What Is the TCAPS Meltdown All About? TCAPS and the Student Finance Research Collaborative

We all know that the TCAPS board had a last-minute, sneaky board meeting. We know that it more than likely has to do with newly hired superintendent Ann Cardon being on the outs. But so many people have wondered What started this whole thing? What could Ann Cardon possibly have done that would warrant firing her 72 days in?

Me, the hard-hitting journalist here at dirty, has been digging to find you answers.

Enter the School Finance Research Collaborative.

Okay, to understand all of this you have to go back to understand how the schools are funded in Michigan. They used to be funded by local property taxes. That resulted in wealthy Detroit suburb districts getting a lot more than everyone else. So we went to a statewide funding system. But in order to get the statewide funding system passed, lawmakers had to promise those wealthier districts that they would receive higher amounts of funding based on what they had been getting through their own property taxes.

The favorable treatment was a deal with the devil in order to get the new funding scheme passed. It worked, and we went to a statewide funding system. However, the part that gave favorable treatment to the wealthy Detroit suburbs didn’t have a sunset. And it’s never been adjusted. School funding in Michigan has just kind of sat unequally over the years.

The School Finance Research Collaborative is an attempt to gain the data that would lead to the political support to overhaul the system. The SFRC was a research project funded non-profits and several school districts. There appeared to be two major questions – How much does it cost to educate a student in Michigan? What factors make some students more costly, and how can funds be appropriated according to needs?

The SFRC research had two conclusions. First, that school funding should be raised for the lowest-funded districts (TCAPS included). Second, students with certain classes of special needs (English-language learners, transportation for rural districts, high poverty level and special education considerations) need funding at a higher level. The SFRC calls for higher per pupil funding for the lowest-level tiered funded schools (TCAPS). They also call for additional funds based on the number of students who fall into each special category.

Former superintendent Paul Soma and the then-board of education passed a resolution condemning the SFRC recommendations. There wasn’t really a reason given in the media for why they were so skeptical of the recommendations, other than that they were saying it wasn’t fair that there isn’t a straight up, even, equal, per pupil funding across the board in the state. Basically, you should get the same amount per kid, no matter who you are, what you contribute or what the district needs are, they’re saying.

There isn’t another school district in Michigan that has come out condemning the plan. Paul Soma and TCAPS seem to be alone in their dissent. However, their dissent is vehement. Not only are they opposed to the SFRC recommendations, but they started this whole thing with Ann Cardon for making one off-handed comment that the recommendations may not be a complete pile of poo. At least we think they did, because they’re trying to do it all hush hush behind closed doors.

That raises the question – What about the SFRC research do Paul Soma, TCAPS and Wayne Schmidt find so intimidating? Wayne Schmidt is the local state Senator and the chair of the K-12 and Michigan Department of Education Appropriations and Transportation subcommittees. Schmidt, Soma and TCAPS for some reason are digging their nails in trying desperately to oppose the SFRC recommendations from gaining enough traction to go through.

That’s the question that we need the answer to: Sue Kelly, what about the Student Finance Research Collaborative recommendations do you find so threatening? Pamela Forton, how would the SFRC recommendations, that call for an increase in student funding for TCAPS, hurt TCAPS? Jeff Leonhardt, what explanation do you have for the fact that TCAPS and Wayne Schmidt seem to be alone in their passionate distaste for the SFRC recommendations. And why is this such an issue for TCAPS that you have to march in on a Friday with no notice to oust a superintendent for making one half-hearted comment to the contrary?

TCAPS is the only school district that is vehemently against the SFRC recommendations. So if Traverse City is correct, you have to believe that Paul Soma and Wayne Schmidt put their heads together and came up with something novel that no one else in the entire state thought of. Now if you’ve ever met Wayne Schmidt, University of Chicago NOT graduate that he is, you know that Wayne Schmidt absolutely did not come up with any novel analysis of the SFRC recommendations. So we’re left with Paul Soma, a former superintendent whose school district is currently being held accountable for student count fraud, and whose buddy state representative (Wayne Schmidt’s old seat) is currently under indictment for bribery.

TCAPS is threatened by the SFRC for some reason. What is the reason?

The TCAPS board has said that they have thoroughly studied the SFRC, and that they see errors in the research that mere mortals do not see. Explain those reasons to us so that we can understand them. If you really came up with something novel, tell us so that we can laud you as the geniuses that you are. But they haven’t done that. They merely cry, “No fair, no fair!”

What funding scheme are they doing or cooking up that doesn’t work under SFRC? Does it have to do any of the creative funding schemes that Soma and TCAPS have tried over the years? (BTW, a number of area non-public schools use TCAPS-funded teachers for non-core courses. TCAPS receives per pupil funding for these non-public school students. Someone might want to look into whether they’re cooking the books for those kids as they did for the homeschool partnership. That’s not an accusation, but it’s something worth looking into given what they were doing with the homeschool partnership program.)

This is about the Student Finance Research Collaborative. Soma, Kelly, Leonhardt, Forton, McCall and Schmidt are against it. They aren’t tolerating dissenters or public discourse. It’s time for them to answer as to why.

Read more about the Student Finance Research Collaborative.

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3 thoughts on “What Is the TCAPS Meltdown All About? TCAPS and the Student Finance Research Collaborative”

  1. You have hit the nail on the head. It all boils down the fact that Paul Soma, being the self-ordained “financial expert” he is, wasn’t invited to serve on the SFRC. When asked, along with other area superintendents, to provide input to the SFRC, he pooh-poohed the whole thing as just another waste of time that wouldn’t amount to anything. In addition, MASA (the association that represents state school superintendents) established a task force on school finance in 2018. Soma expressed interest in being on the task force, but was not voted to be on it by his peers, which also made him irate. This all boils down to hurting Sue Kelly’s narrative for running for higher office–that TCAPS is in great financial shape. I have a feeling that Ann wanted to have an honest discussion about fiscal problems. Home school program problems (not budgeted for in 2 fiscal years), calling a $1.5M deficit a “balanced budget,” building a 2019-20 budget on the highest potential state aid amount, funding additional years of union salary and benefit increases….I’ll bet that when Ann got here she discovered a dumpster fire of finances that Sue doesn’t want discussed in public.

    1. I will see your solid assessment and raise you some treachery from our local GOP office. Everything here is almost too well aligned; the SFRC also bucks the will and whims of the DeVos political machine and the tentacles they have stretched across the state. It would weaken the funding apparatus by which private schools and for-profit charter schools would convert public funds into private profits. It would also push future millage and bond issues to more heavily tax second homes. Both of those realities are absolute non-starters for the MiGOP; if the SFRC gains traction, how would their donors continue to divert public funds into their pockets, or *gasp* they may even be made to pay higher, non-homestead millage rates. How better to stonewall that effort than to ensure “their people” are in the right places. It’s all a part of the well-oiled grift machine. This is where their interest in public school boards and administration stems from. Insert your preferred candidates (even though it’s a non-partisan position, in theory), put them to work enacting the agenda, receive cover from elected officials when necessary, rinse, and repeat. This is where the intersectionality of Schmidt, Inman’s downfall, the allegations of Kelly’s political ambition, and behind the scenes players like Gillman (and his confederates crawling around social media currently) all have potential to be a part of this off-brand circus. I think it’s time to start asking these folks a lot of questions.

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