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Inopportune Indulgence & Intransigence

Reposted from GROW.TC

Perhaps the TCAPS board president had written this before Friday?:

“Actions speak louder than words, and we show what we value by how we invest our resources.”

Said Kelly Hall, regarding a concern that the legislature is not willing to fund school operations to the level she feels is adequate. Her opinion piece in today’s Traverse City, Record Eagle cites numbers that if left unchecked, paints a picture of a truly challenged financial state.

She claims that TCAPS cut more than $11.4 million since 2008 in her piece; a point easily misunderstood when the word ‘cumulatively’ is absent from her statement of fact. One might actually assume that the budget each year has been stripped to that point of being 11.4 million less than that budget in 2008. It seems that wordplay and contextual presentations are easily utilized in order to convince the public of its malfeasance to provide sufficient funding ‘for the children’.

Recall the context that left many to this day thinking the $26.5 million Performing Arts Center was only to cost $16 million or $18 million:

“The pie shows it as a 16% component of proposed projects, which is also misleading in the way it suggests that it is a ‘small part’ of the overall project. The 16% figure is arrived at by taking the already approved and remaining from 2007 $65 million bond, and adding it to the requested $100 million on this go-round. $26.5 million is exactly 16% of $165 million.”

Not ONCE did the administration, board president Kelly Hall, nor any others on the board attempt to reveal the truth behind the numbers. It was apparently better for people to draw their own conclusions in hopes the diminished appearing cost would not seem so bad.

And the TCAPS budget, which has been challenged by lowered operational millage funding, has added to its operational cost with expansion of services.

Taxpayers saw $900,000 of the last bond approved in 2007 spent on ‘site work’ at Bertha Vos for the purposes of utilizing the school for its IB school status. This ‘special school’ that will be a place for children of (the elite ruling class of a communist government ) China, has $460k, and $1.8million more slated for the 2013-2014 years. All of this after spending $1.7 million to expand Courtade for the bussed in Bertha Vos students after its closure. $627,000 was budgeted for the 2013 operational costs of the IB school and Montessori at Courtade back in 2012, with the explanation that ‘even though we don’t have money, we are irresponsible to not do it for the children’. The actual quote from the budget hearing booklet:

As part of the districts strategic plan, and in order to remain a vibrant and competitive option for students and parents, the district has committed to adding the following programs.

  • International School at Bertha Vos (candidate for the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme)
  • World Language in Kindergarten
  • front Street Writers
  • Montessori at Courtade

Each of these new offerings will provide unique and creative learning experiences for the children of our district. the total operational costs of these programs for the 2013 year budget is $627,000. In order for any organization to survive difficult budget times, there has to be a focus on moving forward at some level. Where organizations attempt to manage through such times with only budget restrictions, that system is doomed to fail. We expect that over time, as more students choose TCAPS because of these programs, the majority of these costs will be offset by new revenues.

‘Ignore the bull in our china shop. We have a business to run.’

And the board president has the nerve to make a claim “TCAPS has acted in a fiscally responsible manner” in her forum piece?

And now that acting in a fiscally responsible manner brings us home to the recent events at hand.

As I asked at the beginning of this piece, maybe Kelly Hall could step outside the sheltered elitist paradise where money matters not if its for our kids? How can she make statements that apply directly to the administration and TCAPS board and not expect them to be seen as willful spendthrifts on the latest craze in education; a performance accompanied by excuses to continue such wasteful efforts? She chastises our legislators for their efforts in balancing a budget, yet makes no effort to do so in the meaningful way that is afforded her and the board. The hollow words and hypocrisy she preaches in her editorial simply punctuated by the statement that the STATE uses the kids as political pawns.

And on Friday, her words of reproach about ‘value’ came home as a chicken to its roost.

TCAPS was noticed that it had been found in violation of Michigan election campaign law.

We had noted the violation here, and pursued it through an official complaint to the Secretary of State’s office in October. We pointed out that a mailer sent out by TCAPS was expressly advocating a “yes” vote with the language:

“Traverse City Area Public Schools is asking voters to support the continuation of TCAPS’ long-term capital infrastructure improvement plan by authorizing a bond proposal on November 6, 2012.”

At the very least, we felt it was constructive advocacy. Others did as well

The elections bureau agreed.

The district spent taxpayers own money to persuade them to give more; offering real ‘value’, or at least an insight to where the administration and board might find it.

One might expect a place of humility after all of that however. One might actually expect the slapped hands of the superintendent to bring about a sense of contrition. Certainly the school chief responded, but was it in a manner that is truly accepting of responsibility?

Immediately following the notice of sanction by the bureau of elections, Superintendent Stephen Cousins did not reach out to this writer and complainant to offer any heartfelt apology. He did not email a response, or call directly, yet he ‘apologizes’ for my misunderstanding, and that confusion that taxpayers must have had with the illicit mailer. In an email blast to parents of TCAPS students, Cousins says:

“Dear TCAPS Parents,

In October, a complaint was filed against TCAPS alleging the district violated the Michigan Campaign Finance Act during our 2012 bond informational campaign. TCAPS has been cooperating with the Secretary of State during the course of their investigation.

As soon as we were made aware of the possibility that improper wording may have been used in our mailer, we immediately took steps to halt those communications and adjusted the language to avoid further confusion.

TCAPS has received the disposition from the Secretary of State today regarding the complaint. The Secretary of State disposition states the district mailer contained express advocacy and it further believes that the evidence supports its conclusion that there may be a reason to believe that a violation of section 57 of the Act occurred.

As superintendent, I want to assure you that the district did not intend to violate the Act or mislead the public. I take full responsibility for the issue. On behalf of the district and the Board of Education, I apologize to Mr. Gillman, our parents, staff and community for any confusion the mailer may have caused. We value the trust our community places in TCAPS and we will work with the SOS to resolve this in a manner that will prevent it from occurring again.

Sincerely,

Steve Cousins
Superintendent

Right.

Would it be overly critical to assume that the buck did not stop there? Full responsibility would be to step up and personally accept the punitive sanctions that have yet to be determined by the state agency handling this. Somehow, I doubt that either Stephen Cousins, nor a capitulating board is willing to willfully accept this as ‘their fault’. In fact, the response is at best, lip service and subtly belligerent.

Our confusion is not caused by a mailer. The mailer was clearly advocating a YES vote. Vindication of that made in an official manner, yet willfully declined in a sort of wordplay that shows how much smarter than the common folks who pay his salary he is. His letter demonstrating his understanding that the problem lays not with the wording or presentation of misappropriated taxpayer funds, but that we just get confused easily.

And as the ‘informal process’ to determine a punitive end to this particular episode wraps up, it will again be the taxpayer who truly bears the cost.

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