TIF funds OK’d for schools

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. could receive $750,000 from the city through tax increment financing funds if a recommendation by the Columbus Redevelopment Commission is approved.

The commission voted unanimously Monday to grant the local school district the funding for use in three student programs — iGrad, STEM and transition planning for students with disabilities. The funds would be allocated for one year with an option to renew.

BCSC superintendent John Quick, who is retiring this month, Vaughn Sylva, assistant superintendent for financial services, and Bill Jensen, director of secondary education, brought a proposal to the commission last month requesting nearly $1.1 million a year to fund the programs for three years, bringing the total request to about $3.2 million over a three-year period.

Quick told commissioners in May that those who created tax increment financing for cities included a provision that called for 15 percent of TIF funds to go toward local schools for the purpose of workforce development.

The superintendent, who did not attend Monday’s meeting, said in May that funding the three programs would have a direct impact on the city’s workforce by preparing students to work in Columbus’ major industries.

The commission’s recommendation on Monday to fund $750,000 accounts for the full funding request for iGrad — $253,825 — and transition planning, $246,796.

Commission president Sarah Cannon said the district provided the commission with various metrics they would use to measure the success of the iGrad funding, including:

Increasing graduation rates

Decreasing dropout rates

Increasing the number of students served through iGrad

Increasing iGrad personnel, including mentors and tutors

Increasing the number of iGrad participants who move on to post-secondary education

Similarly, Cannon said the district’s proposed metrics to gauge the success of the transition planning funds would include:

Increasing the number of students served through the transition planning program

Increasing the number of person-centered plans created for students with disabilities

Helping students with disabilities reach the goals of the Individualized Education Programs

Giving students with disabilities more access to work experience

Increasing the number of students with disabilities who enroll in an Ivy Tech program after high school

Jensen also added that the district would like to provide more services to students with moderate disabilities, not just those with severe disabilities.

At the commission’s May meeting, Quick said getting funds for the iGrad program was his top priority. Jensen said he thought funds for both the iGrad and transition planning programs were important because those initiatives have the most direct impact on students.

Commissioners agreed with those sentiments at both the May and June meetings, which led to their decision to provide the full requested funding for those two programs for a year.

However, the commission struggled with the idea of allocating the requested $574,963 to STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — programming. Ultimately, they chose to give $249,379 in TIF funds to STEM for one year — less than half of the requested amount.

BCSC’s initial three-year proposal called for the majority of the STEM funds to be used for capital projects.

About $394,963 would have been used in the first year for equipment upgrades, and then funds in the subsequent two years would have gone toward upgrading the district’s science labs. Jensen said Monday that the capital projects funding for the second year likely would have decreased from $394,963.

The remaining TIF dollars would have gone toward promotion of the STEM Seamless Pathways program and professional development initiatives.

Initially, Cannon had suggested providing full funding for the iGrad and transition planning programs for two years, but no funding for STEM, saying she believed in an area like Columbus, it would be easy to find alternate sources to provide STEM dollars.

However, Bob Abrams, a member of the BCSC school board and a non-voting member of the redevelopment commission, said he thought it would actually be more difficult to find other funds for STEM.

Since most of the district’s STEM costs relate to hardware, Abrams said the money generally comes out of the capital projects fund, which is tied to property tax dollars. Those dollars have to be used for other capital improvement projects throughout the district, which means the STEM program has to compete for funds, he said.

Commissioner Umar Farooq said he was having trouble justifying the full funding for the STEM program because, like the district officials said previously, it has a less direct impact on students.

He questioned how many BCSC students participate in STEM curriculum, and Jensen said about 60 percent of the district’s nearly 12,000 students opt into a career-driven STEM program while enrolled in BCSC schools.

However, Ricky Berkey, a local resident who works for Cummins Inc. at the technical center on McKinley Avenue, said many of his coworkers are not Columbus natives, a trend he said reflects a lack of interest in the local advanced manufacturing industry among Columbus students.

Redevelopment commission member Al Roszczyk said he thinks it’s imperative the city find ways to get young workers interested in the city’s major industry.

Commissioners ultimately decided that they would provide partial funding to STEM for the first year, then re-evaluate the program’s progress and needs after a year.

The recommendation to put $750,000 in TIF funds toward BCSC schools must receive final approval through the city council because it exceeds the commission’s spending limit of $500,000.

If the spending resolution receives council approval, district officials will have to return to the commission next year to give an update on the progress and metrics of the three funded programs.

Funding breakdown

iGrad

The Columbus Redevelopment Commission is recommending putting $253,825 toward the iGrad program to enable Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. to hire more mentors/tutors and serve more local students. The iGrad program serves eighth through 12th grade students across Bartholomew County and is designed to increase graduation rates. Bill Jensen, BCSC director of secondary education, said increasing iGrad personnel is the most important issue.

Transition planning

Each year, BCSC’s transition planning is underfunded by roughly $246,796, so the redevelopment commission is recommending allocating that amount in TIF funds for the program. The overall goal of the funding is to increase the number of students who are served through transition planning and to help those students find success after high school, Jensen said.

STEM

Although the district had initially requested $574,963 in TIF funds for STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — programming, the redevelopment commission is recommending a commitment of $249,379. That money will largely be used for STEM capital projects, such as equipment upgrades.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.