Traverse City Schools defend China trip

Concerns are growing among community members in Traverse City, after word got out that the Traverse City Public School District used thousands of taxpayersâ?? dollars to send administrators on a trip overseas.

Six school officials traveled to China the day after the districtâ??s 100 million dollar bond proposal was rejected. Superintendent Steve cousins and several high school principals are among those on the trip right now. Theyâ??re with education officials in hopes of solidifying Chinese exchange student agreements.

Some parents say they were "left in the dark" regarding the trip and they want to know how the district can justify spending this money when so many areas of education are getting cut.

TCAPS Parent Jody Kitzman says, "The music program getting cut, arts program... things that we hold dear to our its sad to see them just go and spend money so irresponsibly without taking these things into account..."

7&4 News took these concerns to TCAPS Chief Financial Officer Paul Soma who responded by saying,â?? I can see those concerns certainly, its part of the difficulty working in any government institution these days...its very difficult for governments to take risk..."

But Soma says this trip is considered very low risk. For starters he says 70% of the trip cost was paid for by china's Hanban Institute. And while they are still shelling out $7,000 thousand dollars, he says it's an investment that could have a substantial return. Soma says, "Its $7000 dollars in an $85 million dollar general fund, the potential return is huge. Thereâ??s not many places we can invest $7,000 dollars for a return that may be 10, 20, 30 times that amount.â??

Soma says for every one Chinese student they sign up for the exchange program, the district will bring-in a minimum of $7,000 dollars. Soma says, "Were looking at much more than one student. Weâ??re looking to expand this into the tens, twenties, or hundreds of students over the course of time.â??

Some parents say they felt left in the dark about the trip and aren't happy with the lack of communication. But soma responds by saying the Chinese government kept canceling the trip and they didn't want to make an announcement that they may have to retract.

Soma explains, "I have to acknowledge that we were in a bond campaign, but if were out here sending messages about a trip that happening then its not... that's a confusing message. The time was a challenge, it was unfortunate and we would have liked to have some separation between the bond issue and the trip, unfortunately we werenâ??t in control of timing..."

The TCAPS group is set to return home on Thursday. Soma is hopeful that they will be able to secure some exchange agreements that they can start to implement in the near future.