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Ball State, MCS situations similar to one in Boston

<p><strong>Kaiti Sullivan, DN File</strong></p>

Kaiti Sullivan, DN File

Ball State could be the next organization to run Muncie Community Schools. Yes, this would mean a postsecondary education institution would run a public school district, but it has happened before and the circumstances were quite similar. 

Chelsea, Massachusetts, is a small city just outside of Boston. In 1989, it was going through a series of problems Muncie is no stranger to — financial struggles, an FBI investigation of the city government and the local school district was in need of help. 

So, the district made a move to try and turn things around. 

Chelsea Public Schools (CPS) reached out to Boston University (BU), a private school around six miles from the heart of the city and asked it to survey the district’s problems.Then, the local school committee went a step further and voted to have BU oversee the district’s day-to-day management via a school management team.

“The schools committee invited us in and there was legislation giving the school committee the authority to bring us in,” said Doug Sears who worked on Boston University’s school management team and was appointed to be the district’s superintendent. “We concluded in agreement where we did accept the responsibility to run the schools on a day-to-day basis.”

While BU was invited by CPS, that’s not the case with Muncie School Corporation and Ball State. In fact, MCS was not notified of Ball State’s plan until an amendment was discussed at an Indiana House Ways and Means Committee meeting Jan. 17. 

Sears painted a different picture for the beginning of the relationship between BU and CPS.

“There was a lot of back and forth,” Sears said. “it’s an irony. I would say if we were doing it over, I would suggest fewer people, just fewer bodies on the ground just because we kind of swarmed them.”

CPS’ school board was kept intact and served as an advising body to BU’s school management team. However, House Bill 1315, in its current state, would dissolve the Muncie school board in favor of a new board.

Ball State would appoint the board with help from the mayor’s office and Muncie City Council. This potential move raised concerns in the Indiana General Assembly.

“If I were a member of an elected school board today, I’d be asking myself what’s my status?” said Rep. Edward Delaney (D-Indianapolis). “If somehow we get into trouble, are we going to have the Indiana General Assembly take over our district? I’d be bothered about that.”

When HB 1315 was in committee, Delaney tried – and failed — to retain an elected school board. But, the BU and Chelsea relationship, with an elected school board, lasted until 2008. In that time, advance placement testing was introduced, music programs were added back to the curriculum and new schools were built.

“It was excruciating, but it was wonderful because it was the first time there had been an instrumental group in Chelsea’s recent history,” Sears said.

Ball State President Geoffrey S. Mearns said he wants to utilize Ball State to help academic programs in MCS, but he also does not want to step on teachers’ toes.

“The teachers in the Muncie Schools are doing an excellent job,” Mearns said. “We want to support their efforts and enhance their efforts not only in the classroom, but in that other time as well. So I think that’s the way in which this can be more comprehensive as well as innovative and creative.”

Contact Tony Sandleben at arsandleben@bsu.edu or on Twitter at @Tony_Sandleben