Muncie Schools taken over by Indiana authorities

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — After a unanimous vote, Muncie Community Schools will be under state control beginning Jan. 1.

The state’s Distressed Unit Appeal Board met Wednesday in the Statehouse and voted 5-0 to designate Muncie Community Schools as a “distressed political subdivision,” the highest level of financial disorder.

Muncie is the second school district in Indiana history to experience a state takeover, following Gary Community Schools earlier this year.

“School is open, school will continue to be open, this is not a situation where parents within the Muncie Community Schools need be concerned that the school district is somehow going to shut down, or the education is going to fall off,” said Micah Vincent, chairman of the state board.

Previously, the district was classified as “fiscally impaired.” In June, the state board chose the Brookston-based emergency management team called Administrator Assistance to solve Muncie’s money problems. Since then, the district has reduced its debt from $15 million to $12 million, primarily through the closing of three elementary schools in the fall and selling those and other school-owned properties.

“The school corporation has made strong progress toward improvement. I don’t think that all areas have been fully addressed,” said Paul Joyce, a state examiner and board member. “I don’t think time has allowed that to occur.”

The state board was faced with two options: declare Muncie schools financially stable, remove Administrator Assistance from its role and give control back to the superintendent and school board, or declare Muncie Schools a distressed unit and give the state and emergency managers full control over school functions.

“Progress is being made. The community in Muncie cares about the situation deeply,” said Krent Hatcher, a state board member. “It’s our goal for no districts to be under state takeover.”

However, with the unanimous vote, the emergency management group has full control over the district’s finances and academic policies.

“Really, it’s just like we’re going to run the school corporation,” said Steve Wittenauer, manager of Administrator Assistance. “We’ll have a team of people there working with academics as well as the financial aspect as well. So we’ll be talking about that as we get to January first.”

Wittenauer said while today’s decision doesn’t directly impact teachers and students’ everyday activities, it should provide stability for them as they realize the state is working on their behalf. He said he hopes to see more teachers apply and more students enroll in Muncie schools next fall.

The state board will reassess progress on June 30 and decide to switch out emergency managers if necessary. For the state to release control of Muncie schools, the district has to operate under a balanced budget for two years, provide a five-year financial plan and meet other criteria set by the board.

Muncie Superintendent Steve Baule attended Wednesday’s meeting but did not provide an on-camera comment to the media, telling 24-Hour News 8 he simply isn’t in charge anymore.