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Legislators Consider Giving Ball State University Control Of Muncie Community Schools

By Stephanie Wiechmann and Tony Sandleben, IPR News | Published on in Education, Government, Local News
(Photo: Public Domain)
(Photo: Public Domain)

UPDATED:

An amendment to a bill being considered by Indiana lawmakers could let Ball State University take control of Muncie Community Schools instead of a state-appointed emergency manager.  But, as IPR’s Tony Sandleben reports, details of the idea are still emerging, because it wasn’t shared with Muncie officials before being discussed in a legislative committee hearing.

“I think this is far superior to a state takeover along the lines of an emergency manager. This is a community solution to a community challenge.”

Ball State University President Geoffrey Mearns supports an amendment to a House-written bill that would give the university the responsibility for Muncie Community Schools and its multi-million dollar deficit.

“If through community engagement and innovative programming, high quality academic program, and extensive support wrap-around services, we can persuade the parents in Muncie and the Muncie area that their best option for public education is to come back to Muncie public schools, that will help to address the financial challenges that the school presently faces.”

However, as of a Wednesday afternoon meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee to discuss the overall bill, Mearns was one of the only officials Muncie to have read the amendment.

“Not having the ability to – you know, the opportunity to even see the amendment yet, it’s really hard for me to say, ‘Oh yes, let’s do this.’”

Democratic Representative Sue Errington of Muncie says she and state Democratic Senator Tim Lanane hadn’t even heard about the amendment to House Bill 1315 until Wednesday morning.

“Sitting in the meeting, I kept going to my iPhone to see if it had appeared and every time I looked, it was not there.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Muncie Community Schools officials said they had not heard about the amendment at all, and therefore could make no official comment on the idea.

The original version of the bill would give the university permission to create laboratory schools within the school district, using existing school buildings.  At Wednesday’s hearing, Mearns said the amendment included a timeline for the university to come up with a management plan for the district.

The Ways and Means Committee is expected to vote on the amendment – and the passage of the full school finances-related bill sometime next week. In Indianapolis, Tony Sandleben IPR News.

Editor’s Note:  As of late Wednesday evening, the amendment to House Bill 1315 was not available to read online.

 

ORIGINAL:

An amendment to a bill being considered by Indiana lawmakers could let Ball State University take control of Muncie Community Schools instead of a state-appointed emergency manager.  But, as IPR’s Stephanie Wiechmann reports, Muncie lawmakers told a committee hearing today that they hadn’t seen the amendment yet.

“I want to speak to the amendment, which I haven’t seen yet.  I don’t believe it’s available electronically yet.”

Democratic Representative Sue Errington represents Muncie in the General Assembly.  At Wednesday’s meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee, Errington says she and state Democratic Senator Tim Lanane hadn’t even heard about the amendment to House Bill 1315 until a Wednesday morning meeting with Ball State University President Geoffrey Mearns.  A committee member gave a quick overview.

Errington: “Not having the ability to – you know, the opportunity to even see the amendment yet, it’s really hard for me to say, ‘Oh yes, let’s do this.’”

Representative Hal Slager: “Right.  Well, I just saw the amendment as well, and it just, ostensibly, authorizes the university to take over the financial recovery of the school corporation.”

READ MORE: Muncie Community Schools Put Under Full State Control

Part of an email sent to the Ball State community from university president Geoffrey Mearns. (Screenshot: Stephanie Wiechmann)

In an email to the Ball State community, President Mearns says the amendment would give permission for Ball State to “assume the responsibility of managing MCS” as of July.  Mearns says he supports the amendment and testified to the committee.

“If through community engagement and innovative programming, high quality academic program, and extensive support wrap-around services, we can persuade the parents in Muncie and the Muncie area that their best option for public education is to come back to Muncie public schools, that will help to address the financial challenges that the school presently faces.”

The first version of the bill, which is available online, would give the university permission to create laboratory schools within the school district, using existing school buildings.

Ball State already runs Burris Laboratory School on its Muncie campus, and more than 400 students who live within the MCS district boundaries attend Burris instead of MCS schools.

The House Ways and Means Committee did not vote on the amendment on Wednesday.  Errington says she hopes the community will soon be able to read the amendment and come talk to the committee.

“We’ve had a lot of surprises over the last year coming from the General Assembly.  It makes us feel that we aren’t being part of the solution.”