With the threat of a state takeover looming, Muncie Community Schools board members voted to close three elementary schools next year. But, as IPR’s Stephanie Wiechmann reports, both district middle schools will remain open in the long run if the board can find the money.
The deficit reduction plan as presented at Thursday night’s emergency meeting would have saved Muncie Community Schools more than $13 million – about $4 million of which came from school closings. The board voted 3-2 Thursday night to close three elementary schools – Storer, Mitchell, and Sutton – beginning next school year.
The plan also called for closing Northside Middle School. But before the vote…
“Well, I’m going to take a leap of faith here,” said board member Robert Warrner, “and I may fall flat on my face. I may lose, I may not get a second. But it’s time, I think, to have the courage to do the right thing, to look down the road and have a vision.”
… the plan was amended to keep Northside open for one year.
Superintendent Steve Baule says the cuts will still remain close to $13 million after some insurance savings the district found.
“The facilities committee from the start is to have a two middle school solution for Muncie. It just – our community, that works more appropriately than anything else.”
During that one-year reprieve, the administration hopes to tear down Storer Elementary and then begin constructing a new Northside Middle School on the Storer property. Baule hopes to find a buyer for the current Northside – possibly in Ball State University – who would lease the district the use of the building until the new Northside is done. But do that, the district with the multi-million dollar deficit will need money.
“To keep the middle school open one more year, that gives the community the chance to either voice that they want a one or a two middle school solution, potentially at the ballot box by doing a referendum, to determine whether or not you’re going to address that.”
The MCS administration now hopes the new debt plan is enough to stop a proposed state takeover of the district. Muncie was added to a bill meant for Gary Community School Corporation. It would allow state-appointed managers to make decisions for those districts to bring down their multi-million dollar debts. Gary asked the legislature for help, but Muncie did not. Baule and the board members who voted yes hope the plan will show the state they can make tough decisions.
But not everyone agreed, including board member Bev Kelley
“What I don’t want to send out is that we’re doing this out of desperation. Because I think if the state representatives in the Senate think that we’re doing this in desperation, they’re still going to take us over, because nobody can do a desperate plan and make it work and do it right without given time.”
At the meeting, Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler pledged city help and support for the school district. Tyler once served as a state representative and says he’s confident a General Assembly conference committee will remove Muncie from Senate Bill 567.
“I’m certainly not over-confident, because there’s still a few days left and anything can happen up to the 24th hour. But I think the General Assembly is looking at what Muncie is trying to do to show the importance of us staying out of Senate Bill 567.”
That committee hearing has not yet been scheduled.
But this plan and these school closings might not mean anything if the a state takeover is approved by lawmakers and signed by Governor Eric Holcomb. Baule says as he sees it, a state manager can make any and all decisions, including reversing or adding to school closings.