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Education is a big issue in northern Michigan, whether we're reporting on school funding issues to breakthroughs in the classroom.

Education foundation could save an elementary school from closing

Morgan Springer
A large audience looked on as officials from Traverse City Area Public Schools and Peninsula Township took public comments.

A plan to create a nonprofit to save the elementary school on Old Mission Peninsula was presented publicly last night. At the joint meeting, board members from Peninsula Township and Traverse City Area Public Schools were asked to work with the soon-to-be-created Old Mission Peninsula Education Foundation to keep the school open. TCAPS had proposed closing it because of low enrollment.

Allison O'Keefe – the spokeswoman for the Old Mission group and president of the Old Mission Peninsula School PTO – says it's been a long, behind-the-scenes process since March.  She began her presentation to both boards by saying the idea came from a meeting with TCAPS Superintendent Paul Soma.

“At one of our last meeting with Paul and his team," says O'Keefe, "we were pretty emotional, feeling a little desperate. I may have cried. And I asked Paul, ‘Oh my God, what do you want from us?’ And he said, ‘Allison, show me the money.’”

O'Keefe left the meeting and called a community member – who has chosen to remain anonymous – to ask if he was willing to help save the school. In early March the anonymous donor offered $800,000 to the school. That potential donation would be seed money for the foundation. The rest of the foundation's money would come from private donations.

The proposed plan

O'Keefe told both boards the proposed plan is for Peninsula Township to buy the school from TCAPS. The building has been assessed at between $575,000 and $1.5 million. Money to buy the building could come from the foundation or Peninsula Township.
In addition, the foundation would cover the school's annual overhead cost. TCAPS has estimated the cost of  overhead at $400,000. Because of the school's low enrollment, TCAPS said per pupil funding for Old Mission Peninsula School was not covering the overhead cost, prompting TCAPS' to consider shuttering the school. O'Keefe says the overhead cost could be less. 
O’Keefe says this plan would requires a marriage between TCAPS and Peninsula Township.

And she says it’s up to the boards to come up with a good prenuptial agreement. 

O'Keefe proposed they form a group made up of community members and board members from TCAPS and Peninsula Township to negotiate details. In order for the proposal to have legs, the two boards will have to agree on how much the building is worth, what the overhead costs are and how long an agreement should last.

Public Comment
There was limited discussion among the boards after O'Keefe's presentation, but there was some public comment.

Roger Myers, an Old Mission Peninsula resident, expressed frustration with TCAPS and made his own proposal to TCAPS. 

Credit Morgan Springer
Allison O'Keefe tells board members from TCAPS and Peninsula Township how an educational foundation could help save Old Mission Peninsula School.

"It seems to me," says Myers, "it would be better if you kept the building, if you contributed your normal part that you normally would pay to educate the number of students that are here." Then, he says, if there were costs not covered by the per pupil funding TCAPS gets from the state, the foundation could cover that.

Myers comment got a big round of applause.

After the meeting, a number of audience members said they wished they'd heard more discussion between the two boards. But two Peninsula Township board members said this was their first time hearing a more detailed plan, and that they needed time to think the proposal through.

TCAPS says they want to have an agreement in place by November.






Morgan Springer is a contributing editor and producer at Interlochen Public Radio. She previously worked for the New England News Collaborative as the host/producer of NEXT, the weekly show which aired on six public radio station in the region.