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Concerned Senate Committee Postpones Vote On Muncie Schools Bill

By Stephanie Wiechmann, IPR News | Published on in Education, Government, Local News
Muncie Central High School (FILE Photo: StateImpact Indiana)

An Indiana Senate committee has decided to postpone voting on a controversial school financials bill because of its effect on Muncie and Gary schools.  As IPR’s Stephanie Wiechmann reports, some committee members say the bill too radically changes plans lawmakers approved last session.

Last year, Republican Representative Tim Brown singled out Gary and Muncie schools for their financial debts, putting emergency management processes in place.  This year, Brown wants to change details of those agreements – in small ways for Gary and in large ways for Muncie.  Democratic Senator Karen Tallian says that’s premature.

“Muncie – the ink is still wet on the guy’s contract.  I mean, we just hired him.  And we haven’t given the process any time to work.”

Many of the committee’s concerns involve a plan that would allow Ball State University to take responsibility for Muncie Community Schools.  Under that proposal, the university would not have to follow a number of state education laws other districts must, including teacher collective bargaining and certain accountability measures.

Ball State has dedicated a large page on its website to its plans for Muncie schools, if approved by lawmakers. (cms.bsu.edu/muncie-community-schools)

University president Geoff Mearns says the process in Muncie would be transparent.

“The new school board – the appointed school board – will have to have public meetings, so there will be public accountability in the local community.  And then the legislation requires us to submit annual plans and reports.”

Read More: First Boston, Now Muncie? Lessons From A University-School Collaboration

There was also a different portrait of whether or not the Muncie community supports the Ball State proposal.  In testimony, Mearns says most do – including three out of the five elected school board members, who will be replaced by an appointed board if the legislation passes.

But Democratic Senator Tim Lanane, who represents Muncie, says an unscientific Facebook poll he conducted shows a majority of the community is opposed.

Sen. Lanane polled constituents on Facebook in January and February.

After the committee’s chair announced he would postpone a vote on the bill, Democratic Senator Tim Lanane, who represents Muncie, suggested the issue be moved to a summer study committee.

“This is the first time that I know we’ve ever done this in the state of Indiana.  This is an historical decision that you’re making.  And we can put in there as many times as we want to, ‘This is not precedent.’  But when we pass a law down here, it is precedent.”

The chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee says members will discuss amendments and vote on the bill “in a week or so.”