Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 27, 2013

TCAPS leaders must make tougher calls to secure bond support

Our View
Our View

---- — Traverse City Area Public Schools officials likely will take another stab at convincing voters to support a multi-million dollar bond issue for building reconstruction, technology and transportation projects.

It’s highly likely they’ll seek a vote this year, but to be successful TCAPS leaders need to avoid the many pitfalls and self-inflicted wounds that doomed last year’s $100 million request. They’ve taken initial steps with public meetings, surveys and, we hope, by taking a good look in the mirror.

TCAPS officials need to fully acknowledge last year’s failings, and accept that the campaign was in trouble from Day 1, when administrators and the school board decided to shoe-horn their laundry list of wants and needs into one ballot question. The elephant in the room — and we believe district officials knew it at the time — was the variously stated $16 to $25 million for upgrades at Central High School, most of which was to be spent on a performing arts center.

That’s a big chunk of cash for one project, and TCAPS officials couldn’t overcome the public’s suspicion that the auditorium and all its bells and whistles more closely resembled a luxury than a need. Economic carnage over the past several years certainly undermined a public embrace of what many ultimately perceived as a wish-list item.

The fact is the bond request included plenty of legitimate needs, from rebuilding elementary schools to technology and bus purchases, and TCAPS shouldn’t be faulted for pursuing voters’ OK for those items. And there’s much anecdotal evidence to suggest a majority of voters would have backed the district on those nuts-and-bolts projects had leaders split the bond request into two questions: 1) school reconstruction, technology and transportation, and 2) Central’s performing arts center.

But TCAPS leaders’ stubbornness, or perhaps a lack of political courage, forced voters to choose one or none. They overwhelmingly opted for the latter.

Now district officials must make tougher calls than last year. They certainly can’t risk another defeat, and to win they must make a clear, concise and transparent case for a funding project that likely needs to come in below last year’s $100 million pitch. They also must decide whether to include the performing arts center, and, if so, whether it should stand on its own as a ballot question.

TCAPS generally is a good, well-managed district that enjoys strong community support. We believe voters will support a bond request, if school leaders make tough, front-end decisions that separate necessity from extravagance.