Gary, Muncie School Takeovers Stir Controversy

first_imgBy Abrahm HurtTheStatehouseFile.comINDIANAPOLIS — The Muncie School Corporation takeover bill, which appeared to die at the end of this year’s legislative session, is one step closer to becoming a law once again.Lawmakers will meet at the Statehouse on May 14 for a special one-day session to act on bills that legislators failed to pass before the end of the regular session.Last week, Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, requested public testimony for the legislation, House Bill 1315. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, agreed to allow 90 minutes of public testimony.On Monday, the legislative council met to discuss and approve the bill to be handled during the special session, which lawmakers have said will last one day.The four pieces of legislation members discussed were:House Bill 1230 would provide $5 million for school safety that Holcomb had requested during the session. The bill would allow school corporations to obtain funding advances of up to $500,000 for school security equipment and capital purchases, but total advances are not allowed to exceed $35 million. It was approved 13-0.Senate Bill 242–now House Bill 1242 because it will start in the House–is a tax bill which would have exempted trucks, pavers, vehicle parts and fuel purchased by a hot mix asphalt company from Indiana’s 7 percent sales tax. It also passed 13-0.HB 1315 would establish a process to single out struggling schools. It would allow the state to take over the Gary and Muncie community schools, and it authorizes a $12 million loan to the Muncie school corporations. It passed the committee 10-4.House Bill 1316 will update the state’s tax code to comply with recent federal changes and was approved 11-2.All the proposed bills are substantive as they were on the last night of session except HB 1316, which was updated to add two requests from the Department of Revenue.Proponents of HB 1315 said the school takeover would allow for unity and assurance within the school corporation, while the opposition said they had concerns about their voices being heard on the school board.Ball State University President Geoffrey Mearns said the significant challenge for the Muncie district has been on the operating side.“For the last 11 years, the expenses in the Muncie school district have exceeded revenues in every year but one of those years,” Mearns said. “The total amount of expenditures that exceeded the revenue for that decade is in excess of $36 million.”Mearns reassured Lanane and other lawmakers that Ball State will be ready if the legislation is passed.“We’ll be ready. We will appoint a school board if this legislation is passed. The board is prepared to accept its responsibility,” Mearns said. “I can assure you that, as the best that we can. It will be a seamless transition.”If the bill passes, four of seven of the appointed board members must be from the Muncie school district, but the others three do not. Jason Dinati, a current school board member of Muncie, said all seven members should live in the district.“That really shouldn’t be too much to ask,” Dinati said. I think representation in our community is important, and I think having all seven members, if they’re going to be appointed, should live in our school district.”Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the bill appears to be an effort to punish the members of the school board.“This body should not take actions to either punish or exact a pound of flesh because of past misdeeds,” she said. “I would hope that you give us the license to move forward as we have every intention of doing.”After the regular session, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the state would loan Muncie schools $12 million. Senate Minority Leader Time Lanane, D-Anderson, said the $12 million loan is a solution, but Bosma said the loan does not fix the issue.“Giving $12 million to the Muncie school system would be far from resolving the problem,” Bosma said.Bosma said he has participated in 10 special sessions since becoming a legislator in 1987.“I am very pleased that in consultation with Sen. Long and the governor, we’ve made this the most transparent,” he said. “Hopefully a model for the future, on how unfortunate a one day special session is being conducted.”Lanane said he still had concerns about rushing through the process.“I wouldn’t deem some of these things which are coming before us necessarily within the nature of an emergency for which the constitution would allow us to suspend the other provisions of the constitution,” he said.FOOTNOTE: Abrahm Hurt is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.Print Friendly, PDF & EmailFacebookTwitterCopy LinkEmailSharelast_img read more

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