Schools Struggle To Pass Bonds, Some Traverse City Teachers May Have Sat Out Campaign

Nov 8, 2013

Traverse City school officials were surprised Tuesday when voters shot down two bond proposals. One would have paid for the reconstruction of three elementary schools. TCAPS was not alone though. Almost half the schools in Michigan were unsuccessful at passing bond proposals this election.

File photo.
Credit Linda Stephan

This was the second year in a row that voters rejected a request from TCAPS for money to renovate old buildings and make other improvements. The proposal to spend $50 million dollars was about half the size of last year’s and was split into two questions. It was drafted after a series of focus groups and surveys with voters and TCAPS officials thought they had made the case clearly that the district must do something about its aging buildings.

School board member Scott Hardy says apparently they didn’t make that case well enough, even though the vote was close. 

“When it came right down to it seems like people didn’t want to spend the money,” says Hardy.

The main bond request, the one that would have paid for the elementary schools to be reconstructed, went down by less than one percent of the vote. The story was the same in Elk Rapids and Kalkaska Tuesday, where just a couple percentage points tipped the vote against school bond proposals.

The news service MIRS reported half of the bonds requested Tuesday failed in Michigan.

Gary Appel, a member of the board TCAPS, says it seems to reflect a national mood.

“It feels like it’s really an uphill battle to secure the kinds of resources that the schools need,” says Appel. “Especially the infrastructure improvements that are absolutely needed when we have buildings that are now over 50 years old.”

But Traverse City also has some unique challenges not shared by every district. The district straddles three counties making it hard for voters to be aware of needs in other corners of the district. Some elementary buildings have already been renovated.

Teachers on the sidelines?

The district might have been missing a key ally this year: teachers. A few hundred energized teachers might be able to turn out the vote, especially important when there is little else on the ballot as was the case for many in 2013.

TCAPS teachers are working without a contract, have been since August, and the head of the Traverse City Education Association says they were insulted by the last offer. Jeff Leonhardt says the negotiations and the general treatment of teachers these days with proposals for merit pay and constant talk about failing schools takes a toll.

“To be continually asked to more and yet be given no indication that the more that you’re doing is worth something, that has an impact on morale,” says Leonhardt.

TCEA took no position on the TCAPS bond proposals.

The failed request won’t make negotiations any easier. The district will still have to make necessary repairs to old buildings but it will have to be done within the existing budget.