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Millions of dollars for repairs at Muncie schools now gone

MUNCIE, Ind. - More than $9 million meant for repairs at Muncie Community Schools is not available now, according to the district superintendent.

The funds were acquired through a bond in 2014 and meant specifically for repairs at several schools. District leaders say the money was used to cover cash flow problems over the years.

The issues at some aging buildings became clear last year when East Washington Academy was forced to temporarily close because of a broken heater. Classroom temperatures were down to 62 degrees. The heater was eventually fixed with help from the city.

Tom Jarvis retired as principal of Muncie Central High School last year. He says he saw, first-hand, the need for repairs at the school.

“In the winter time, it would be freezing,” Jarvis said. “Classrooms getting down to 58 degrees. In the summer, it would get up 80 degrees.”

Jarvis said the temperatures impacted students' ability to focus.

“Kids had a hard time testing upstairs because heating was so bad,” he said.

Those are just a couple of the schools still waiting for work to be done nearly three years after the general obligation bond was taken out for this exact purpose.

"When we got the money in May 2014, we just basically put it in the bank and it's been sitting there in order to just buffer our cash," said Steve Baule, superintendent for Muncie Community Schools.

The district's new chief financial officer addressed the problem at this week's school board meeting. He informed them the $9.3 million budgeted for repairs is not actually in the bank. The money has been gone since about 2015, according to Baule.

"The money was intended to be used to balance cash and they were hoping to make enough cuts to free that money up," Baule said. "Unfortunately, they just weren’t able to make those cuts

Baule says bad accounting over the years has left the district in a bad spot.

“It’s not legal to use those bond funds for anything other than what they were intended for,” Baule said.

Now, the district is facing a $15 million deficit. Baule says they need to make cuts to teacher salaries and benefits.  The proposal is leading to backlash from some community members. Just last month, hundreds of people lined Muncie streets for a rally called “Save Muncie Schools.” This last Tuesday, another rally was held and many showed up for the school board meeting to voice their concerns. The district and the teachers’ union have yet to reach an agreement.

Baule said the district is also considering consolidating some schools. A referendum could be in the near future in order to get the money needed to make school repairs.