A year ago voters rejected a $100 million Traverse City Area Public Schools bond request. It was a setback to the district’s ongoing elementary schools reconstruction effort, delayed the purchase of new buses and technology upgrades and sank plans to refurbish Central High School’s aging, outdated auditorium.
To its great credit, though, the school board didn’t point fingers or make excuses. Instead, they did what every good student does when things get tough — they put in even more time and effort to figure out what went wrong and how to get it right the next time.
The board talked to dozens of voters and groups in live feedback sessions and a telephone survey to find out — in detail — why voters said “no.” They took apart their bond request to see what parts could be delayed or modified. They asked for input on what parents and voters wanted and would support.
The result is a two-part bond request that will be decided by voters Nov. 5. While the issues will still do the heavy lifting the district must have — critically needed reconstruction projects at Eastern, Glenn Loomis and Interlochen elementary schools, school security improvements at Central High School and West Middle School and district-wide bus and technology replacements — there are fewer capital projects and a much smaller price tag: 0.2 mills for $35 million; the issue will cost the owner of a home with a market value of $200,000 about $20 a year.
Voters will also decide a separate 0.09-mill, $13 million proposal to reconstruct the Central auditorium. It would cost the owner of that same home $9 a year.
The proposals address the district’s critical infrastructure and safety issues while looking to the future technology students must have to succeed. They also reflect the opinion among some voters that the Central High auditorium is not as critical an issue and should be decided separately.
This is the kind of leadership — and political courage — taxpayers expect from the people who lead their public institutions. The board didn’t shrink from last year’s defeat but embraced it as a challenge to do better. While they knew there was still broad and deep support for the district — as there always has been — they realized that they had perhaps asked for too much too soon after the Great Recession. And made needed changes.
The district has made its case, and it stands up to scrutiny. Voters now have clear choices and know what’s needed and why. The proposals will help protect the millions taxpayers have made in infrastructure investments over the past 50 years, will address safety and technology issues and will allow the district to invest in critical technology needed for students to compete in a global economy.
These proposals - and the district — deserve a “yes” vote Nov. 5.