BY LINDSAY VANHULLE
TRAVERSE CITY -- Local school officials hope to keep additional school closings "off the table" as they plan for a looming budget deficit next year.
A group being formed to recommend budget cuts for Traverse City's public schools will avoid suggesting school closings "to the extent feasible and possible" as the district prepares for the 2010-11 school year.
The topic officially hasn't been pulled from consideration, but "In my mind, closing schools in '10-11 is off the table," board member Gary Appel said.
The board this week set up a task force designed to recommend cuts for the next school year, to be made up of school employees, parents and local business and nonprofit representatives.
Interested community members have a week to apply.
Declining enrollment and state revenues translate into lower income for public school districts, which rely on per-student state funding for most operations. As a result, school boards have had to cut from their general funds to balance the books.
Traverse City's board this spring approved $2.4 million in cuts for the 2009-10 academic year.
The new committee will consider cuts totaling $2 million, $4 million and $6 million. Their report is expected by Dec. 1 to allow time for discussion before a budget is adopted in June.
The district could fall $6 million to $11 million short by the end of 2010-11, according to estimates from chief financial officer Paul Soma. This year's budget is close to $90 million.
Financial concerns prompted the board to close Norris, Glenn Loomis and Bertha Vos elementary schools in 2007, a decision which drew sharp criticism in some parts of the community.
Since 2002, the district has closed six schools.
Board members held two meetings this summer with administrators and the district's employee groups to discuss future financial challenges.
The scope of the problem is larger than any one group at the table, so participants need to approach the charge with creative thinking and an open mind, said Seamus Shinners, president of the Traverse City Transportation Association.
"I doubt there's been a crisis this severe since I've been employed with the schools" starting in 1974, Shinners said. "We can't fiddle away a year with a committee that's not on task."
Board President Fred Tank voiced frustration this week about the committee's structure, arguing it wouldn't contain enough teachers or community members to generate the best ideas.
He later voted to form the group, which was approved 7-0.
"Voting no would be just symbolic objection," Tank said. "I don't want us to be out of step with the community."
How to apply for TCAPS task force
The Traverse City school board established a task force to generate a list of potential budget cuts for the 2010-11 school year.
It will include one member from each of the district's six employee groups, an additional teacher, five central administrators, one elementary parent, one secondary parent, one special education parent, one private-sector employee, one nonprofit worker and one school board member.
Volunteers will need to attend between eight and 10 meetings through December.
To apply, send a cover letter and resume before Wednesday to Keena Tibbetts, Traverse City Area Public Schools, 412 Webster St., Traverse City, MI 49686. E-mail can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.