Since Jan. 17, talks of Ball State assuming responsibility of Muncie Community Schools have been in the works.
However, on March 14, those conversations came to an abrupt stop when the General Assembly left a few pieces of legislation on the table, including House Bill 1315, which would allow Ball State to assume responsibility of Muncie Community Schools.
Now, the bill will be reintroduced during a special legislative session May 14. Although Gov. Eric Holcomb said March 19 the session would focus on a one-time, $12-million loan to Muncie Community School Corporation, the bill will be presented to lawmakers the way it was left March 14.
If passed as it was left March 14, the bill would allow Ball State to serve as emergency manager to the corporation, but the university wouldn’t be legally or financially responsible for MCS.
In a campus-wide email sent Jan. 17, President Geoffrey S. Mearns announced he and Board of Trustees Chair Rick Hall testified in front of the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee, where new legislation was introduced that would combine the futures of the university and MCS.
The amendment was written by Rep. Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville) and would’ve allowed Ball State Board of Trustees to appoint five of the seven MCS school board members. The other two positions would be filled by recommendations from the Muncie mayor and Muncie City Council.
If passed, the bill would’ve taken effect July 1.
When the amendment was announced, community leaders, such as Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler, said they were unaware of it.
HB 1315 passes the House
After two weeks, HB1315 passed the House 64-27.
During its two weeks in committee, four out of 32 amendments failed. The amendments included provisions that would've required two public meetings be held by Ball State's Board of Trustees by July and put a deadline on the appointed school board term.
Two amendments were passed that included prohibiting nepotism and conflicts of interest when appointing members to the school board and making sure appointees lived in the school district.
HB 1315 passes the Senate
On March 6, an amended version of HB 1315 passed the Senate 35-14.
The amendments included adding provisions to ensure the appointed school board would reflect the geographical and socioeconomic composition of the Muncie Community School District and provided MCS with financial support that a distressed unit appeal board would’ve had.
However, an amendment that would’ve reconstructed the guidelines of the management failed. The motion included revisiting the arrangement after January 2027 to let voters decide if they want to continue the relationship, as well as decide what the relationship would look like through the corporation’s school board.
Because of the changes, HB 1315 returned to the House.
HB 1315 dies
After returning to the House, legislators didn’t vote on the bill during the final hours of its legislative session.
In a campus-wide email sent March 14, Mearns said the result was surprising because it was just approved by the Senate.
Now, the future of MCS will remain in the hands of an emergency management team — something Mearns said could change the trajectory of MCS.
"This result is also disappointing because it means that, for the next several years, MCS will be governed by an emergency manager as a “distressed” public school system," Mearns said. "I am concerned that we may have squandered an historic opportunity to change the trajectory of MCS."
Shortly after the regular legislative session ended, Holcomb called for a special session, which would allow a one-time, $12-million loan to MCS.
HB 1315 comes back during Special Session
Holcomb announced in a press release April 20 that HB 1315 would reappear during the special session May 14. However, the press release only mentioned the loan.
In a press conference, Senate President Pro Temp David Long said the bills would be heard the same way they were March 14, meaning Ball State could still assume responsibility of MCS.
Both Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma said this is the best option given the poor financial decision-making of MCS.
"All I had to hear was that a $10 million capital bond was used for operating expenses, and as a practicing bond lawyer, I didn't have to hear anything else," Bosma said. "Fiscal irresponsibility is paramount, but also, fiscal irresponsibility translates to educational responsibility as well, so I'm enthused about Ball State."
Mearns said in a campus-wide email that the university is still committed to the long-term success of MCS and Muncie.