Frustrations mount over transportation, finance issues in Muncie schools

MUNCIE, Ind. -- The Muncie board of school trustees met Tuesday to a packed room of parents and the public expressing frustration over recent transportation issues and a looming financial shortfall totaling nearly $20 million.

"Things have been better, still not perfect," parent Adam Bouse said.

"There hasn't been a good plan at all," parent Bethany Hilty said.

Transportation woes on the first day of school closed the district for two days after it became clear bus routes were not ready. Baule said they were told in July routes were ready.

"To every parent we want to say we're sorry we had this situation," Baule told the crowd.

The district reopened Monday. Superintendent Dr. Steven Baule said they're working to improve each day, but there are still significant issues, including having enough drivers. Baule said they are delaying the start of pre-k to Monday.

"If you take a look at the contracts that we have in place with both of those vendors there are very clear accountability clauses and we'll go through that, but the first thing we need to do is have a plan in place to get every child to school safely," he said.

With buses back running, the district is also focusing on other issues it's expected to face this school year.

The emergency manager, Administrator Assistance, said the district has a projected shortfall of $18.5 million. Part of the debt is $10 million in bond money that must be replaced. It was used for operating costs rather than major repair costs. The district is also facing a shortfall in operating funds of $8.5 million, which the emergency manager calls a crisis.

"We're gonna get to a point in September, October, more like October, where there's no cash left," Steve Edwards with Administrator Assistance said.

Edwards said they've met with representatives from Ball State University to discuss the sale of unused school buildings. They're also meeting with the Chamber of Commerce and community leaders to try to secure loans and funds and have reached out to the Indiana Department of Education to explore more options.

"We're very well aware that if we can secure some money locally on a good faith effort, that would go a long way with the state leaders in Indianapolis and the DUAB board to consider other money for us. I think they're wanting to see how invested the Muncie Community School is in this process," Edwards said.

Baule said they won't run out of money, though. They will work with anybody from the state through the legislature and local vendors to keep doors open and staff paid.

Meanwhile, the district's chief financial officer, Bob Coddington, is working to clean up the budget. He said he expects Muncie to have a good 2018, because the district will be living within its means.

While some parents expressed their frustrations, others are keeping hope alive and trying to become a part of the solution.

"You know what can parents do to help," Hilty said.

The 2018 budget is expected to be published at the end of the month.