the bond proposal fails.

TCAPS did just that this winter when water leaked through Interlochen Elementary School’s roof and damaged books and several bookshelves. Such problems mean less money for the district’s curricular activities, TCAPS Board Vice President Julie Puckett said.

“Any time you take money out of the general fund to patch a roof or buy books you’re taking it away from somewhere else,” Puckett said.

The administration’s recommendation calls for a separate $12.9-million proposal for a 670-seat auditorium reconstruction at Central High School.

An $18-million, 1,200-seat auditorium project was a sticking point for many voters in 2012, though 55 percent of voters support or lean toward supporting a 670-seat reconstruction, according to the district’s review.

Administrators’ recommendation excludes reconstruction plans at the district’s 80-year-old Central Grade School. School board members Megan Crandall and Scott Hardy previously said TCAPS should consider sending that $26-million project to voters this year while public support remains high — the bond review showed nearly 75 percent of voters supported or leaned toward supporting the project.

But district administrators contend that would result in a 2013 proposal plagued by some of the same problems as last year’s proposal: an overall price tag that’s too high, and a project completion timeline that’s too long.

“I still thinks it’s better to wait three or four years,” Cousins said of floating the Central project to voters. “It’s an emotional issue in this community, so let’s make that a focal point and have a conversation about that.”