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State says TCAPS misreported enrollment

Max Johnston

The Michigan Department of Education says Traverse City Area Public Schools owes more than $700,000 for overpayment last year. 

The demand for the repayment stems from allegations that TCAPS misreported student enrollment numbers for the Northern Michigan Partnership, a program that combines online learning and classes at the TCAPS building in Interlochen.

Paul Soma, TCAPS superintendent, says the state was set to deduct the money from a state aid payment to the district this month, but TCAPS disputed the department’s findings and the state has deferred the repayment until the situation is resolved.

Soma says NMP has never misreported their enrollment numbers. He says the program has been audited twice in the past 18 months and the audits never found a problem.

“At one point based on some information that we gave them they actually gave [students] to us,” Soma said.

Soma says this all started with an anonymous source that reached out to the Department of Education in May.

“The state told the [Intermediate School District] to change our numbers … based on an anonymous complaint that has no basis in fact,” Soma said.

On Tuesday, Team 5, a group of candidates running for TCAPS board, held a press conference. Candidate Deyar Jamil criticized Soma specifically.

“Mr. Soma was informed in early July that the district had been inaccurately reporting student count in this program,” Jamil said, “which will result in a loss of more than $700,000 for last school year alone.”

Jamil says the district is still misreporting numbers, and TCAPS may owe the state more than $1.4 million.

Soma says he only heard about the state's allegation on Tuesday.

In a letter to the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District and TCAPS, the state said that TCAPS reported 102 students at NMP that weren’t actually full-time enrollments. In Michigan public schools, every student that is full time is given $7,631 by the state for their education each year. But NMP counts students differently because they take online classes and in-person classes are optional.

Credit David Cassleman
TCAPS Superintendent Paul Soma

NMP Director Rose Zivkovich says their enrollment reporting is straightforward: when students log on to their online classes on count days, that’s sent to the TBAISD who collects them. She says there’s been no misreporting.

Soma says he hopes the state and TCAPS can resolve this informally, but they’ll file an appeal on the state’s decision if necessary.

Max came to IPR in 2017 as an environmental intern. In 2018, he returned to the station as a reporter and quickly took on leadership roles as Interim News Director and eventually Assignment Editor. Before joining IPR, Max worked as a news director and reporter at Michigan State University's student radio station WDBM. In 2018, he reported on a Title IX dispute with MSU in his story "Prompt, Thorough and Impartial." His work has also been heard on Michigan Radio, WDBM and WKAR in East Lansing and NPR.