Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 15, 2012

Editorial: TCAPS trip a very quiet ride


---- — Local voters on Nov. 6 soundly rejected Traverse City Area Public Schools ballot request for $100 million to renovate and construct local facilities. The 60 percent to 40 percent defeat stands as TCAPS worst millage drubbing in years, but likely reflected taxpayers' concerns over the still-wobbly economy more so than a deep-seated mistrust of district leadership.

But TCAPS officials' decision to quietly send a six-member contingent to China for conferences and meetings — on the morning after the millage debacle — wasn't the best way to show contrition for millage-related stumbles.

TCAPS China delegation included Superintendent Steve Cousins; Associate Superintendent Jayne Mohr; West and Central high principals Joe Tibaldi and Rick Vandermolen; Katie Bonne, International School at Bertha Vos director; and district spokeswoman Alison Arnold.

The group jetted out Nov. 7 and was to return tonight. Cost to taxpayers: about $7,000, most of that for travel to and from Chicago. A Chinese group was supposed to pick up most of the tab.

The trip initially comes off as one of those junkets that government officials try to spin as verrrrrry important missions so critical to understanding cultural differences and making the world a better place for mankind and the kids, especially the kids. Blah, blah, blah.

In this case TCAPS officials hoped to create ties with Chinese schools and educators to further student exchanges and Chinese cultural programming at TCAPS.

TCAPS officials fully understand China increasingly is a mega-player on the world economic stage. Local families are set to host about 30 Chinese students in a growing exchange program, and TCAPS International School at Bertha Vos boasts a Chinese instructor who teaches Chinese language to the school's 60 or so children.

A legitimate argument can be made that there's ample reason to send some TCAPS leaders to China to further their knowledge of that county amid relationship-building efforts.

But six TCAPS bureaucrats for more than a week, including two superintendents, two high school principals and the district's public relations director? At some taxpayer expense, amid the wreckage of a failed millage?

And, significantly, a trip that no one publicly discussed — not a public peep — prior to the millage vote? Mind you, TCAPS shoots out a press release every time a kid correctly spells a two-syllable word, but a six-person jaunt to China planned during a contentious millage campaign doesn't warrant a mention?

That's silence so deafening it seems purposeful.

TCAPS enjoys a generally good reputation in the community. Its leaders would be wise to be a bit more astute if they want to avoid tarnishing that good name.