There's no economic development tool more potent than a top-notch local school system to draw new residents and businesses.

So Anderson Community Schools officials have a sound foundation for their argument that the school system should receive a healthy slice of revenue from the local tax increment financing (TIF) district.

State statute says schools have a right to petition for up to 15 percent of such revenue. And school board member Jeff Barranco said at a recent city council meeting that ACS is losing nearly $2 million annually in revenue because of the TIF district. 

In describing the impact of the lost revenue, Randy Harrison, president of the Anderson Federation of Teachers, evoked the image of financially beleaguered school systems in Muncie and Gary.

“We are starving financially,” Harrison said of ACS.

The city of Anderson, meanwhile, is protective of TIF money and has been slow to react to overtures from the school system to receive a share.

First created in 1990, the TIF district carves an L-shape into Anderson, taking up roughly a quarter of the geographic area of the city and stretching from the Flagship Enterprise Center on the southwest side to Rangeline Road and 10th Street on the northeast side.

The district was created to attract new businesses with the promise that a portion of tax money generated by their investments would be sunk back into infrastructure development and other improvements in the district.

That's great for the district and the new businesses, but it takes money away from other government units — such as schools — that would have received a portion of the new tax revenue had the TIF district not been created.

Noting that a portion of the TIF district is actually located in the South Madison Community School Corporation district, Anderson Mayor Tom Broderick said at the council meeting that he'd like to see a specific proposal from ACS for use of TIF money. 

“State law allows the redevelopment commission to contract with an entity, including school corporations, for programs outlined in the statute,” the mayor said. “It is meant to promote economic development after certain findings.”

Councilman Greg Graham said the TIF district "gives Anderson and our citizens a new future" and that it was pivotal to the creation of 4,000 jobs.

Indeed, without the TIF district, many of those jobs never would have materialized.

Then again, the community must invest in its public school system, and citizens have shown that it's a high priority via their approval in May of a $41 million capital improvement referendum.

It's incumbent on city and school officials to work together in good faith to funnel a substantial portion of TIF money to Anderson Community Schools.

It would be the best kind of economic development — an investment in the future.

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