Lawmakers approve Muncie and Gary schools takeover, 4 other bills in one-day special session

Indiana Statehouse

INDIANAPOLIS – In a rare mid-May flurry of activity inside the Indiana Statehouse, lawmakers returned Monday to a robust agenda looking to shore up several key issues they failed to pass as the legislative session ended earlier this year.

“We promised transparency, we promised efficiency for the taxpayer,” House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) said Monday. “And we were able to accomplish what we were unable to accomplish on the last night.”

The House passed five bills within several hours and concluded by lunchtime. The Senate convened at 1 p.m. and passed the measures as well. Gov. Holcomb ordered lawmakers back after failing to address several bills addressing school safety and tax issues.

Democrats questioned the process and cried foul at the rush within the one-day session.

“There’s no options – and I say dog-and-pony show and I mean that literally,” House Minority Leader Terry Goodin (D-Austin) said. “Everyone knew exactly what was going to happen.”

Republicans in both the House and Senate voted to streamline the process, bypassing traditional legislative rules to ensure the session would not extend beyond a single day.

“I think it will be efficient as we’re know for,” Holcomb said in an interview Friday. “Transparent, which is another box we want to check, and it will be effective. We’ve got some bills we need to sign into law, to clarify and reduce the cost.”

The most controversial provision is one Republican leaders decided to add, despite the governor not including it in his initial special session agenda. The plan will give control of Muncie Community Schools to Ball State University, a provision lawmakers failed to pass the provision during the session.

“Some real questions were brought up today,” Goodin said.

Ball State will be charged with appointing a new school board whose members don’t have to be exclusively from Muncie.

Several members of the Indiana State Teachers Association and Muncie Teachers association gathered at the Statehouse Monday morning opposing the measure. Earlier this month the organizations delivered petitions to Holcomb making note of their opposition.

“I’m confident about Ball State,” Bosma said. “In fact, I’m enthused about Ball State’s ability to run the school system.”

Ball State University President Geoffrey S. Mearns issued this statement:

“Earlier today, the General Assembly passed HB 1315, the legislation that provides our University with the opportunity to appoint a new school board to manage the Muncie Community Schools (“MCS”). The legislation passed by substantial margins in both chambers, and I anticipate that Governor Holcomb will promptly sign the bill into law.

“Now, our Board of Trustees must meet to consider whether our University should accept this significant responsibility. A special Board meeting will take place at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, May 16, in Cardinal Hall in the Student Center.

“If our Board of Trustees approves the necessary resolution, then the school board appointed by Ball State will assume responsibility of MCS on July 1, 2018.

“I am grateful to Governor Holcomb and to all of the members of the General Assembly who expressed their confidence in the collective ability of our University and our local community to overcome the challenges that are presently impeding progress at MCS. And I am grateful to all of the people – Muncie residents, community leaders, parents, and MCS teachers and staff, as well as our faculty, staff, students, and alumni – who expressed their support for HB 1315. Your encouragement gives me great optimism that, working together as equal partners, we will provide an exceptional educational experience for all of the children of Muncie.”

Specifics of the other pieces of legislation include:

  • House Bill 1230: Provide $5 million for school safety that Gov. Holcomb requested during the session. The bill would also make available low-interest loans to school corporations for security equipment upgrades and capital improvements
  • House Bill 1315: Allow the state take takeover of Gary and Muncie community schools, including control of Muncie to Ball State University. The bill would also authorize a one-time loan to Muncie
  • House Bill 1316: Update the state’s tax code to comply with the new federal tax law
  • House Bill 1242: Makes tax changes including a sales tax exemption for hot mix asphalt plants, including the state’s largest highway contractors
  • House Bill 1457: Technical corrections from last session