Home All EDITORIAL: School Closings and the Tyranny of Arithmetic

EDITORIAL: School Closings and the Tyranny of Arithmetic

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Old Mission Peninsula School | Jane Boursaw Photo
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There are many areas in life, such as a blood pressure reading, where numbers should be paramount. However, a discussion of closing community schools is not one of them. Before deciding to close a school, other arguably more important considerations must be factored in.

Years ago, I was an academic administrator for a college on Long Island, New York. It was there that I first experienced how inappropriate it is to pay attention only to numbers above all else. I was responsible for our Humanities Degree, which included a foreign language requirement of four sequential courses.

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In those ancient days, the enrollment figures for all courses were printed out on long computer sheets. The dean ran his finger down the column of figures indicating enrollment in each section of each course. Courses with single digit numbers, say 9, stood out from those with double digits, say 10. Those single digit courses would be circled in red and brought to my attention. They must be cut from the schedule.

Quite often the middle courses in that four course language sequence would suffer this fate. Students in that degree program would not be able to complete the sequence, and therefore would not graduate with the degree into which they had been accepted unless they waited, fingers crossed, for that course to be offered again.

The reasoning behind this deference to numbers was an attempt to get the most mileage out of available faculty by forcing students out of courses with low enrollment into those that would fill to their limit. By so doing, the college would run fewer sections. The savings would result from needing to hire fewer adjuncts.

If this reasoning sounds familiar, it should. Fewer sections, fewer elementary schools. Same deal on a much larger scale. Students’ graduation being delayed, entire communities disrupted, students and teachers bounced from building to building, and in the case of two of the schools currently on the chopping block – Old Mission and Interlochen – the further damage of losing the inestimable value of local libraries as community centers.

Yes, inestimable. As with all of these unfortunate but entirely predictable outcomes, not countable. But that they cannot be counted does not make them any less important than those things that can be counted. Counting makes things easy. Just set an arbitrary cutoff: nine students versus ten, 190 students versus 200.

But counting disrespects the significant value of that which cannot be counted. The proposed closing of three schools is projected to save something over a million dollars out of a $93,000,000 budget, a touch more than 1 percent. Perhaps that 1 percent can be found elsewhere.

It is true that in one way arithmetic must be heeded in the current environment. School districts whose budgets show a certain, arbitrary deficit can be turned over to a state appointed manager. This is devastating damage created by arithmetic. We should all push hard against it, not by closing schools but by fixing the funding inadequacies that contribute to the deficits and the misguided politics that punishes districts for the state’s own budgetary failings.

Note: This editorial first appeared in the Traverse City Record-Eagle. 

Photo Credit: Slide from Jan. 25, 2016 TCAPS Board Meeting

A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

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  1. I think your reasoning is flawed because the school district isn’t eliminating the ability for these students to “graduate” from elementary school only where from which they will be graduating. Unfortunately the demographics do not support the need for as many elementary schools at this time.

  2. Do not forget about the Old Mission Peninsula COMMUNITY and School Library? What is to become of that if the school is closed? That sense of community is centered around that library and I fear will become lost if the school is closed. Also, the students will have to be bussed too far to a different school.

    • None of it makes any sense. Vicki Shurly has promised that we’ll always have a library out here, but honestly, closing the school would be agonizing for not only families with kids, but the whole community.

  3. Busing students for such a great distance (40 + miles total for those on the North end) is a hardship to say the least. I experienced this hardship – as a Senior when we moved here many years ago. (Moved from downstate to The forest Lakes Area). I don’t know how many actual miles I endured traveling each day winding round several lakes to get to and from school, but I do know I was totally exhausted at the end of most days. I would not want that feeling / hardship placed unnecessarily on anyone. Further, I do not like the idea of a LARGE school setting for elementary children.

    • Agree with everything you said, Susan. And for little kids, too. As you know, I went to OMPS and then to the Junior High (now West Middle School), and it was such a long ride (and a bit of culture shock) from Old Mission to Junior High (with a bus change at the Senior High).


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