I-Team 8

Teachers resign after consolidation, claims of fraud at North Lawrence Community Schools in Bedford

BEDFORD, Ind. (WISH) — A school board is seeing a mass exodus of teachers and staff who say they’ve experienced a toxic environment.

And more teachers in North Lawrence Community Schools say they will be announcing their resignations at Thursday night’s school board meeting.

North Lawrence Community Schools in Bedford closed five of its schools, consolidating them into three back in January 2020. Since then, claims of fraud, misleading data and mishandling of the district’s finances have surfaced.

“Numbers weren’t adding up. They were saying they didn’t have the money to run all these outlying schools,” says Eric Johnson, a dad of seven.

Johnson says he pulled four out of his five younger children from the district as more than 30 teachers and staff have resigned in the last few months, according to a source with the district.

“I started looking into the data, and I found that the data that had been presented to the visionary committee and to the school board was misleading data,” said JoAnna Hackney, who resigned from her position as school counselor after 17 years at Bedford Middle School. “It was indicating operation capacities at significantly lower percentages than what were true.”

Hackney showed I-Team 8 documents explaining student enrollment. With 621 kids and 20 kids per class, the capacity would be just over 73%. But if the data was taken from 30 kids per class, the capacity drops to below 50%.

Data on enrollment and capacity. (WISH Photo/Jasmine Minor)

According to Superintendent Ty Mungle, low student capacity was a reason for consolidation.

“First, it suggests each class size being 30, which is not appropriate for middle level education. Additionally, it suggests a teacher in every classroom at every moment, which is not something that in middle school happens,” explains Hackney. “It just was not possible to have that many students.”

According to Mungle at a school board meeting in 2020, the district was in a deficit of over $1 million and on “the verge of a state takeover.”

“We are a district that the target is to spend 15% of our funds from the Education Fund. In operations. We were spending over 20%,” Mungle tells I-Team 8.

Mungle says the bad financial situation was also a reason for the consolidation.

Data from the State’s Distressed Unit Appeal Board does show the school has lost money over the last three years. However, Indiana State Examiner Paul Joyce tells I-Team 8 that the district is nowhere near a state takeover.

Joyce explained that when the State Board of Accounts (SBOA) went to the district for their normal audit, the district’s books “were not ready.” It’s something he calls “not normal.”

I-Team 8 has seen several emails sent to the board of accounts, claiming reports of fraud and unethical practice by the district’s school board.

At Thursday’s school board meeting, Hackney says she addressed the school board in a plea to put the students first: “They are worth standing up and, you know, maybe losing a position that you’ve had for years, in order to do what is right for them.”

The SBOA says they will be back for the audit, and they are reviewing the claims.

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