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Muncie Apprehensive About Schools Bill Passage At Forum

By Tony Sandleben, IPR News | Published on in Education, Government, Local News
State Senator Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) hands flyers to MCS board member Jason Donati. (Photo: Tony Sandleben)

Indiana lawmakers are scheduled to discuss a bill in conference committee Monday that would let Ball State University run schools in Muncie.  And after a weekend community forum, they know more about how Muncie feels about the details of that plan. As IPR’s Tony Sandleben reports, those feelings range from uncertainty to fear.

Saturday’s public meeting was organized by Muncie Community Schools board member Jason Donati – the only member not to speak publicly in support of House Bill 1315 and Ball State’s plan to run Muncie Community Schools.  And those in the audience felt similarly.  In the two hours of public comment, no community member spoke in full support of the bill.

The audience was made up of parents of MCS students, like Ann Polk and Phil Boltz.

“Never in my wildest dreams professionally, as a parent, or as a community member have I felt so small and powerless,” says Polk.

“This is about using the opportunity of the Muncie Schools’ funding crisis to float a test balloon for school takeover in Indiana and in the United States,” says Boltz.

Some teachers are also skeptical of the plan, says Munice Teachers Association President Pat Kennedy.  She sent a survey out to teachers on the bill.  Of the 195 responses —

“We had 11 teachers who said they would stay.”

The rest said they would leave if the bill passed or would only stay if they got to keep their collective bargaining rights.  That’s something not guaranteed in the bill.  Ball State can voluntarily keep those rights intact, but is not required to.

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

Ball State Director of Community Diversity Initiatives Paris McCurty read a statement from university President Geoffrey Mearns saying the university is anxious to hear what all of MCS feels about this bill.

“If HB 1315 passes, and our university board agrees to take on this important responsibility,” reads the statement, “we will provide many opportunities for families, teachers, MCS staff and the community to contribute constructive suggestions for our community schools.”

Saturday’s public forum at Muncie city auditorium. (Photo: Tony Sandleben)

While no one fully supported the bill, MCS parent and alumna Wilisha Scaife commended fellow community members for not, as she says, attacking Ball State.

“Because if and when this passes and no our fight is not over and it should not be, but it is not a fight – it cannot be a fight in our city, our district and our community against Ball State because we are one community. It cannot be.”

House Bill 1315 is scheduled for a Monday mid-morning conference committee.  It does not have any voting members from the Muncie area. But Representative Sue Errington (D-Muncie) says the committee’s makeup could also change.

“When you want something to go through, and you can’t get all four signatures then you take some people off and put on people that will vote the way the majority wants, says Errington.

After the conference, it would need to be approved by both General Assembly chambers again before going to the governor’s desk.  The legislative session must end, by law, on Wednesday.