Traverse City News and Events

TCAPS To Hire School Safety Liaison, Consider Outside Security Assessment

By Beth Milligan | June 28, 2022

Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) trustees voted Monday to hire a school safety liaison, a dedicated coordinator who will serve as the district’s point person overseeing safety drills, working with local law enforcement and emergency management representatives, and enhancing security measures at TCAPS schools. School security has dominated board discussion recently following shootings at Oxford High School and other schools across the country, with TCAPS trustees next set to have a July 14 study session with a third-party firm on a potential districtwide security assessment.

TCAPS Superintendent Dr. John VanWagoner asked trustees to approve the new school safety liaison position with the goal of hiring someone to fill the role as soon as possible. “I’d like to really fast-track this,” he said, adding that he could potentially bring a recommended candidate to the board for approval in July. TCAPS had grant-funded school resource officers in the past but they were “taken away,” VanWagoner said, with safety responsibilities eventually distributed among multiple staffers. Seven different employees now handle various safety-related tasks for TCAPS, resulting in a fragmented approach VanWagoner worried could lead to “mistakes we can’t have.”

“We really need somebody that it’s their (sole) responsibility…to make sure we are not in any way, shape, or form dropping the ball,” he said. VanWagoner said he envisioned the candidate having a background in law enforcement – potentially someone who had recently retired from the field or just relocated to the area – who could oversee safety drills as one of their tasks, with local law enforcement officers often being too short-staffed now to attend those drills. The school safety liaison would also serve as the district’s representative on community task forces and oversee “day to day operational” issues related to safety and security for TCAPS. With TCAPS and other districts across the country experiencing renewed urgency around the topic of school security in the face of recurring mass shootings, hiring a dedicated safety liaison is “one of the first things we can do” to immediately start addressing the issue, VanWagoner said.

TCAPS trustees approved creating the new position, with Vice President Flournoy Humphreys calling the hire “a great idea.” Board Secretary Josey Ballenger said she hoped the school safety liaison could help tackle multiple aspects of security, including evaluating board policies and assessing the district’s mental health resources. During public comment, Reverend Wendy Von Courter – a board member with local antiracism taskforce Northern Michigan E3 – commended trustees for their “focus on safety.” However, she urged the board to remember that “safety is experienced differently by our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) students and others who have been historically marginalized.” Von Courter asked trustees “to make sure that the candidate that you select has a firm commitment to implicit bias training – preferably that they've had that training – and that they understand the complexities of law enforcement in terms of relationships with our different communities.”

Other security-related measures are also underway at TCAPS. At the board’s June 13 meeting, VanWagoner told trustees TCAPS has used funds from its 2018 bond to improve school entryways and make other safety improvements. The district also recently received a $250,000 school safety grant to improve exterior doors. Earlier this year, trustees went into closed session with Grand Traverse County Emergency Management Coordinator Gregg Bird to review a sample emergency operating plan, or a document of safety and security protocols in place for every school. Trustees reviewed the protocols in private to avoid compromising the security of the plans.

VanWagoner also told trustees that more funding could soon be coming to schools from both the state and federal levels for things like security upgrades and mental healthcare. On July 14, trustees will meet at 6pm at the TCAPS administration building for a school safety study session, a meeting that is set to include a presentation from a school safety consultant specializing in providing security assessments for districts. VanWagoner didn’t name the consultant, but said the firm recently worked with Oxford Community Schools on an assessment following the mass shooting in that district. VanWagoner said the presentation could be coupled with a recommended contract to hire the firm to complete a third-party security assessment for TCAPS.

Also at Monday’s TCAPS meeting…
> TCAPS trustees approved the initial draft of the district’s roughly $100 million budget for 2022-23, which is expected to be tweaked in the coming weeks after the state finalizes its own budget. Associate Superintendent of Finance & Operations Christine Thomas-Hill said TCAPS is anticipating a decrease of 120 students next year, dropping from 9,128 to 9,008 – mirroring continued declining enrollment trends across Michigan. She noted TCAPS is still waiting to hear what the state’s recommended per-pupil allowance will be for the upcoming year, but said it looks likely to increase by $450 from $8,700 to $9,150 per student for TCAPS. Trustees Monday expressed their interest in increasing TCAPS’ fund balance from 10 percent to 12 percent and possibly higher going forward, looking to increase cash reserves as a bulwark against a potential drop in federal funding in upcoming years.

Also related to the TCAPS budget: Due to rapidly increasing local property values – which will trigger a likely Headlee rollback of TCAPS’ operating millage – the district will seek voter authorization this fall for up to two mills to ensure TCAPs doesn’t drop below its 18-mill level, which it is required to levy to receive full state funding. Thomas-Hill emphasized that the request is not a mill increase, but simply ensures that if a Headlee rollback does drop TCAPS below its current 18-mill level, it can still levy up to 18 mills and avoid jeopardizing the district’s state funding. The levy only applies to second homes and commercial properties, not primary residences. The last time such an authorization was in front of voters two years, it passed by a three-to-one margin.

> VanWagoner announced TCAPS has hired a new associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction following the resignation of Shaina Biller in May. Kristin Perkowski currently serves as the executive director of student achievement at Caledonia Community Schools and will start with TCAPS on August 1. VanWagoner said Perkowski “has a great background in education technology” and formerly served as a high school principal and English teacher, in addition to retiring as a major after spending two decades in the U.S. Army Reserve. VanWagoner called Perkowski “a very strong candidate that will bring great leadership to the district.”

> Finally, VanWagoner announced Monday that TCAPS is hosting a “summer enrollment tour,” sending a bus out into the community at various locations to assist families with enrollment and other district-related inquiries. Parents can stop by the bus for general TCAPS information, enrollment assistance at all levels (preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high school), enrollment forms and checklists, TCAPS employment information, preschool and early childhood program information, community information, school bus tours, and free books and school supplies. Community partners including Traverse Area District Library, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Michigan, NMCAA and Head Start, and Newton's Road will also join the tour. The bus can be found at the following locations/dates:

> Tuesday, June 28: 1-3pm at Blair Park/Splash Pad, 4:30-6:30pm at King’s Court Community Center
> Thursday, July 14: 12pm-1pm at Traverse Heights Elementary School, 1:30pm-2:30pm at Courtade Elementary School, 3pm-5pm at Thirlby Field
> Wednesday, August 10: 4pm-7pm at Walmart in Traverse City

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