During the past eleven months, Old Mission Peninsula School parents and community members have sought to negotiate with Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) to find a sustainable way to keep the school open and available to all members of the educational community.
An offer of $750,000 for the building, contents and property has now been submitted to TCAPs by the Old Mission Peninsula Education Foundation, a community-based non-profit formed in September 2016 to support education programming on Old Mission Peninsula.
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An informational community meeting is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 16, at 1 p.m. at the Peninsula Township Hall. The topic will also be discussed at the TCAPS Board meeting on Monday, Oct. 17, at 6 p.m. at the Ida Tompkins Administration Building, 412 Webster Street in Traverse City. Click here for more information about the TCAPS Board meeting.
The offer will also be forwarded to TCAPS’ board finance committee, which will review and discuss it at their next meeting on Nov. 2 at 9 a.m. TCAPS officials had previously set a Nov. 30, 2016 deadline to determine the future of OMPS.
While TCAPS negotiators have rejected a previous offer, community members and foundation directors are confident the school board will recognize that their goals are consistent with TCAPS’ educational mission and with the best interests of the community as a whole.
“We are deeply committed to maintaining a local public elementary school on Old Mission Peninsula accessible to students of all backgrounds, as demonstrated by the willingness of our community members to give freely of their time and talent over the course of the past year in order to achieve this objective,” says Allison O’Keefe, President of the Old Mission Peninsula Education Foundation.
In October of 2015, a well-attended community meeting was held at Old Mission Peninsula School to discuss potential school closures within TCAPS based on enrollment. There was a call to action by TCAPS to create a school specific work group that was asked for solutions to avoid closing the school in 2018. Similar work groups were formed at the other schools targeted for closure.
Over the many weeks that followed, the work groups provided feedback to TCAPS. At that same time, a strong grass roots larger community work group formed with representatives from Old Mission, Interlochen and other communities.
This larger community group met regularly throughout the winter, identifying ways to increase enrollment and revenue at the school through such things as unique program offerings and leasing space. There was even a subgroup meeting to address State funding for all schools. However, ideas presented by the community have been rejected by TCAPS.
During one of the conversations that followed, a challenge was issued by Paul Soma to one of the Old Mission representatives to come up with the money to save the school. In the eleventh hour, anonymous donors made a financial commitment of $800,000 to help save the school.
Following this commitment, representatives from the Old Mission Peninsula and TCAPS have been working hard toward a mutually beneficial solution focused on education and sustainability. As the community continued to identify ways they could enhance education and support community events at the school, a new foundation was created to manage the initial donations and raise additional money: the Old Mission Peninsula Education Foundation (OMPEF), a charitable nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and enhancing quality educational programs on Old Mission Peninsula (501(c)(3).
Many school related foundations have been created over the years throughout the State of Michigan, and they are able to support public schools with enhanced funding through private donations.
O’Keefe notes that it is a priority for the OMPEF and for the major donors to ensure that all students, including children of all abilities, incomes and backgrounds, have access to a school within a reasonable distance of their homes and families, as well as those families selecting Old Mission Peninsula School as their school of choice.
An unrestricted use of funds offer has been made to TCAPS by the Old Mission Peninsula Education Foundation for the purchase of the Old Mission Peninsula School building, property and its contents. Once purchased, the Foundation will deed-restrict the use of the property for educational and community use, in keeping with the donors’ wishes and supporting the historical use of the property and the intentions of the farm families who once owned the property. (At one time, Old Mission Peninsula School was a community/township school and became part of the now TCAPS system during consolidations that occurred back in the 1960s.)
The two-phase acquisition is the first step toward securing a sustainable future for Old Mission Peninsula School:
- Phase 1: The successful acquisition and deed restriction of the school property, building and contents.
- Phase 2: A more complex discussion, consisting of the negotiation of a mutually amicable operating agreement with TCAPS, focused on continuing to provide quality education at Old Mission Peninsula School, while maximizing the use of the property’s unique value proposition for the entire Grand Traverse region (such as an outdoor education laboratory, agricultural education, and hands on learning).
Both the Old Mission Peninsula community and TCAPS benefit from working out a compromise, says O’Keefe.
Following preliminary discussions with TCAPS, an appraisal commissioned by TCAPS was provided outlining several cost (value) approaches placing the value of the property and school between $500,000 and $1.5 million. Negotiations with TCAPS have been underway for weeks in an effort to purchase the school building, property and contents based on their appraisal.
After several verbal conversations regarding the purchase price, including a rejected offer of $600,000 (this was a verbal offer, not written), the Old Mission Education Foundation has now submitted a formal “Intent to Purchase” the school, property and its contents for $750,000. This offer falls within the value approach identified in the appraisal which is now under consideration by TCAPS.
Foundation and community representatives are cautiously optimistic, notes O’Keefe, as they believe that the offer is fair for the property, building and current contents and represents a win-win for Phase 1 for both the Old Mission community and TCAPS by:
- Providing continuity of local services;
- Demonstrating how community members have a dynamic relationship with TCAPS, a stated goal within the TCAPS’ strategic plan; and
- Providing immediate financial assistance for all of TCAPS in which the TCAPS’ Board can use the money, at their discretion, for their top areas of concern such as curriculum, increased financial responsibilities linked to the recent teacher negotiations, or offsetting the funds that were lost through the declining student population.
The principle reason for creating school districts with irregular boundaries, identified 120 years ago by then Superintendent of Public Instruction, was the desire of families to be close to the school house. The policy was the foundation of providing local control to rural community schools. With a Peninsula reaching more than 18 miles long from base to tip, closing the local community school makes it difficult to keep Old Mission families close to the school house.
Act 451 of 1976, 380.10 Rights of Parents and Legal Guardians; Duties of Public Schools states: “It is the natural, fundamental right of parents and legal guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching, and education of their children. The public schools of this state serve the needs of the pupils by cooperating with the pupil’s parents and legal guardians to develop the pupil’s intellectual capabilities and vocational skills in a safe and positive environment.”
O’Keefe notes that this is a unique opportunity given the school properties’ attributes and engaged community members on Old Mission Peninsula to succeed in providing an exceptional educational experience for the children in this region.
“Securing the school is the first step at moving forward in attaining this goal,” she says.
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 like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and magazines like 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 of course, I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the Old Mission Peninsula. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb