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St. Joseph Public Schools seek taxpayer bond to fund maintenance, early childhood center

Children listen to a teacher at a St. Joseph Public School. The district is asking voters for a $98.5 million bond this May to pay for facility upgrades and a new childhood center.
Photo provided, St. Joseph Public Schools
Children listen to a teacher at a St. Joseph Public School. The district is asking voters for a $98.5 million bond this May to pay for facility upgrades and a new childhood center.

A district with around 3,000 students, St. Joseph Public Schools is asking area voters for the money to address its immediate needs while also planning for the future.

The proposal will be on the ballot for St. Joseph voters this May and calls for a $98.5 million bond to be taken out. If approved, that money would go toward a wide range of capital improvements to the district’s five aging school buildings in addition to modernizing classroom space and athletic facilities.

On top of all that, the district wants to build a brand new early childhood center that would offer preschool and afterschool programs during the school year.

Voters previously approved a $38 million bond for St. Joseph schools in 2010 and a smaller one in 2016. Superintendent Jenny Fee acknowledged that this year’s ask is significantly more, but she said it will set St. Joseph Schools up for the future.

“You see a larger price tag on it because it’s not one or two single big-ticket items. It really addresses needs across the entire district, not at one or two buildings. And it covers those needs across a longer time frame,” Fee said.

According to the district, homeowners with $100,000 worth of taxable property would pay around $200 a year in additional taxes. The average property value in the district is a little over $113,000, Fee said, which comes out to $220 a year.

More than half of the bond would go toward maintenance at each school, including new roofs and new heating and cooling systems at the middle and high school.

The focus would then turn to revamped classroom space at the district’s three elementary schools, which all currently have a combined gym and cafeteria. Specifically designed rooms for art, music, speech therapy and counseling would also go a long way, Fee said.

“Having those dedicated spaces will ensure that materials, supplies will have a palace, be taken care of. And students will have the safest most accessible environments when they’re tending to those separate disciplines,” Fee said.

The spending plan can be viewed in full on the district’s website and calls for other upgrades to security fencing, work around pick-up and drop-off areas and revamping athletic facilities at the middle and high school.

But the other big item is a $12 million early childhood center. The district wants to buy the former United Federal Credit Union building at State Street and Gard Avenue and renovate it.

Fee said the need for an early childhood center comes from surveys the district undertook in the past two years. In addition to the educational benefits of preschooling, Fee added the center would lead to less crowding at the elementary schools, which are already at capacity.

However, not everyone is on board with the proposed capital investments. St. Joseph resident Teresa Espino said she’s put three children through the St. Joseph Public School system and was complimentary of the district’s performance.

But she’s organizing opposition to the bond question through the group “Vote No St. Joe” because she says the new tax is yet another burden to area citizens after previous referendum bonds in 2010 and 2016.

“It's not like we’re just going to pay an extra $200. Right now on my taxes this year, I paid $450 dollars for the last three bonds. If this goes through next year, I’ll pay $750 towards just this issue, just St. Joe remodeling or wish list items,” she said.

To Espino, the improvements the district wants would be nice to have, but she pointed out that the schools have made due with the spacing issues for years already.

St. Joseph voters will decide on the bond during the May 7 primary election.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.