MUNCIE, Ind. - Ball State University took a historic step Wednesday afternoon, unanimously approving what the university president calls a partnership with Muncie Community Schools.
The Board of Trustees voted to approve a resolution that will allow the university to appoint a new school board to manage MCS.
"I'm encouraged and inspired by the level of community participation. So is it a big task? Absolutely. But I think this community is up to it," BSU President Geoffrey Mearns said.
The vote came after the HB1315 was approved Monday at the Statehouse during a rare mid-May flurry of activity. The last step needed for it to move forward was the trustees' vote.
"It's a historic day for Ball State University and for Muncie and really the whole state of Indiana because now the university will use its resources to further help public education throughout the state," Ball State University Board of Trustees Chair Rick Hall said.
The bill drew criticism from some, who expressed concern about its process, teacher's collective bargaining rights and their voice as citizens, or lack thereof in elections, moving forward.
"I think the way it's happened and what has been done in it is quite atrocious," parent Ari Hurwitz said.
"They say they value the Muncie families, the Muncie community, but it seems me that in taking, in this hostile takeover they don't value their vote, their opinion and those kind of decision making processes," parent Brad King said.
The school district has suffered from declining enrollment and financial struggles. Last year, the state designated it a distressed political subdivision and appointed an emergency manager, Administrator Assistance, to oversee the school corporation.
"Muncie Schools has come a long way in the last year financially, there are still challenges there, there are still things that have to be overcome," emergency manager Stephen Edwards said.
Ball State will be charged with appointing a new school board. Only four of the seven members will be required to live within the school district. Five members will be appointed by the board of trustees on recommendations from the university president. The university president will select one member from three nominations from the Muncie mayor and another member from three nominations from the Muncie City Council. Members cannot have a financial interest, be board of trustee members or relatives of members, be MCS employees or have family employed by MCS. The trustees also approved a nepotism and conflict of interest policy.
The move also means MCS' designation as a distressed political subdivision will be removed. Mearns said they will also seek an interest free loan from the common school fund and have already secured nearly $3 million in support from local banks and foundations.
They plan to assign professional development liaisons in each school, encourage more volunteering from BSU students, look into expanding after school programs and develop an academic innovation plan.
A community engagement council and expert panel will also be created.
As part of the philanthropic support for MCS, the University will direct $50,000 to fund classroom supplies for MCS educators to use in their classrooms. Mearns said according to Administrator Assistance, who is expected to stay on during a two month transition period, returning employees are expected to have the same compensation and benefits next year as they did this year.
President Geoffrey S. Mearns said, “I am encouraged and energized that our University now has the opportunity to lead a community-wide partnership to improve the educational experiences for all of the children in Muncie. The future of our University and the future of our city are dependent upon the success of MCS. Today, we are now united to secure a brighter future for all of us.”
The application process opens Thursday for a two-week window. Mayor and council nominations are due by June 8th. A public forum will be held June 12th. The board of trustees will consider appointments June 25th and board members will be in office by July 1st.