After months of debate, House Bill 1315, which would allow Ball State to assume responsibility for Muncie Community Schools, was passed in the House with a vote of 63-30 and the Senate with a vote of 34-14.
Now, the bill with go Gov. Eric Holcomb and if passed, it will go into effect July 1.
Talks about HB 1315 have been in the works since Jan. 17, leaving many in Delaware County divided on the best course of action. However, those discussions came to a halt after the General Assembly left many pieces of legislation — including HB 1315 — on the table March 14.
The bill allows Ball State’s Board of Trustees to appoint five of the seven Muncie school board members. Additionally, it allows at least one of those members to reside outside of Delaware County.
The author of the bill, Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said that while all members of the school board wouldn’t necessarily be from Delaware County, the school board would still have public input.
“The majority will be from the Muncie school system, but it could add expertise from somewhere else on there. Maybe we could have a specialist from education that came out of maybe Indianapolis, somebody who has dealt with the turnaround of school and innovation going forward,” Brown said. “So it adds a breath of expertise, so it allows Ball State University to appoint the school board and run the school going forward.”
Others were more critical of the bill. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, said that while Muncie does need help, community members should be included in the decision-making process.
"I’m concerned that even as we’re seeing improvements under the emergency manager, it doesn’t seem to matter to the general assembly,” Errington said. "I believe Mearns really does want to work with the community, but I believe the General Assembly is getting in the way."
Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said that because of this bill, Gary and Muncie schools are being disenfranchised and while something needs to be done, this isn’t the answer.
“We need to get some bright minds together to create a bipartisan plan that has the students in mind," Smith said. "The question is what do we want and how badly do we want it? I don’t think any one person should be the conductor.”
Furthermore, Errington said the general assembly is sending a message — “we’re going to take away your right to vote for your school board and we’re going to give to Ball State’s Trustees.”
“I just see this as a power grab from the state to use this power…and completely ignore the voting rights of those Hoosiers who live within the right of the Muncie School Corporation,” Errington said.
Other Democratic legislators said Ball State would not be held accountable of operating MCS. HB 1315 exempts the district from receiving future A-F grades from the state.
Brown though, is confident the passage of this bill means good news for Muncie schools.
“We found that Ball State was an integral part of the education system, the whole continuum of P-16 education and that if Delaware County wanted to grow in population, Ball State was going to have to be a part of that,” Brown said. “Yes, it is not 100 percent for it, but it's not 100 percent against it.”
Now, Ball State's Board of Trustees will meet Wednesday to consider whether or not the university would like to accept responsibility at a special Board meeting Wednesday. President Geoffrey Mearns said in a campus-wide email he was grateful to everyone, legislators and Muncie residents, who expressed their support for HB 1315.
"Your encouragement gives me great optimism that, working together as equal partners, we will provide an exceptional educational experience for all of the children of Muncie," Mearns said.
The special Board meeting is open to the public at 4 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, in Cardinal Hall in the Student Center.
Andrew Harp, Andrew Smith and Brooke Kemp contributed to this story.