Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

May 15, 2013

Editorial: TBAISD hoards money as schools struggle

Local taxpayers might want to take a close look at a government agency that few truly understand, but one which accounts for a significant chunk of their annual summer tax bill.

The Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District doesn’t greatly resonate with many taxpayers and residents. The TBAISD -— a sort of umbrella agency that manages public school services, including special education programming, adult education, and career tech training, among others — certainly doesn’t generate the buzz that accompanies county boards, city commissions or school boards.

TBAISD officials surely would be happy to maintain their under-the-radar status, but that anonymity may be on shaky ground. Turns out the TBAISD is flush with taxpayer cash, tens of millions of dollars socked away in various accounts that comprise an astounding 58 percent of TBAISD’s overall budget, an utterly out-of-whack figure that dwarfs other local public school districts’ savings accounts. Suddenly, TBAISD officials are scurrying to figure out ways to disperse some of their banked $35 million to local districts that careened toward financial disaster amid a double-whammy of Michigan’s sour economy and Lansing politicians who couldn’t care less about equitably funding northern Michigan schools.

TBAISD Superintendent Mike Hill last week told the Record-Eagle that an ISD-led committee recently formed and began to discuss providing more services and cash to TBAISD-affiliated schools.

“It’s perhaps long overdue and it’s a healthy discussion,” Hill said. “This is for the benefit of the region and the benefit of the students in the region.”

No kidding. But neither benevolence nor good governance is behind TBAISD’s apparent decision to open its wallet. That came about because a Record-Eagle reporter began to ask questions about TBAISD’s huge fund balances, and because school board members from some area districts squawked that too much of their general fund dollars are paying for services —- special education obligations, significantly -— that rightly should land on TBAISD’s tab.

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