Key leaders co-chair SB school bond campaign

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - A couple of key community leaders have stepped up to work for the passage of a voter referendum that would bring millions of additional dollars to the South Bend Community School Corporation.

Mary Downes left her principal’s job at John Adams High School in 2003 to become chief of staff for Gov. Joe Kernan. Now she’s proud to return to the district as its newest cheerleader.

As co-chair of South Bend Vote Yes, Downes is half of a one-two punch out to deal with a double whammy of public school funding policy.

“With the state changes in tax caps and then the big changes in vouchers, it’s pretty much forced. Most school districts have done them or are planning on doing them,” Downes told 16 News Now.

South Bend schools are planning to hold a referendum that asks school district voters for more money.

South Bend’s referendum will come in two parts: The first seeks $54 million for building safety and security upgrades, while the second seeks $20.8 million a year for eight years in additional operating funds.

“One of the ways we're not competing very well is in the staff payment for teachers, and to be the lowest paid in the area, not competitive means we can't keep teachers, you know. They can get a little more money if they go next door,” Downes said.

The South Bend Vote Yes website went live this week. It claims the passage of the referendum would bring the starting teacher salary up to $41,000, bring a new career, technical and vocational high school, and put literacy professionals in every school to improve reading

On the other hand, the campaign warns a no vote would close several schools and cause the loss of hundreds of jobs.

“The school corp will have to make very, very, difficult decisions, I’m sure, up to and including closing schools, laying off people," Downes said. "You know, South Bend Community Schools is the third largest employer in our county, so that will make a dramatic effect on the overall health of the community.”

The other co-chair of South Bend Vote Yes is former school board president and 20-year South Bend Common Council Member Karen White.