Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 22, 2013

TCAPS board ready to approve Chinese students deal

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

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — An international exchange potentially involving hundreds of students and millions of dollars for local schools appears a step closer to becoming a reality.

Traverse City Area Public Schools board members said they expect to approve a memorandum of understanding with Weiming Education Group, one of China’s largest private schools, during a meeting Monday night. The agreement could bring up to 200 Chinese students — and an infusion of up to $2 million tuition dollars and extra state school aid money — to TCAPS annually for years to come.

"I haven't heard any one voice of opposition (from board members)," board President Kelly Hall said. "I anticipate it will pass and be strongly supported."

TCAPS officials are lauding the proposed partnership with Weiming as part of district efforts to prepare students for an increasingly globalized world. The agreement also will generate more revenue for TCAPS, and allow the district to offer more classes and programming options to all students in the district, officials said.

The TCAPS-Weiming partnership, if approved, likely will begin with dozens of Chinese students enrolling as junior and seniors at TCAPS’ high schools in the 2014-15 school year, district officials said. Some seniors also could enroll at NMC.

Weiming will pay $10,000 annually in tuition per student to TCAPS under the proposal before the board. The district also can collect the state per-pupil foundation grant for the Chinese students during their junior year.

But two school districts in Kent County experienced bumps in the long road from China that suggests true student numbers -- and the associated revenue -- are not easily pinned down.

Rockford Public Schools and Kentwood Public Schools began to work on similar agreements with Weiming about 18 months ago, Rockford Superintendent Michael Shibler said.

Each district was prepared to receive 20 students from Weiming for the 2013-14 school year. Instead, far fewer showed up.

Rockford ended up with only two juniors and three seniors after selecting 20 host families and budgeting for their tuition payments.

Recruiters from other high schools in the United States plucked the other Weiming students. Shibler said Weiming officials never told Rockford officials about the recruiting practice.

"Initially, I was very disappointed," he said. "I was never aware this even existed."

But Shibler is still pleased with his district's agreement with Weiming, which he said at its core is about developing mutual respect between youths in China and the United States.

"We are a global society now," he said. "We do need to develop strong relationships with other countries."

TCAPS Superintendent Stephen Cousins said he's are aware of the competition between districts to attract Weiming students and their families.

The memorandum before the TCAPS board doesn't spell out a minimum number of Weiming students who'll head for Traverse City.

"They'll judge TCAPS based on the merits of our program and we'll get the students whose parents feel we're the best fit," Cousins said.

TCAPS officials did look into Weiming's background, including the institution's credit history and business practices. Everything checked out, said Paul Soma, TCAPS associate superintendent of finance & operations.

TCAPS leaders also were impressed with Weiming's institutional philosophy, Cousins said.

"They actually have, as part of their corporate goals, that they would increase the understanding between the Chinese and American cultures to improve the working relationship between the countries," Cousins said. "That was important to us."