Fort Wayne Community Schools could end its racial balance fund, but not its commitment to magnet school program, racial diversity

Students and staff at Irwin Elementary School, a math and science magnet school in the Fort Wayne Community Schools district, observed this summer's solar eclipse as part of students' learning activities. ( file photo)

An item on the agenda for the Fort Wayne Community Schools board of school trustees meeting Monday night seeks the elimination of the school district’s racial balance fund, but it’s not what it seems.

The proposal results from changes in state law governing school funding, not a change in FWCS’ commitment to racial balance in its schools or to serving students of all backgrounds, said Krista Stockman, FWCS public information officer.

“Families should not notice any difference, really, in any of our operations,” Stockman said.

At the school board meeting at 6 p.m. Monday in Grile Administrative Center, 1200 S. Clinton St., board members will be asked to approve a resolution that requests the Indiana General Assembly to eliminate FWCS’ racial balance fund and racial balance tax levy, effective Jan. 1, 2019.

FWCS is the only public school district in Indiana with a property tax-funded racial balance fund, so it will take special legislation to eliminate the fund, Stockman said.

The fund is being ended because the state legislature, during its 2017 session, passed a law changing the financial management of public school districts, Stockman said.

The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2019, combines most public school district funding into two budgets – education and operations funds. The education fund is for all expenses related to student instruction, and the operations fund combines and replaces the capital projects, transportation and school bus replacement funds that public school districts use now.

FWCS’ racial balance fund receives its money through the capital projects fund, Stockman said. So state legislators’ elimination of the capital projects fund also puts an end to the racial balance fund.

But FWCS still will get the same amount of money as it has in the past for improving racial balance within the district’s schools, Stockman said.

FWCS uses the money to fund its magnet school program, which attracts a diverse group of students to certain schools by offering special academic programming, such as math and science, fine arts, Montessori, communications, Spanish immersion, and New Tech, she said.

Some of the money also pays for instructional coaches, who work with teachers to ensure they are effective educators, she said.

The programs and services FWCS has implemented through its racial balance fund are working, Stockman said, and the school district will continue them after the fund is eliminated as a separate portion of the FWCS budget.

“For us, we think it has been a great benefit for our students and the community,” she said.