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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.

Despite conflicting statements, Soma knew about state inquiry in July

Morgan Springer
TCAPS Superintendent Paul Soma (right) consults with board members Erik Falconer and Jane Klegman in a 2018 board meeting.

The leader of Traverse City’s school district has said he was "blindsided" when he found out last week the state might take back money from a homeschool program. But other sources indicate TCAPS Superintendent Paul Soma knew it was a possibility for months. 

It started last week when state education officials sent a letter. The letter claimed TCAPS miscalculated the number of students participating in the Northern Michigan Partnership. NMP is a homeschool program that operates online. In the letter, the Michigan Department of Education indicated it might ask the district to return at least $700,000 in funding because TCAPS overestimated the number of students.

Since this news broke, Soma has said the state is mistaken; the district is accurately and legally counting the students.

He has also called attention to how he was notified.

“We have no communication – no formal communication, no informal communication – about any of the details around this situation from the state or from the ISD,” Soma told the school board at a meeting Monday.

The board asked Soma a number of times about that point during the meeting, wondering why neither the state nor the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District (ISD) would give TCAPS a heads up before the October letter arrived. Board member Bill Smith says he left the meeting with the impression Soma knew nothing about the state’s review of the homeschool program until October.

"That’s what he said," says Smith, "and I have no basis to doubt what he said at this point."

[Watch the Monday TCAPS board meeting here.]

But Nick Ceglarek tells a different story. Ceglarek is the superintendent of the TBAISD. The ISD has audited the NMP three times and found no issues.

Ceglarek says he had a conversation with Soma about the state’s review of the partnership in July.

“On July 24 I did have the opportunity to have a very informal conversation with Superintendent Soma," he says. 

Ceglarek says he told Soma about the state’s review and that there were questions about how the district was counting its homeschool students. He says he also told him it was possible TCAPS could lose per pupil funding.

Soma had previously told IPR he was aware an auditor from the state was "snooping around" the ISD. When I spoke with him yesterday, he confirmed that July conversation with Ceglarek.

"When Nick is telling me this, I was like, ‘Nick, thank you, I appreciate you telling me, but that’s so impossible,'" says Soma.

Despite that July conversastion, Soma says "I ... absolutely stand by what I said Monday."

"If there’s a small nuance that I didn’t say I had a passing conversation with Nick," says Soma, "what is important about that point is, ‘Oh Paul, you had that conversation with Nick, what did you do about it?’"

Soma says what he did was re-examine the law and talk to state education officials, who he says told him TCAPS was fine and would not lose the money.

Soma says leaving out his conversation with Ceglarek during the board meeting is beside the point.

"It doesn’t matter," he says.

Soma says he is working with the state to resolve this issue and expects things to be cleared up. He says he is very proud of the work going on at the Northern Michigan Partnership and is confident it is operating correctly.

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.