City approves $750,000 for economic development through school programs

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. will receive $750,000 from the city to fund three programs that school district leaders say will help strengthen the local economy.

The Columbus Redevelopment Commission had recommended directing that amount of funds collected from tax increment financing for one year to BCSC, followed by the second and final required approval this week from the Columbus City Council.

The Columbus-based public school district plans to use the TIF funds for three workforce development programs — iGrad, STEM education and transition planning for special-needs students.

About $253,825 will go toward the iGrad program, which is designed to help at-risk students meet requirements to graduate and move on to post-secondary education or the workforce.

Transition planning, a program that helps students with special needs prepare for a career after high school, will receive $246,796.

The additional funds from the city will allow the school district to expand these two programs.

The district’s STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — program will receive $249,379, which will be used largely for capital improvements such as equipment, said Bill Jensen, BCSC director of secondary education. However, a portion of the funds will also go toward training teachers in Project Lead the Way, an engineering program, he said.

Because Columbus’ economy is heavily dependent on the manufacturing and engineering industries, district leaders said putting more money toward STEM education will equip students with the skills they need to succeed in the local economy, rather than building their careers elsewhere.

City redevelopment director Heather Pope said laws governing TIF funds allow for up to 15 percent to be directed toward local schools for workforce development programs, such as the three programs identified.

Mayor Jim Lienhoop said $750,000 accounts for about 10 percent of the city’s total TIF funds, so the allocation to the school district falls within the TIF requirements while also allowing some room for adjustments.

Lienhoop described the BCSC funds as one prong of several in the city’s overall plan for workforce development.

Jason Hester, executive director of the Columbus Economic Development Board, told council members that funding the three BCSC programs aligns well with economic development goals of the city.

In May, BCSC leaders had originally asked redevelopment commissioners for about $1 million in TIF funds each year for three years, beginning in 2016, to be put toward the three programs. While iGrad and transition planning received the full amount that was requested, the STEM program received less than half of the requested amount.

Additionally, redevelopment commissioners decided in June that they would only approve the TIF allocation for one year, but leave the option of renewing the funding open in subsequent years.

If BCSC wants to renew the funds, district leaders will be required to return to the commission next year with metrics that prove the TIF funds have made a positive difference in the success of the iGrad, STEM and transition planning programs. Pope told council members that BCSC administrators were already working on developing those metrics.

$750,000 for economic development

Here is how the city of Columbus will direct $750,000 in tax increment financing receipts to fund economic development programs at Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

iGrad: The iGrad program serves students in grades 8-12 across Bartholomew County and is designed to increase graduation rates. The district will use $253,825 to hire more mentors/tutors and serve more local students.

Transition planning: Each year, BCSC’s transition planning is underfunded by roughly $246,796, so the city funding will increase the number of students who are served through transition planning and to help those students find success after high school.

STEM: The district had initially requested $574,963 in TIF funds for STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. Instead, the redevelopment commission approved a commitment of $249,379, which 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.