April 24, 2017

Muncie Takeover Bill Passes General Assembly, But Delays Action

Teachers, students, and the community rallied for the school in February.  - file photo

Teachers, students, and the community rallied for the school in February.

file photo

Indiana lawmakers in both houses on Friday night approved a bill that could still allow a state takeover of Muncie Community Schools because of its financial crisis.  But, the final version postpones a takeover for several months and gives the district the option of working to turn itself around.

Under the final version of the bill, Muncie is essentially put on probation.  If Gov. Eric Holcomb signs the measure, Muncie will be designated as a “fiscally impaired school corporation.”  An interim emergency manager will be appointed to make financial decisions until December.  This gives the district time to enact the deficit reduction plan it passed last week.  And the bill says that emergency manager could actually be MCS Superintendent Steve Baule.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) supported the measure, and directed a message to MCS.

“Now they’ve got to come together.  The superintendent has to work with the teachers.  He can’t take advantage of being in some special position and saying ‘I’m just going to tell you what you’re going to do now.’ He has to cooperate, he has to be upfront, he has to be transparent.  The teachers have to be willing to cooperate.  Everybody has to sit down.  I told everybody, ‘I’m not interested in finger-pointing.  I’m interested in a solution.’”

In December, the Distressed Unit Appeals Board, known to lawmakers as the “DUAB board” will review MCS’s progress.  If enough has been made, district officials get back control.  If not, Muncie will be designated a “distressed unit” and a full state takeover begins.  Like Gary Community School Corporation, MCS would only emerge from state control when it shows two years of “positive cash flow.”

“This language is intended to soften the blow, but it’s still a blow.”

Not every Muncie lawmaker was pleased with the bill.  Democratic Representative Sue Errington voted against it in the House.  She says the bill takes away power from the elected school board, who will be largely limited to making decisions on academic issues until December.  Errington also says any designation is bad for the city.

“What kind of image does that give to parents who are trying to decide, ‘Do I want to keep my child in this school or not?’  And if I’m a prospective employer, what does this do for Muncie?”

The measure passed the Senate unanimously and with a vote of 88-10 in the House.

Though Muncie’s addition to Senate Bill 567 has dominated the news cycle in recent weeks, Democratic Senator Eddie Melton says the bill was first-and-foremost about Gary, whose state takeover would begin immediately.

“I’m not aware of any other community that has suffered the devastation of Gary in terms of loss of industry, loss of population, the blight, the low assessed valuation, the collection rate.  And, we can’t do it alone.”

The bill now goes to the governor’s desk for consideration.

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