Ball State University puts its people in place at Muncie schools

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Ball State University of Indiana took the next step in its state-approved takeover of the fiscally distressed Muncie Community Schools by naming a seven-member panel to operate the district.

The new board approved Monday supersedes the five-member elected board of MCS, which under new state legislation is limited to an advisory role.

Ball State’s Board of Trustees approved five board members recommended by Ball State President Geoffrey Mearns. He also appointed to the MCS board one member recommended by Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler and one member recommended by the Muncie City Council.

“Each member of this new board has a passion for Muncie and our public schools. I appreciate their dedication to our children and to our community,” Mearns said during the board of trustees meeting on Monday.

Last month, the Indiana General Assembly approved handing oversight of the local school district to the university, which is in Muncie. The bill says the university has two years to come up with a comprehensive plan for the district’s future.

The new board will assume responsibility July 1 and is charged with creating a long-term plan for MCS. The first year will be dedicated to gaining community input about the future of the schools. The board plans to conduct its first meeting after a two-day orientation session on July 16-17, two weeks before the new teacher orientation at MCS.

The board members are Brittany Bales, an instructor of special education at Ball State; WaTashe Barnes Griffin, the executive director of YWCA Muncie; Mark Ervin, an attorney at Beasley & Gilkison LLP; Dave Heeter, CEO of MutualBank; Jim Lowe, associate vice president for facilities planning and management at Ball State; Keith O’Neal, lead pastor of the Destiny Christian Center; and Jim Williams, an attorney at DeFur Voran.

The new school board was created to replace an emergency manager as a result of House Bill 1315. The financially struggling school district was placed under state control in 2017.

The legislation removed the "distressed" label from MCS and provides an interest-free state loan to the district for a term of up to 10 years. The school district needs the loan because it used proceeds from a $10 million general obligation bond issued in 2014 to cover operating expenses instead of completing building repairs and improvements.

Muncie has a budget deficit of $12 million mostly created by misspending the bond proceeds. S&P Global Ratings downgraded the Muncie Community School bonds to BB-minus from BB on Jan. 26. It had cut the rating to junk in August from BBB-plus.

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