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UPDATED: Mayoral hopeful Smith’s education plan includes more officers, use of Legacy funds; Henry responds

Tim Smith. (News-Sentinel.com file photo by Kevin Leininger)

Fort Wayne’s mayor has no direct authority over schools, but Republican Tim Smith Monday pledged to improve the quality of education by giving school boards, teachers and students “the support they deserve.”

That support, Smith said, would include using city Legacy funds to reimburse teachers for some out-of-pocket expenses and the presence of two uniformed Fort Wayne Police officers or school resource officers in every public and private school — at city expense if necessary.

“There is an important link between education and a thriving, successful city. Unfortunately, Tom Henry’s administration has shown no interest in partnering with schools . . . out of respect to school boards,” said Smith, who will challenge the three-term Democrat in November. “As mayor, I do not intend to mandate education . . . . (I will be) bringing together stakeholders and leveraging the city’s resources to make our schools safer. No child can hope for success if the environment in which they learn is threatened by someone who intends to harm them.”

Smith said in a statement he would establish the Fort Wayne Apprenticeship Program to connecting private schools and the four public districts operating within the city with employers looking to develop talent for trade and office jobs. He also said he would “fight for our schools and teachers in the Indiana General Assembly and work to make Fort Wayne a more teacher-friendly city.”

Just last month Henry and city officials dedicated a new $400,000 sidewalk along St. Joe Center Road connecting eight neighborhoods to St. Joseph Central Elementary School as part of efforts to assist students from Fort Wayne Community Schools who are now walking to school due to bus service reduction. Smith said that “as mayor, I will bring all stakeholders to the table, including education leaders, in developing our short- and long-term infrastructure plans.”

As a way to help “under-appreciated and underpaid” teachers, Smith said he would work to reimburse them for the $500 they on average spend for supplies out of their own pockets using interest from the Legacy fund, created through the sale of the city’s old electric utility. “This is a small step but is only the first of many toward creating a culture that aids every Fort Wayne teacher,” he stated.

The Legacy fund has supported such “transformational” projects as the Landing redevelopment and Electric Works, and in June City Council created a committee to examine the fund’s long-term sustainability. Some council members have expressed concerns about spending the fund below a $30 million “corpus,” and any use of Legacy funds requires the support of six of council’s nine members.

“Though I believe decisions about education are best left to parents, school boards, administrators and teachers, the education of our children is paramount,” Smith said. “The mayor of Fort Wayne can no longer sit on the sidelines.”

Henry responded to Smith by issuing the following statement:

“I am glad to hear that Tim Smith joins me in supporting local public education. I do question, however, whether my opponent is running for mayor or the Indiana General Assembly, as Fort Wayne’s Mayor has no direct authority over our schools. Knowing my legal limitations as Fort Wayne’s mayor, I will continue to pave sidewalks . . . (and) staff our schools with Fort Wayne Police officers like we have done throughout my tenure; continue the Mayor’s Youth Engagement Council which introduces young people to government; and continue to foster those valued partnerships with our educational friends from the FWCS Career Academy to our universities, our vocational schools to organized labor.”

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