Legislation introduced Jan. 17 allowing Ball State University to assume responsibility of managing Muncie Community Schools was met with mixed reviews from both community members and government officials.
Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, proposed the amendment to his own House bill, which is focused on school finances. The amendment shifts oversight of the Muncie district from the emergency manager, who was appointed by the state last summer, to Ball State.
"After consulting with our Board of Trustees and some members of our University community, I decided to support the proposed legislation because I believe that it presents an historic opportunity for our University and the community that we serve," said President Geoffrey S. Mearns in an email Wednesday.
While Ball State administrators seem to embrace this opportunity, some community leaders were taken aback by the proposal, but said that might change in due time.
“I was caught off guard because I had no idea the amendment was in the works,” said Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie. “I think [Ball State is] making a very nice offer. But it has been sprung on us. And so it’s hard to wholeheartedly support it today. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll know more and feel more confident in it.”
Under the proposed legislation, MCS would be responsible for:
- Developing, testing and evaluating new methods of instruction and materials
- Comparing new methods with conventional methods in use
- Training teachers in new methods of instruction and materials
Ball State assuming the responsibility for MCS would mean the MCS school board would increase its number of board members from five to seven. Ball State’s Board of Trustees would be responsible for appointing five of the seven members.
One of the other two members would be appointed by Muncie’s Mayor, currently Dennis Tyler, with the final member appointed by the Muncie City Council.
Despite the city’s role in the proposal, Tyler said he, like Errington, did not have prior knowledge of the amendment.
“I was surprised because I’ve been in conversations with the directors of the emergency management board to see how we can continue to work with Muncie Community Schools to improve their standing, and I thought everything was moving well in that direction,” Tyler said.
“I know what a great university Ball State is and that would never be my concern. My concern is the ramifications, pro and con, going forward on this so everyone has a good understanding on it.”
Mearns said in a phone interview with The Daily News that because the amendment was proposed by Brown, Mearns didn’t have a copy to share before the hearing began.
“Because the bill was proposed by a member of the general assembly, it was not our decision to make as to who or whom not to consult,” Mearns said. “Now that the bill is in the general public, it gives us the opportunity to proactively engage within the community.”
Build up to proposed takeover
In December 2017, the state’s Distressed Unit Appeal Board officially declared Muncie Community School Corporation a distressed unit guaranteeing a minimum of two years of external oversight. This declaration came after years of enrollment decline and financial uncertainty.
No time frame was outlined within Brown’s amendment in regards to the length of Ball State’s possible supervision over MCS.
“The school corporation remains intact as it presently is as a legal entity with its own financial resources and financial liabilities,” Mearns said. “It’s simply replacing the governance structure. There isn’t a separate entity or separate financial arrangements.”
Mearns said the proposal aligns with the university’s “Better Together” initiative, which strives to bridge the gap between the Muncie and Ball State communities. Education has been a priority for Mearns and his wife Jennifer who created an endowment fund for Muncie Central students who are planning to become first-generation college graduates at Ball State.
While community leaders may still be absorbing the plan, community members applaud the amendment’s implications.
Ball State recruitment coordinator and projects assistant for the Department of Theatre and Dance and MCS mom Andrea Sadler said this amendment would allow the community to remain vibrant.
“The opportunity for us to aspire to work together is amazing,” Sadler said. “I think Ball State has learned to be transparent and open.”
Sadler said she believes that transparency is largely due to Mearns, but the need to continue to build relations between MCS and Ball State remains.
“The biggest thing is there is so many trust issues,” Sadler said. “I think the thing that is going to hinder the most about Ball State kind of stepping up and saying, ‘We’re here for you, we’re going to help you do this,’ is trusting that is really what they want to do.”
Jerel Jerenigan, a former substitute teacher for MCS, welcomed the news.
“I think it’s awesome. I went to Ball State. I grew up in Muncie Community Schools,” Jerenigan said. “I definitely think that the pros outweigh the cons. What better way to get better than Ball State? I think they have a lot to offer.”
The next meeting for the House Ways and Means committee will likely occur next week.
Andrew Smith, Mary Freda, Michelle Kaufman and Tony Sandleben contributed to this story.