News Column

City considering $543K investment in South Bend schools

August 15, 2014

By Erin Blasko, South Bend Tribune, Ind.



Aug. 15--SOUTH BEND -- The Redevelopment Commission is considering spending about $543,000 in tax increment finance dollars to support the expansion of STEM programming to all South Bend Community School Corp. students in grades kindergarten through eight.

The three-year commitment would provide start-up capital in support of the expansion of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programming to 12 primary schools beginning this school year, with more to follow in the years to come.

The money would be used to pay for necessary materials and equipment such as iPads and robotics kits, Chris Fielding, director of business development for the city, said Thursday.

Additional funding for teacher training and other related expenses would come from the school corporation, St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce members, the United Way and Project Lead the Way, the nation's largest STEM education program.

Riley High School and Kennedy Primary Center already offer STEM programming through Project Lead the Way. Kennedy served as a pilot site for the program last school year.

The Redevelopment Commission gave the Department of Community investment the OK Thursday to pursue a formal agreement with the school corporation related to the investment. A final draft of the agreement will be presented to the commission for approval on Aug. 28.

Commission members were generally supportive of the idea but had some questions and concerns.

Common Council member Valerie Schey wondered whether the STEM investment represented an appropriate use of TIF funds, which, according to statute, are meant for infrastructure improvements in support of redevelopment.

"This is a very worthy cause, but it really worries me when we're using (TIF funds) for sort of soft costs," Schey said, suggesting economic development income tax dollars be used instead.

Executive Director of Community Investment Scott Ford noted that TIF funds may be used to support "work force development" as well. In addition, he said, EDIT funds may only be appropriated on an annual basis, and the money is needed now.

"This (investment) provides us the opportunity to get up and running this school year, and that's critical," South Bend Schools Superintendent Carole Schmidt said Thursday.

Ford said the city would be open to the use of EDIT funds for the program in year two or three.

Fellow Common Council member Dave Varner, meanwhile, voiced concern about the commitment of TIF funds to the school corporation becoming open-ended.

"I do see this as an opportunity to help with education, but I would point out that the South Bend Community School Corp. has its own funding source," Varner said. "What I don't want to see happen is for this to become an ongoing funding source through TIF."

Responding to that concern, Schmidt assured Varner of the school board's commitment to maintaining the program once it's up and running. "They are very supportive of the project moving forward and the whole concept of the STEM process," she said.

Project Lead the Way emphasizes hands-on, projected-based learning in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math, with the goal of preparing primary and secondary students for employment in those fields.

According to Jeff Rea, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, the program should help to address what he and others in the business community see as "deficiencies" in the local talent pipeline.

"Jobs are going to move to where the talent is," he said, "and we feel this is going to develop that talent here."

eblasko@sbtinfo.com

574-235-6187

@ErinBlasko

___

(c)2014 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.)

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Source: South Bend Tribune (IN)


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