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Muncie superintendent to I-Team 8: ‘We have to close schools’

MUNCIE, Ind. (WISH) — Muncie School Superintendent Dr. Steven Baule said the district will be forced to close schools in an effort to make up for a $15 million deficit.

“We have to close schools,” Baule told I-Team 8 during a sit-down interview Friday. “We have physical space for 8,000 and we have 5,500 enrolled and we don’t have any extra money in the bank.

“You can spin it a thousand different ways but we have to get to where we spend less than we take in,” Baule said.

Baule suggested that the district may be forced to close between one to five schools in the district depending on what a state fact-finder rules.

The fact finder has been brought in to settle an impasse between the Muncie Teachers’ Association and the district. The two sides have not been able to agree on a new contract.

Baule and the district are also proposing massive pay cuts for teachers – between 10 to 20 percent – in an effort to fix the district’s bleeding financial structure. The teachers are also being asked to forgo their final two paychecks of the year and pay back the district retroactively through July of 2016, according to a copy of the “last best offer” reviewed by I-Team 8.

The teachers’ union has proposed salary freezes and paying more for health insurance.

“It’s inappropriate to expect teachers to take those cuts, we didn’t create the debt,” said Pat Kennedy with the Muncie Teacher’s Association.

Kennedy said the proposed cuts will force teachers to leave the district to seek jobs elsewhere.

“I’d love to accept their proposal but if we do, we won’t make payroll,” Baule said.

Debbie Feick, the school board president, told I-Team 8 that she thinks the district has become the victim of circumstance over the years – TIF districts, property tax caps and changes in the legislature to the public schools funding formula have led to a “perfect storm” that created Muncie’s mess.

“Things were getting worse and worse and I don’t think the ramifications were understood by the (past) boards,” Feick said, whose in her fifth year on the school board.

Baule said the blame is also shared by past central office administrations, without naming names.

“There are probably a lot of people. It’s a combination of poor management, lack of oversight or understanding that have allowed it to get where it is,” Baule said.

The threats of teacher pay cuts and closing schools continue to stoke the flames of fear in this central Indiana community, especially for parents like Kimiko Cox, who is also a PTO president at Northside Elementary.

“We don’t know what schools will close, we don’t know what administrators will be there, we don’t know what teachers will leave. We don’t know.”

“We are heartsick that we have come to this juncture,” Feick said.

Superintendent Dr Steve Baule used one word to describe the district’s finances.

“They’re terrible, our finances are the worst I’ve seen in 25 years,” he said.

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