Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 9, 2009

Editorial: TCAPS shouldn't trim TAG

As a public school district Traverse City schools is forever faced with the challenge of being all things to all people.

Right now, however, the district is poised to cut back a program for high-achieving students (and the parents who support it) as part of a budget-balancing effort. It's an unfortunate decision that again prevents the district from putting its best programs forward to lure more students.

As part of an effort to cut at least $2.1 million from the budget to help balance a $3 million deficit, the district appears ready to eliminate at least one year of the current three-year Talented and Gifted program to save $130,000. The cuts would include two certified teaching positions; the program was put on the block in part because a third-grade pilot portion has operated for only about five months, officials said.

District officials said the district isn't ending the TAG program, just trimming it back. Testing that is part of the admissions process to get into TAG has been announced only for incoming fourth- and fifth-graders, a sure sign that the third-grade portion is probably kaput already, though a final decision has not been made.

Last year the district dropped a Chinese language "immersion" program at Traverse Heights elementary because, district officials said, enrollment had dropped. The program had been partly credited with Traverse Heights gaining 51 students just the year before.

The district has also shied away from creating so-called "magnet" schools that would focus on a curriculum tailored to various interests -- math, music or science, for example. Magnets have been used successfully around the country to boost enrollment and lure high-achieving students from other districts who might otherwise attend private or charter schools.

The district did give its popular Montessori program its own home this school year -- it closed Glenn Loomis and then reopened it as an all-Montessori building -- and has seen success. That's the model the district should be following.

Right now the Traverse City district needs all the bodies it can get. It lost more than 150 students in 2007 and another 310 last fall. Traverse City officials say some of those are students whose families are moving out of the district; yet other area districts are seeing a surge in enrollment.

Woodland School, a K-8 charter that opened in 1996, has capped enrollment at about 200 students. Grand Traverse Academy, a K-12 charter, has seen enrollment grow consistently and has expanded twice since 1999. This year's enrollment is more than 1,100. Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools also runs a private K-12 program that is usually at capacity.

A time of state cutbacks and budget shortfalls may not seem ideal for expansion, but TCAPS must continue to lure students, and keeping the Talented and Gifted program intact -- or even expanding it -- is one way to do that.