SOUTH BEND, Ind. –While administrators and teachers battle out how referendum money is spent, the South Bend Community School Corporation is losing 400-500 students every year. Costing the district $2.5-$3 million in money being brought in, according to Rafi Nolan-Abrahamian, Assistant Superintendent of Accountability.
So, what’s the problem?
“Parent’s and students are not happy with the quality of education.” Nolan-Abrahamian told REAL News Michiana during a sit down with district leaders earlier this week.
District leaders and the union representing the teachers (South Bend NEA), are currently at an impasse on salary negotiations. The issue at hand is how millions of dollars from a property tax referendum, that passed last year, will be spent.
The referendum is providing the school district with $166 million through the next 8 years. The district receives $20.8 million per year. However, the vast majority of that cash is being spent to cover operating cost deficits, due in part to property tax caps that passed a decade ago, and the sunsetting of a 10 year agreement with the state to cover the gap. After the gap was filled the first year of the referendum, there was approximately $6.7 million that was spent partly on salary increases and hiring new social workers and literacy coaches.
The South Bend NEA is currently asking for $5.5 million in salary increases. The administration is proposing $5.8 spread over two years — $3.25 in year one.
However, two top administrators were heftily rewarded after the referendum passed. SBCSC’s Chief Financial Officer, Kareemah Fowler, was given a $20,000 stipend for work she put in. Superintendent Todd Cummings was given a $25,000 bonus.
“That (bonus for passing a referendum) was in 2019 as part of the approval of my contract. We followed the statutory process. And, Clifton, not one person spoke out that it was a bad idea.” Cummings said. “I don’t regret it.”
But, that’s just scratching the surface when it comes to the district’s money problems. With $3 million lost annually because of student retention alone, the district needs to cut the fat. The SBCSC currently has one of the highest transportation budgets in the state. And, with less students, more and more facilities will more than likely have to be closed.
RNM asked Superintendent Cummings if he planned to close a high school in the future. He said that was not currently being considered. Transportation costs are being examined.
“What I want to say is, without a referendum, none of this would have been possible. So, we would have been talking about cutting dollars as opposed to investing in teachers.” Cummings said.
Cummings says he realizes the loss of money is a real concern and admitted another referendum will more than likely have to pass in the future to cover an even bigger gap.
The district can also work on ways to retain students, by improving an unreliable transportation system, security and overall education.