Lawmakers expected to hear amendment calling for state takeover of Muncie schools

Under a school district proposal, Muncie teachers are being asked to take massive cuts to both pay and benefits in an effort to resolve the district's financial difficulties. (WISH photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Muncie School Board President Debbie Feick says that state lawmakers are expected to consider a proposed amendment that would call for a state takeover of Muncie schools, I-Team 8 has learned.

The amendment will be added to a bill already drafted to deal with the Gary schools – another school district facing financial hardships. The discussion will take place during the House Ways and Means committee hearing.

Feick said she just learned of the proposed amendment on Friday and plans to attend Monday’s committee hearing to hopefully get some clarity on what a state takeover might mean for the Muncie school district, which is currently facing between an $11 to $15 million deficit and considering such drastic measures as closing schools and teacher layoffs.

No decisions have made at this time.

“We just want to get questions answered for all of us,” Feick told I-Team 8 by phone Sunday evening.

“Yes we were surprised by this,” Feick said, adding that the last-minute proposal has not allowed time for the school board to gain a consensus on what to do next or if it supports a state takeover.

Feick said in recent years the district has made efforts to “right the ship.”

“We’ve been very aggressive at debt reductions,” Feick said, pointing to the privatization of school nurses and cafeteria staff as a way to reduce costs for the district.

On Friday, Muncie Schools was dealt another hurdle after a state fact-finder ruled in favor of a proposal offered by the Muncie Teachers Association. That group called for freezing teacher salaries and more than doubling the cost of health insurance for most of the district’s teachers.

The state fact-finder favored that proposal over the district’s — which called for massive cuts to teacher salaries and benefits, as well as asking teachers for back pay.

Feick said the district still could face the possibility of being forced to close schools.

While Feick was unable to pin down how many schools might have to close, I-Team 8 asked if it would be more than one, given that the state fact-finder’s recommendation.

“Very definitely,” Feick said, “This is going to be hard on everyone.”

No decision on school consolidation will be made before the district’s next meeting, set for a week from Tuesday. Feick said they plan to hold community meetings to discuss the issue, but she doubts there will be as many meetings as the last time the district consolidated schools.

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