In business – like in life – some decisions are easier than others. But even easy decisions can be important ones, and not to be taken lightly or for granted.
It was back in March that the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors unanimously endorsed the August 7 bond millage proposal from Traverse City Area Public Schools. The Chamber made an early, definitive and decisive statement – a no-brainer really. For a regional business organization that works to strengthen the local economic sector, bolster the capabilities of its workforce, attract new talent to the region and compete in a national and global economy, few things are more important to a community than a strong and stable public and private education system.
The TCAPS bond proposal is a measured, reasonable request to keep our region’s largest public school district on stable financial footing going forward, while also giving our students and instructors the tools they need to stay on top of the rapidly evolving world of education. The bond millage will fund the district’s 10-year, $107 million capital plan that includes new elementary school construction, and critical security upgrades at various elementary school buildings and West Middle School.
It will also generate $2 million annually for technology upgrades including STEM and Robotics facilities, $1 million for transportation busing, and annual dollars for upgrading athletic and physical education facilities, visual and performing arts and operational equipment.
The capital plan includes no frills or extras. It continues a 3.1-mill property tax rate for district taxpayers that’s been the same for 20 years, and is 40 percent lower than the state average of 5.4 mills. It’s a small price to manage and maintain public assets that are worth more than $370 million. The TCAPS Board and district administrators have worked hard to stabilize and strengthen the district’s financial condition, and the TCAPS balance sheet is as sound as it’s been in years. The bond proposal is a result and extension of that fiscal responsibility.
The Chamber and its partners at the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance invest an extensive amount of resources fighting for equitable per-pupil state funding for rural school districts including TCAPS and others across the region. We’ve made significant progress in closing that funding gap with wealthier downstate districts. We’re also making gains in securing more resources and local partnerships for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and the rapidly advancing field of Robotics. Exciting things are happening in the education sector, and the Chamber and its Alliance partners pledge to work harder than ever to make sure our schools stay ahead of the curve to insure our region is generating and attracting a capable workforce to continue growing Northwest Michigan’s economy.
But all the time, effort and resources to effectively operate our schools becomes good money after bad if the community fails to provide the capital and structural investment in the facilities where the learning takes place. If we ask our state and federal legislators to do a better job helping us educate our children, it is incumbent on us as a community to make sure the foundation – the infrastructure – of our local system is where it needs to be.
Again, it’s a seemingly easy decision – while at the same time being a critically important one. In recent months there’s been an inordinate amount of attention on the divisions within TCAPS, which takes away the focus from the great things happening there. We need to put those distractions behind us and work together to move the district forward. The bond election is neither the time nor place to “send a message” about personnel conflicts – there is far too much at stake for the young people who are counting on this community to do the right thing.
A successful bond millage on August 7 will bring stability and security to the students and families served by Traverse City Area Public Schools – two things all of us should pursue each and every day for the children in our lives. Please get to the polls and vote yes. It might be the easiest – and most impactful – decision you’ll make all summer.
Doug Luciani is CEO of TraverseCONNECT and the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at doug@traverseCONNECT.org