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Muncie School District in deficit spending, sparks a lot of protest

Muncie Community Schools have found themselves in an estimated $11.5 million deficit, according to The Star Press, spending due to two years of non-negotiated contracts. To try and dig out of that hole, spending has been cut down in many areas, including teachers’ salaries, an area most shocking to parents.

“The situation needs to be solved for their [teachers] sake, and the sake of our kids,” said Josh Holowell, parent of a child who goes to East Washington Academy. “We really don’t want to lose good teachers because of the hostility of negotiations and the lack of forward planning.”

To combat pay cuts, The Muncie Teachers Association has been advocating teachers’ rights and trying to reach an agreement with the MCS administration.

The teacher’s union and the school district submitted their last offers to the state on Friday and they will have one more chance to negotiate. If an agreement cannot be met by March 1, then a state-appointed fact-finder will begin making the final decision on March 3.

The fact-finder’s job is to research both offers and choose between the two, which has left some MCS parents concerned.

“I am unsure of the procedures which is what is causing the fear I think,” Holowell said. “No one knows what will happen, and uncertainty about the future of something that you love causes fear.”

Parents like Holowell, along with others from the district, are currently advocating for teacher’s rights. They joined anonymous teachers on Feb. 10 to protest and plan to do so again today at 5 p.m., across from Southside Middle School where the next board meeting will be held. 

“We have a deficit and we need to deal with it,” said Ann Pichardo, the Muncie School District director of communications. “Everyone needs to work together to solve the problem.”

Many parents are speculating on how the district got into this position. Colleen Steffen, a Ball State journalism instructor and parent to a student at East Washington Academy, attributes the current position to many different factors.

Steffen said the deficit is a culmination of a population decline in Muncie, charter and private schools diverting children away from public education, and the reality that nearly 50 percent of Muncie isn’t taxable because of Ball State University and Ball Memorial Hospital.

In addition she said that as school districts get worse, more and more students leave the area. When a student leaves a MCS school, the district loses $7,636 per student, according to Indiana Public Media.

Brad King, a parent of a child attends East Washington Academy, said that mismanagement of buildings could play another factor in the deficit.

“My son’s school was closed during the coldest period this last winter because of a failing heating system in the building,” King said.

While working conditions have not been ideal, Ari Hurwitz, a volunteer for the district said that it has not affected teachers’ commitment and work performance.

“I have been so impressed and I imagine it is across the district,” Hurwitz said. “The teachers have done exceptional by making sure the stress in their own lives over this does not change the culture of the school.”

Due to the uncertainty of the future, many MCS district parents are worried that the school their children attend could be closed.

“I hope that the board will consider long-term impact and consult with the community and the city to ensure that the vision of economic growth in our city matches the direction of the school board in terms of what is best for the community and not what is easiest or most convenient for our district administration,” Holowell said.

Some parents say that they wish the MCS board would be more honest and transparent with their decisions. However, Pichardo said MCS is being as transparent as possible by displaying board decisions on the MCS website.

“We have communicated many ways, all the documents, all the meetings, everything is there,” Pichardo said. “Our website has everything we discussed during the board meetings.”

Even though all parties are still unsure of what will come from the negotiations, Holowell said that he hopes that relations between the two will improve.

“The negotiations have created a climate of hearsay, fear, power play moves, bans, pettiness and distraction,” said Holowell. “I really don’t care who ‘wins’ because if one side wins our kids probably lose. We need both to come together, stop the gridlock and iron out solutions that will be beneficial moving forward.”

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