State prepares to appoint emergency manager for Muncie Community Schools

MUNCIE, Ind. -- The state is offering a clearer picture of its plan to take control of Muncie Community Schools.

The district is facing a multi-million dollar deficit. The Distressed Unit Appeal Board, which will receive reports on the district's progress digging itself out of that financial hole, held a public meeting Monday night before starting the process to pick an emergency manager to hold decision making powers.

The board said it will start accepting applications this month, interview candidates in June and have an emergency manager in place by July 1. The emergency manager could be an individual or a group with someone designated for making final decisions.

The meeting was all about listening to the community, though.

"We have made some very, very difficult decisions," school board president Debbie Feick said to the DUAB in front of a gymnasium full of community members.

DUAB members heard the district's history and a snapshot of its financial status. Superintendent Dr. Steven Baule reported its cash balance as -$11 million at the end of 2016.

"Muncie's been in deficit spending for fifteen years at least," Paul Joyce said.

Joyce is the state examiner and a member of the DUAB.

Before appointing an emergency manager to hold decision making power in the district, everything from new hires to property sales, the board is first taking in the scope of the problem.

"You have to look at it and find out what you can change. Do you have the right school buildings, do you have the right workforce, do you have the right education plan," Joyce said.

The plan for the DUAB includes picking an emergency manager that's involved, monitoring the actions taken and by the end of the year, determining whether to release MCS as a fiscally impaired district or designate it a distressed political subdivision.

"I think what we're looking for is to put the school corporation on the trajectory where it'll be able to continue to provide quality education and also be able to be in a sustainable financial position for the long haul," DUAB Chairman Micah Vincent said.

But throughout the process, the board said it wants community involvement, too.

"That emergency manager has got to have the ability to bring out community together," Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler said.

Joyce also said examiners are conducting an audit of the district for 2015-2016.

Superintendent Dr. Steven Baule said this year he expects the district to take in more than it spends for the first time in a decade.