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After TCAPS pays back state, finance and curriculum questions remain

Morgan Springer
A TCAPS board meeting in 2016.

Traverse City Area Public Schools will pay back $707,000 to the state over allegedly miscalculated student enrollment, but they could have to give back more money.

The Michigan Department of Education says TCAPS may have miscalculated enrollment in at least two other semesters.

For now TCAPS will use a state grant to pay back most of that $707,000, and the district has reserve funds to pay for more fines from the state.

TCAPS Board President Sue Kellly says the district will get that grant money this month. After that, things get a bit murky. In their review of enrollment, the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District said TCAPS miscalculated in the spring and fall of 2018 as well. That means TCAPS could have to pay back an additional $1.14 million to the state. 

Kelly says some enrollment numbers during the 2018-2019 school year still need to be audited, which is expected to be done in November.

After the audit, TCAPS and the MDE will figure out if the district has to pay back more money, Kelly says.

"Depending on that rendering on how they count [enrollment] and how it conforms to the MDE's current judgement, then we'll know what we have to deal with," Kelly says. 

Credit Traverse City Area Public Schools
The Northern Michigan Partnership's page has been removed from the TCAPS website.

Future of the Northern Michigan Partnership

The dispute between TCAPS and the Michigan Department of Education is over the Northern Michigan Partnership, an online class program for homeschooled students with occasional in-person lessons.

The Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District says TCAPS recieved too much money from the state for the NMP dating back to 2017.

TCAPS has removed the NMP's page from their website, and a representative from the program did not return a request for comment.

In a letter to families affiliated with the program, the district said changes are coming to the NMP.

"Given the (MDE's) decision, it is clear that the program will not be able to run as it is currently designed for the 2019/2020 school year," it reads.

Kelly says the District can keep the program open for the upcoming school year, but they will make systemic changes to ensure it's compliant with state law.

"We will not be continuing the Northern Michigan Partnership as it has been run in the past," Kelly said. "We're going ... to see what kind of programming that we can build that conforms to the MDE's requirements."

This dispute could impact similar programs

Kyle Guerrant, MDE deputy superintendent of finance and operations, says programs like the NMP aren't frequently audited. He says the state usually works with districts before they create them to make sure they're compliant.

"When you look at different learning styles, they come with different rules with how you must operate the program," Guerrant says. "What we’ve tried to do in the shared time space is work with ISD auditors and school districts around how to effectively run programs."

In this case, TCAPS operated the program for nearly a year before the state started their inquiry. Sue Kelly says the district was caught off guard by the MDE's late demand.

"We built this program on specific research and instruction that we got from legislators, from the state, and now a year later they're telling us that can't work," Kelly says.

Kelly says this ruling could put the funding for similar programs across the state at risk.

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.