Muncie voters reject bus referendum; school officials say they can’t afford buses

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MUNCIE – The superintendent of Muncie Community Schools said he was disappointed a bus referendum failed because they cannot afford to pay for buses.

Sixteen percent of registered voters in Muncie voted last night. Of those registered voters, 53.89% voted against the referendum and 46.11% voted for it to pass. The referendum would have increased property taxes for the next seven years. Superintendent Tim Heller said the property tax increase would have guaranteed they had enough money to pay to keep their buses running. The school system needs more than $3 million a year to do that.

“When I walked into the building this morning at 6 o’clock, it was dark and a little bit depressing. It seem(ed) like you were going into the losing locker room of the World Series,” Heller said.

Heller said their buses will stop operating on June 4. For almost 40 years, M & M Bus Company has operated Muncie’s buses, but after June 4, about 90 people with the company will not have a job and 4,200 children will not have a bus to take them to and from school next year.

“We’re disappointed immensely because of the safety of our youngsters and they come first,” Heller said.

As soon as school officials realized they were in trouble, they filed a waiver with the state. Heller filed the waiver in order to cut back the number of years they are required to notify parents that buses will be terminated. The waiver was filed to decrease the number of years from 3 to 1 year; the state will hold a public hearing in Muncie regarding the waiver.

“If the waiver is approved (then) no, we do not have the funds (to move) from (the) general fund to (the) transportation fund,” Heller said.

Heller continued, “If they agree with that waiver, then we don’t have buses for next year. If they don’t, if there’s any kind of plan that we’re not aware of, I guess they’d give us that information”.

School officials said they did everything they could to avoid the situation. Heller pointed to tax caps, and said they couldn’t keep their buses running even if the state ordered them to.

“We do not have a choice. We don’t. Now if they find some relief for us that’s out of our control,” Heller said.

Many bus drivers campaigned for people to support the referendum. They’re considering petitioning to stop the waiver from passing. Stacy Walker, a driver with two children who will start kindergarten next year, said the decision directly affects them.

“I’m numb. Honestly, I still….I don’t think it (has) actually hit me as much as it has some other people,” Walker said.

Teresa Clements is another bus driver whose children would be affected. Clements doesn’t know what she’s going to do and said she’s trying not to think about the possibility of losing her job.

“I’m not quite sure. I’m trying not to look down that road yet because I still, like I said, have hope,” Clements said.

Many people, like Clements and Walker, are hopeful they will keep their jobs and students will have buses next year.

“I’m a hopeful person and I am kind of hoping that something somewhere will change,” Walker said.

Heller said their school system is facing another important issue: the possibility of merging schools. In mid-November, the school board will look at how many buildings they have and whether they need all of them. Walker said she believes voters were tricked into thinking they should vote against the referendum in order to save a school.