In October 2015, the local school district, Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) announced they would need to close down three elementary schools, Bertha Vos IB School, Interlochen Community School and Old Mission Peninsula School, due to financial distress. They were focusing on elementary schools with less than 200 students enrolled. Our neighborhood school, Old Mission Peninsula School (OMPS), was one of those schools. It was stated that the overhead cost of $400,000 to run the school was a savings that TCAPS could use to strengthen their fiscal standing. TCAPS held a meeting at our school. The meeting was well attended with concerned parents and community members. Some attendees were from the original schools on the Old Mission Peninsula that came together to form the first Old Mission Peninsula School (OMPS).
From that meeting, focus groups were formed by the administration to examine options to save these schools. The focus groups were charged with bringing solutions to the school board for their review. The Superintendent gave the deadline of March 2016 to the TCAPS school board, to decide the fate of these schools. There was a limit on who could participate in the focus group. The TCAPS focus group at OMPS met over the next month and from those meetings, an outcry from the community demanded a larger group be formed to include a greater range of voices. Mid-December 2015 a Community Group was formed and began meeting weekly on Saturday mornings. Meetings were held at the Peninsula Community Library, located inside the school. Upwards of 100 people were in attendance.
This group worked diligently examining ways to create revenue for the school in order to offset some of the overhead that was causing a strain on TCAPS, in addition to bringing newly interested community members up to speed. Ideas were shared, research completed, passions ignited. Multiple options were drafted for the Board to review and in the final round; TCAPS “scored” each focus group’s proposals at a Board meeting. All of the options (unique program offerings, starting time changes, relocating the Talented and Gifted (TAG) program, returning to original district lines, etc.) brought forth by all of the low enrollment schools were rejected.
It became clear by late February that TCAPS would not change the course of their action to continue with their proposal to close all three elementary schools.
One anonymous community member with both the interest in preserving a tradition of a community school on the peninsula and the resources to gain pause in TCAPS’s agenda had surfaced. They understood the need to preserve the history surrounding the school and the goal to allow future generations of families to experience the wonders of not just the school, but the unique location and quaintness of a small neighborhood school located ten miles from town. A true “community school”. The community member offered $800,000 towards the school, given this would buy enough time for the community group to come up with a sustainable solution. The original idea was that $800,000 could cover the overhead cost of the school for two more years while the group could continue to work on ways to keep OMPS afloat.
At the March 4, 2016 that TCAPS Board meeting a decision to defer closing Old Mission Peninsula School was made until further examination of the offer. OMPS had a stay of execution. Sadly, the other two elementary schools, Bertha Vos and Interlochen Community School were slated to close by the end of the 2016 school year.
Throughout the early five months of working on ideas to save the school, it was clear that the lack of school funding was forcing the district to make cuts in areas that were directly affecting families and communities. The concept of forming a Foundation arose from discussions that began back in the library meetings. The community group had innovative ideas to help increase enrollment as well as raise awareness of the community school. Unfortunately, all of these ideas take money, a lot of money. A group of six community members began designing a concept for a foundation. The foundation’s mission began with an idea that it would raise money for programming for the elementary students at Old Mission Peninsula School.
Over months of discussions it became clear that it was not just about funding the school, it was about preserving the community on Old Mission Peninsula. The school is valuable to the community for many reasons, but mostly as a community center where all ages come to the library and school events, sharing in the experiences. Education is a key component and the educational opportunities that were talked about with such conviction during the winter months were not just for kids, but were for providing educational opportunities and involvement on Old Mission Peninsula for the entire community.
Informal discussions among two TCAPS board members, the Superintendent and a lead community member were conducted and regular meetings took place, working on ways to make the financial offer sustainable and equitable for both the donor (now donors) and TCAPS.
In August a completely new ticket of Peninsula Township leaders was voted into office, running on the premise that saving the school would be a top priority. Change had arrived. At the end of August, the Foundation called a joint meeting with Peninsula Township members and TCAPS school board. The meeting took place in the school gym and was filled with community members looking for answers. An offer was presented to purchase the building first and foremost, with a goal to work out the details of operating the educational piece afterwards.
Old Mission Peninsula Education Foundation (OMPEF) was officially incorporated September 14, 2016, just shy of a year after the first meeting to discuss the school closure. The incorporating members include Allison O’Keefe – President, Corey Phelps – Vice President, Jennifer Coleman – Treasurer, Susan Shipman – Secretary and Jacquie Harding and Dena Schweitzer – Trustees. The Foundation is committed to its mission of providing educational opportunities on Old Mission Peninsula, including keeping the school open.
As of November 14th an offer of $1million had been put forth by OMPEF for the purchase the building, property and all non-proprietary contents, as additional donors have come forth.
OMPEF secured the building, property and contents in April 2017. The received charter authorization from Grand Valley State University for a new school in July 2017. OMPEF will take occupancy of the school building on July 1, 2018 and plans are now moving forward with the new Old Mission Peninsula School to open in September 2018.
The Old Mission Peninsula Education Foundation is committed to its mission of enhancing educational opportunities on Old Mission Peninsula.