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‘Waiting mode’ for MCS board after takeover bill passes

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—Tuesday night, the Muncie school board met for the first time since the state takeover bill passed last week.

For weeks, school board members and local lawmakers fought Muncie’s late addition into the bill.

Friday, the bill passed, but delayed the state takeover of Muncie Schools.

Essentially, the school is on probation, with state support, until December when a final decision will be made.

But in the four days since lawmakers approved the state takeover bill, Muncie school administrators and board members have gained little clarity about their unique situation.

“We’re just waiting, just waiting to hear, waiting to find out,” said Debbie Feick, the school board president.

Feick and the district, in some ways, are stuck.

Until state officials tell them exactly what SB 567 means for Muncie, she and the board don’t know what they’ll have the power to do.

“As you read the law, it really deviates from the traditional intervention,” said Feick. “What does that mean in terms of how we carry on business. “We’re looking forward to meeting with some folks to help clarify that.”

The folks, will include officials with the Distressed Unit Appeals Board, which she says will preside over several public meetings and help share information.

The key, she says, is figuring out how to make sure the transition is smooth for kids, a point echoed by Governor Eric Holcomb, who signed the bill.

“The kids ultimately are the ones that are caught in this cross fire, so I think operating in good faith we will step in as a state and usher this to a good conclusion,” said Holcomb.

The board was able to present everyone with a snapshot of where the district’s finances and deficit reduction plan stand now.

“If you take a look at what else we’ve done, we’ve pretty much made every other reduction we can,” said superintendent Steve Baule. “We’ve looked at how to how to reduce staff. One of the big outstanding issues for us is our health insurance costs.”

Baule says analysis has revealed Muncie pays 238 percent what Marion pays per teacher for health insurance. One expert told him the district probably has one of the most expensive health plans in the state.

Baule says they’re looking at potentially ending their participation in the City of Muncie’s health clinic.

Even as they try to plan for the long-term, short-term financial challenges make the job difficult.

Just last week, Muncie spent 10 thousand dollars repairing an old a/c system.

A broken heating system, which forced one of its schools to close temporarily last year, publicly exposed the depth of the district’s financial problems.

“I am hopeful and confident actually, that by January, we can get out from under this label and be back to business as usual,” said Baule.

Business as usual though will look different, with three schools still closing to save nearly three million dollars.

“We stand by the decision for the school closures,” said Feick. “It’s very difficult to do. We regret that we had to make that choice, but we don’t regret that we were willing to move in that direction,”

For those school closings, the plan is for all parents to know where their elementary-age kids are going to school next year around May 8th.

Board members plan to learn more about their so-called probationary status when the Distressed Unit Appeals Board meet with them Monday.