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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.

Superintendent doubts there's a solution to save Old Mission school

Traverse City Area Public Schools

The superintendent for Traverse City Area Public Schools says it is unlikely the district will find a way to save Old Mission Peninsula School. Last year, Paul Soma recommended the district close the elementary school due to low enrollment. But when an anonymous, private donor offered $800,000 in March toward saving the school, TCAPS officials postponed the decision to close it. 

Since then, a community group has been meeting with school officials to come up with a creative way to save the school using the private money.

"We’ve talked about it for a long time," says Soma, "and haven’t seen [a solution]. So if there’s opportunity for a creative solution, then put it in writing. I don’t see it. I see no indication that there is some ability to generate a ten-year plan like we originally were considering."

Soma hopes he can be proved wrong and that a solution is still possible, but the clock is ticking. TCAPS needs to move forward with a decision on the school by November 30th, says Soma.

In August, Allison O'Keefe – now the president of the Old Mission Peninsula Education Foundation which formed in September – presented a plan to the Peninsula Township board and community and the TCAPS board.  The plan was for the foundation to buy the school building from TCAPS. Then TCAPS would continuing running the school while the foundation helped cover annual overhead costs.

Since that proposal was heard, select members of TCAPS, Peninsula Township and the foundation have continued to meet.

On Tuesday, the foundation sent a letter to the district saying they’re ready to buy the property, school building and its contents for $750,000. The building was assessed at between $575,000 and $1.5 million.

O'Keefe says it’s really not about the building, it’s about the kids’ education.

"It sounds so simple," she says, "but all of us just want to have our neighborhood school and a school close to home so these kids can not ride on the bus 18 miles one way into town and 18 miles the next, and we really do see value in that."

The foundation considers a purchase of the building phase one of the plan they presented in August. Phase two would include negotiations on how TCAPS and the foundation would collectively cover the cost of operating the school. Phase two wouldn't begin till after the purchase of the building, and O'Keefe says they have not yet made progress on phase two.

But Superintendent Paul Soma says TCAPS hadn’t originally planned on this two-phased option.

"This is not the outcome that I would have expected entering into these conversations in good faith," he says.

O’Keefe says it’s time to move forward. That's what the foundations is trying to do with this "letter of intent."

“Let’s just decide, and then move on in whatever direction that we might go," says O'Keefe.

Soma says it's up to the school board to accept or reject the foundations proposal. He says the board likely won’t talk about it till 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.