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Lawmakers at odds over bill that would give Ball State control over Muncie schools

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A school district plagued by a multi-million dollar deficit and under an emergency manager could soon face another major change. A bill in the final stages at the statehouse would give Ball State University control of Muncie Community Schools.

There was plenty of disagreement at a conference committee for HB 1315 Monday morning.

A main concern for many Muncie residents is that the bill would do away with a fully-elected school board. Instead, the Ball State board of trustees and president would appoint seven members for the next few years and they wouldn’t all be required to live in Muncie.

Vic Smith spent decades working in public education. He was at the statehouse to testify against a bill he feels treads on something he holds dear.

“Public education has gone by core pillars and many of them are disappearing,” Smith said. “For the first time in history, there would be school board members in Muncie, on the board, who are not residents.”

If passes, HB 1315 hands the reigns of MCS to Ball State University. The university would then appoint seven members to a governing board. The current elected school board members would become advisers.

“The adults need to be held accountable and responsible,” said Rep. Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville), who authored the bill.

The lawmakers from the Muncie area chimed in during the conference committee, too.

“We are taking away the democracy of the people of Muncie in this bill,” said Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Anderson).

“We are dismantling public schools,” said KareN Tillian (D-Portage).

Brown said he believes Muncie schools could see significant improvements under Ball State’s guidance.

“I think the opportunities for children for innovation, for new programs, is almost limitless,” he said.

FOX59 looked into Ball State’s track record authorizing charter schools. According to its website, BSU currently sponsors 28 charter schools. Thirteen of those got a “D” or “F” accountability grade in the 2015-2016 school year.

Brown said that while running an entire school district would be new for Ball State, there is strong interest to make it work for the community.

“Ball State has a little bit of experience on a smaller level,” Brown said. “I don’t think it’s totally out of their realm or their possibilities.”

Ball State President Geoffrey Mearns sent a statement to lawmakers today, saying in part:

“Rather than a temporary fix to a long-term problem, you are prepared to empower our great university to establish a comprehensive, community-based partnership that will provide exceptional educational experiences for all of Muncie’s children for many years to come. This legislation is a unique solution to a specific challenge in our community…I make this pledge to you: if you give our University this responsibility, we will honor that trust by working with every member of our local community—our dedicated teachers, our parents, our pastors, our business leaders, our foundations, and every person who will join with us in service to a single, common objective: to provide an outstanding education to every child in Muncie, Indiana. ”

The conference committee has a couple of days to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.