The superintendent of Traverse City Area Public Schools says the district should close two elementary schools at the end of this year to save money, and he says a third elementary school should close in several years.
At a TCAPS board meeting on Monday night, superintendent Paul Soma recommended closing Interlochen Community School and the International School at Bertha Vos in June. The schools have the lowest enrollment of any elementary school in the district. Under the plan, the International Baccalaureate programme currently housed at Interlochen and Bertha Vos would be relocated to Traverse Heights Elementary.
Soma also recommended that another school with low enrollment, Old Mission Peninsula School, stay open in the short-term but close later on. Old Mission would absorb students from Eastern Elementary School while Eastern was rebuilt to fit more students. Once Eastern is rebuilt, Old Mission and Eastern students would shift to the larger Eastern building and Old Mission would close. Soma suggested the Old Mission closure would happen a few years down the line in the 2018-19 school year.
Soma says shuttering schools is the best way to save the district money right now. He says if the district doesn't act soon and make necessary cuts, it could be at risk of fiscal distress and state oversight.
The meeting hall was packed with more than 100 community members. During public comment, most public voices opposed shuttering schools.
"I’m really concerned about a mass exodus from some of these schools into either charter or private schools," said Sarah Kroupa, who has children at Old Mission Peninsula School. "I think it’s a reality. I don’t think it’s something that parents say lightly over a kid’s birthday party over the weekend at Lucky Jack’s. I think it is a really serious concern."
People at the meeting also had concerns about the distance students would have to travel if schools closed, and the potential political fallout of school closures, including less support for future tax increases.
One student made public comment at the meeting.
“I know for a fact that all my friends are really worried that the school is going to close," Charlotte Griffith said. She's a fourth grader at Interlochen Community School. "I really like my school and I really want to keep it open, which is why I came. So thanks.”
Board members at the meeting did not vote on the recommendations, but instead had further questions for the superintendent. Those questions included: does TCAPS have a plan to make the transition if it were to decide to close schools? Has the TCAPS administration considered other options aside from closing schools, and has it weighed those options against each other?
The Board of Education is expected to make a final decision in early March.