Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 16, 2013

TCAPS board mulls drastic changes in wake of election defeat

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

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Julie Puckett considered writing her resignation letter when she awoke after election day.

Defeat weighed that heavily on Puckett, vice president of Traverse City Area Public Schools’ Board of Education, after district voters on Nov. 5 rejected by about 250 votes a “nuts and bolts” capital improvement millage proposal.

“In some ways it’s taken me probably a week and a half to come out of my funk after the election,” Puckett said this week.

Frustration after millage losses in consecutive years boiled over at the TCAPS board’s meeting on Monday, when board members vowed to consider a wide array of options as the district tries to fix aging schools and upgrade infrastructure. One board member even floated the idea of breaking the district into political or ideological divisions.

Sixty percent of Traverse City voters and 55 percent of Peninsula Township voters favored the 2013 millage, but the proposal lost in every other township in the TCAPS district, as well as the segments of Leelanau and Benzie counties that fall within TCAPS boundaries, according to district data.

Board member Megan Crandall said there seems to be a growing gap in “philosophy,” “political affiliation” and “values” between the areas where the millage passed or nearly passed, and the areas where it lost by a wide margin.

Outlying townships appear to question everything TCAPS tries to do beyond offering basic reading, writing and arithmetic education, Crandall contended during the board meeting. Maybe it’s time to give “out county” residents the option to join nearby school districts like Kalkaska Public Schools and Benzie County Central Schools while TCAPS focuses on the Traverse City area, she said.

“We have to have a brutally honest conversation,” she said. “We can’t tiptoe around this value divide we seem to have.”

Crandall said there are ways to either annex away or charter off parts of the district, though she acknowledged she has not contacted the Michigan Department of Education to determine what exactly that would entail.

Puckett, who opted against resigning her post, said board members need to discuss their most recent defeat with some perspective. Millage proposals faced stiff opposition throughout the state on election day, she said.

Puckett did not support breaking up TCAPS by township or any other way.

“To say we want to get rid of the parts of the district that don’t agree with whatever idea we have at the moment is just crazy,” she said.

Other options discussed by board members included raising TCAPS’ 3.1-mill millage rate in order to sell bonds already approved by voters in previous elections, and returning to voters with another millage election in the near future.

Board member Gary Appel said he’s open to pursuing another millage increase “as soon as possible,” though he opposed holding a special election this winter or spring.

School Board President Kelly Hall said she feared the millage loss was a backlash against the school board’s leadership and goals like promoting global competency in students. But she also said board members need to keep in mind one of the educational values the district’s pupils are encouraged to exhibit: resilience.

“We were elected to lead the district through thick and thin and we can’t give up,” Hall said.