Community members of all ages gathered outside of Muncie Central High School, held up signs, chanted and demanded that the Muncie Community School administration not follow through with their proposed plan to cut teachers' salaries. Their gathering on both sides of the street, plea, “save our schools” and not punish teachers for the shocking accumulation of debt, took place prior to the 6:30 p.m. school board meeting Tuesday. Patrick Murphy // DN File
Muncie School District in deficit spending, sparks protest
Muncie Community Schools have found themselves in an estimated $11.5 million deficit spending, according to The Star Press. While solutions have not yet been met to try and dig out of that hole, the district is looking at many areas to cut, including teacher salaries, an area shocking to parents.
“The situation needs to be solved for their [teachers] sake, and the sake of our kids," said Josh Holowell, a parent of a child who goes to East Washington Academy. “We really don't want to lose good teachers because of the hostility of negotiations and the lack of forward planning.”
To combat pay cuts, the Muncie Teachers Association has been advocating teachers' rights and trying to reach an agreement with the MCS administration.
The teacher’s union and the school district submitted their last offers to the state but a negotiation was not met by March 1 and now a state-appointed fact-finder will begin making the final decision on March 3.
The fact-finder’s job is to research both offers and choose between the two, which has left some MCS parents concerned.
“I am unsure of the procedures which is what is causing the fear I think,” Holowell said. “No one knows what will happen, and uncertainty about the future of something that you love causes fear.”
Parents like Holowell, along with others from the district, are currently advocating for teachers' rights. They joined teachers on Feb. 10 to protest and plan to do so again today at 5 p.m. across from Southside Middle School, where the next board meeting will be held.
“We have a deficit and we need to deal with it,” said Anna Pichardo, the Muncie School District director of communications. “Everyone needs to work together to solve the problem.”
Many parents are speculating on how the district got into this position. Colleen Steffen, a Ball State journalism instructor and parent to a student at East Washington Academy, attributes the current position to many different factors.
Steffen said the deficit is a culmination of a population decline in Muncie, the diversion of children away from the public education system into charter and private schools, and the reality that nearly 50 percent of Muncie businesses are not taxable, including Ball State and IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital.
In addition, she said as school districts get worse, more and more students leave the area. When a student leaves a MCS school, the district loses $7,636 per student, according to Indiana Public Media.
Brad King, a parent of a child who attends East Washington Academy, said mismanagement of buildings could play another factor in the deficit.
“My son's school was closed during the coldest period this last winter because of a failing heating system in the building,” King said.
While working conditions have not been ideal, Ari Hurwitz, a volunteer for the district, said it has not affected teachers’ commitment and work performance.
“I have been so impressed and I imagine it is across the district,” Hurwitz said. “The teachers have done an exceptional job by making sure the stress in their own lives over this does not change the culture of the school.”
Due to the uncertainty of the future, many MCS district parents are worried the school their children attend could be closed.
“I hope that the board will consider the long-term impact and consult with the community and the city to ensure that the vision of economic growth in our city matches the direction of the school board in terms of what is best for the community, and not what is easiest or most convenient for our district administration,” Holowell said.
Some parents said they wish the MCS board would be more honest and transparent with their decisions. However, Pichardo said MCS is being as transparent as possible by displaying board decisions on the MCS website.
“We have communicated many ways, all the documents, all the meetings, everything is there,” Pichardo said. “Our website has everything we discussed during the board meetings.”
Even though all parties are still unsure of what will come from the negotiations, Holowell said he hopes relations between the two will improve.
“The negotiations have created a climate of hearsay, fear, power play moves, bans, pettiness and distraction,” Holowell said. “I really don't care who 'wins,' because if one side wins our kids probably lose. We need both to come together, stop the gridlock and iron out solutions that will be beneficial moving forward.”