State declares Muncie schools a ‘distressed political subdivision’

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Muncie Community Schools are now under state control after a state board designated the school corporation a distressed political subdivision.

The Distressed Unit Appeal Board unanimously voted to approve the designation Wednesday. Some board members said though they've seen progress in the district more time is still needed, and so state assistance is still needed.

MCS was previously declared a fiscally impaired school corporation through state legislation earlier in the year. The district has worked with the company Administrator Assistance, a state-appointed emergency management team, for the past 6 months to make progress towards financial stability.

"This is not a situation where parents within the Muncie community school district need to be concerned the school district is somehow going to shut down or that the education is going to fall off, that's not the situation that we're in," DUAB chairman Micah Vincent said.

Vincent said the designation means the authorities of the school board will now exist with an emergency manager, who will have control over finances and academics.

Right now, Administrator Assistance will remain the emergency manager. The DUAB said it anticipates completing a selection process in the spring to identify candidates for the position in the long term.

"We'll just continue to get them back on the road to recovery," Steve Wittenauer, the co-owner of Administrator Assistance, said.

The emergency manager said the district has a deficit of about $12 million, including nearly $10 million in a general obligation bond. Wittenauer said the district is able to get through 2017 in the black because of property sales and refinancing of bonds, and expects to have a balanced 2018 budget.

"We believe that when we get to June 30th we ought to have a real good financial picture of exactly where they're gonna be to stay within their budget and then who knows maybe they can even get it back," Wittenauer said.

Vincent said the general obligation bond and declining enrollment were two factors that led to his vote.

The move was welcome news for the Muncie Teacher's Association.

"I think today's the first day we start moving forward and start getting people re-involved and say there's hope, there's hope now," MTA president Pat Kennedy said.

MCS will join Gary Community School Corporation in the designation.

"I'm hesitant to say exactly what this is in terms of precedent setting for schools across the state of Indiana. We have to make the decision that's right for this school at this time period for these students for this community," Vincent said.

The school corporations superintendent declined to comment.

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