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January 19, 2014

TCAPS considers closings, millage

TRAVERSE CITY — School board members face some sobering truths about Traverse City Area Public Schools.

TCAPS officials will need to shutter at least one school within the next three years if the district can’t find new money for capital projects, and Interlochen Elementary School is first on the chopping block.

It’s a dilemma school board President Kelly Hall never anticipated when she joined the board.

“I don’t think a district recovers from a decision like that for at least a generation,” Hall said. “It tears a community apart. It’s not something I thought I’d ever be considering when I got elected to the board.”

But that was before voters rejected two district requests to sell capital bonds in as many years. Officials planned to rebuild Interlochen, Glenn Loomis and Eastern elementary schools if the most recent ballot proposal passed. Now those plans — and a host of other capital improvements — are on hold as the cost of maintaining TCAPS’ aging facilities grows.

Board members began discussing how best to confront this problem during a meeting last week.

A host of changes to the district’s capital plan were considered, but two options served as bookends on the spectrum of possibilities.

One is to cap the millage rate at its current 3.1-mil level with few new capital dollars incoming for roughly the next decade. Interlochen Elementary, TCAPS’ most run-down school, likely would close in that scenario.

Board Vice President Julie Puckett said district officials need to look beyond financial considerations before closing any schools. She used the closing of Bertha Vos Elementary School in 2008 to support her argument. Residents of Acme Township rallied against the district to oppose the closure. They eventually filed a lawsuit filed against the district that was later dismissed.

“Ripping off the scab that I thought had healed from Bertha Vos, I’m going to tell you,” Puckett said during the meeting. “You take away a community school, you change a community.”

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