Indiana lawmakers hear about Muncie, Gary schools takeover plans

Indiana News

State lawmakers gathered Monday to talk in great detail about bills that will be brought before them next week in the first special session at the Statehouse in almost 10 years.

Lawmakers preparing for the special session voted Monday to approve drafts of five bills and recommend lawmakers finish the work left on the table when the clock on the legislative session ran out March 15.

“The bills are virtually identical to as they were on that last night, with minor changes, none very substantive,” said House Speak Brian Bosma, a Republican from Indianapolis. “We’ll come in here, hopefully get the job done in one day with little or no expense to the taxpayer.”

Measures that address schools drew public attention Monday. One deals with helping distressed schools. Another allows the state to take over Gary Schools, and Ball State University to take over Muncie Schools.

The bill on the proposed takeovers drew people from both school districts. They spoke passionately before lawmakers. 

The two districts are accused of mismanaging finances for years. In essence, the bill would further diminish local control of the two school districts.

Muncie School Board Member Jason Donati said, “Some examples of why I’m opposed to the bill is it removes the elected board and creates a newly appointed board with seven members. All members are picked by Ball State. That’s five from the (Ball State) Board of Trustees and two from (Ball State) President (Geoffrey) Mearns, from appointments from city council and mayor.”

Muncie School Board President Debbie Feick said she believes the Ball State takeover would enhance the education of students.

“If we look at radio and television, for example, broadcast journalism, if we could capture the support of faculty members at the Letterman education building (at Ball State), imagine how prepared our graduates would be to enter a broadcast journalism program,” Feick said.

The school board president also noted that the district has closed four schools in the last two years. Feick also said the district outsourced cafeteria, nursing and custodial services. 

Then, there is the bill on school security. 

The school security bill states, in part, that a school can barricade or block a door for up to 3 minutes during an unplanned fire alarm, so school officials can investigate … that is, unless school officials are sure an active shooter is on school property. 

“This is how some of these tragedies have precipitated,” said House Speaker Bosma. “People pouring outside from a fire alarm. It also allows … up to $35 million of grants to local schools to train further or further school hardening.” 

House Minority Leader Terry Goodin, a Democrat from Indianapolis, said it will be up to House Democrats to decide how they feel about the content of those bills are and how they want to vote.

“The most important bill here is the school safety bill. We don’t even need a bill to do the school safety. The governor can do all that on his own. He can appropriate those dollars, move those dollars around and make sure those school corporations get $5 million. That’s not a big issue at all.”

Goodin said Democrats will meet Thursday and propose what they want to talk about.

State Rep. John L. Bartlett, a Democrat from Indianapolis, said House Democrats are not happy that zero Department of Child Services bills are part of special session,

“We have babies dying and, to me, that’s an emergency. There doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency when it comes to that,” Bartlett said. “And the rest of this is a bunch of guys that didn’t get their work done.” 

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