Muncie Schools- Thrown under the Buses they Tried to Save; Waiver Denied

Muncie Community Schools- Thrown under the Buses they tried to save; Waiver Denied

“Victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan.”- John F. Kennedy

Muncie, Indiana- January 14th, 2014

The bus transportation waiver for which Muncie Schools applied was denied by the Indiana State Board of Education on Friday, January 10th, 2014.

Muncie Community Schools will have to now provide bus service for its students without additional revenue and with severe budget shortfalls. As it stands, bus transportation costs the school corporation about $3.1 million annually.

Muncie, it’s time to adopt an orphan.

 Muncie Schools-Thrown under the Buses they Tried to Save; Waiver Denied

According to the Delaware County, Indiana Economic Development Alliance, Muncie Community Schools is the 3rd largest employer in Delaware County; employing 926.  MCS repeatedly voiced concern that they would have to make massive personnel and classroom resource cuts in order to fund bus transportation should the referendum requesting revenue to from the community of Muncie to sustain bus transportation have failed. On November 5th, 2013- the referendum did fail.  Muncie residents who voted against providing MCS revenue for buses, also voted FOR MCS personnel and classroom resource cuts.

One month prior to the State Board of Education’s January 10th  announcement of the MCS transportation waiver denial, on Dec. 9th, 2013 a panel of representatives from the Indiana State Board of Education convened upon Northside Middle School’s stage to conduct a “comments only” waiver hearing,

Facing great scrutiny and palpable tension among the community members, speakers, bus drivers from family owned and operated M & M Bus Company (with whom MCS has a contract for bus transportation) representatives of MCS, and several press outlets/news teams in attendance, Superintendent Heller requested the bus transportation waiver, then Mark Burkhart, the Chief Financial Officer for Muncie Community Schools alone, pled their case and cited contextual details and finite mathematics of a community in distress.

Mark Burkhart communicated very clearly “MCS simply does not have it”. “There is $2.1 million in the Rainy Day fund, but this alone will not cover this transportation for the 2014-15 school year and will not sustain service thereafter.”

“75% of our students are on free and reduced lunch.” Burkhart said.  There has been an 89% decrease in revenue for in 2012-13.  These figures have broader implications of limited revenue base, from which MCS can find the monetary resources to provide for its students. 49% of Muncie’s organizations, businesses, churches, etc. or tax exempt and with a student population of which about 75% are eligible for free or reduced lunch, the levied income and tax base shrinks even further.

During the Dec. 9th  waiver hearing, though some of the citizen speakers offered possible solutions and support for MCS, one after one, other frustrated citizens (many of whom openly voted against the bus transportation referendum) took shots at Mr. Burkhart and Superintendent Heller; then transforming the hearing into one-sided,  finger-pointing, kicking-them-while-they’re-down post-game analysis and display for representatives of the State Board of Education. The Muncie residents who led the effort against the referendum, having spread verifiably false information are known as the “No” camp.

Good News/Bad News

Though such a waiver hearing isn’t exactly celebratory in nature in any circumstance, the good news of excellence and achievements within Muncie Schools, its educators and students, the fact that Muncie Central received an “A” score  last month through the State Board of Ed, (despite having to pinch penny after penny) seems to all but fade away from plain view, as a school system that has served its community well by helping to provide economic stability to Muncie, providing employment to 900+ , has borne academic, athletic and arts’ success- was thrown under the buses they tried to save by a pile on of bad policy, bad news and some of same community members who attended (or whose children attended MCS) but now believe they should not have to “give back” to their community even in the most basic and minimal way;  by helping to sustain busing for their community’s children.  The: “It’s not my problem- problem.”

Many of the criticisms voiced at the Dec. 9th  hearing  had little to do with the real operations within MCS, but instead were indirectly tied to MCS through displaced blame surrounding the effects of deep local economic losses, decades of policy shifting and a recovering community of Muncie. These things were all laid at the feet of Burkhart, though he hasn’t a hand in any of the effects of bad policy and the economy.

Specific to the operations of MCS, some of the criticisms included the corporation’s decision to upgrade its technology by providing iPads for MCS students and licensed educators, the decisions to build Wilson Middle School and to renovate Southside High School, and the decision to provide raises for administrators in 2009 (which was quickly recalled and frozen).  There has been substantial public criticism pertaining to the number administrators, their salary schedules, morale, and appearances. Even if a questionable expenditure is reduced, only for symbolic purposes, this would help with morale, a Muncie resident communicates. In response to criticism regarding MCS administrators- MCS School Board member Debbie Feick issued the following public statement pertaining to MCS administrators and teachers’salaries vs. hours and commitment:

As a former administrator in Yorktown, Delaware Community Schools and the Special Education Cooperative, I can attest to the long hours and personal/ family sacrifices associated with administrative responsibilities. Most days equated to twelve hours of intense work. Evenings and weekends were spent supervising extra-curricular activities, completing paper work without telephone interruptions and planning for the upcoming week ahead. Considering all of these demands, I would like to analyze the salaries of our newly appointed administrative team. Please keep in mind that my calculations are based upon gross pay schedules. Net pay would vary from individual to individual based upon deductions, etc.

Principals’ Salaries: $107,405.00. They are required to work 260 days a year. This equates to 413.10 per day. I rounded their daily obligations to 14 hours. This figure includes weekend supervision, extra hours on Sundays, etc. This computes to $29.50 an hour. Please keep in mind that every Principal is accessible 24 hours a day for building/custodial needs, teacher concerns, cafeteria issues, etc.

Associate Principals’ salaries vary. At $94,450.00 Associate Principals are contracted to work 220 days. This computes to $429.31 per day. If we utilize the 14 hour day calculation this equates to $30.66 per hour.

Assistant Principals’ salaries round to approximately $85,000.00. They are contracted to work 205 days per year. This computes to a salary of $414.63 per day. The hourly rate utilizing a 14 hour day equals $29.60 per hour.

The Athletic Director is contracted to work 210 days a year earning $88,700.00 annually. The daily rate computes to $422.38. Working 14 hours daily equates to $30.17 per hour. In my view the AD has one of the most difficult jobs because of all the time spent at away venues, on the road transporting students, etc. The 14 hour estimate is truly a low number of hours spent.

I would like to contrast the rates with the teacher schedule. Please keep in mind most of our teachers commit to many, many more hours than their contracted amounts. But, for the sake of this analysis, I am trying to compare hourly rates with contracted totals. A first year teacher makes $34,659.00 and works 185 days by contract. This computes to $187.35 per day. If we calculate an hourly rate based upon 8 hours of work it computes to $23.41. Teachers at the top of the scale earn $59,960.00 per year and are contracted to work 185 days. This computes to 324.11 per day. Again using the 8 hour minimum requirement, our teachers earn $40.51 per hour. Please note that this does not include allocations for advanced degrees.

So…if we look at the hourly rates of our administrative employees, consider that they all have advanced degrees…Masters, Educational Specialists, etc…and compare their hourly rate with those in industry and corporate America, I feel certain that our financial investments in the leaders of our school district exhibit responsibility to the tax payers. Glancing at the hourly rates, our senior teachers make more than the educational leaders in the buildings. I just think that the public has no clue the responsibilities associated with these positions coupled with the meager hourly rates for our administrative employees. Please consider this analysis before you conclude that they are making far more money than appropriate.” Debbie Feick- MCS School Board

On feeding 5,000 with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish………

Questioned by the State Board of Ed panel, one man alone (Burkhart) was repeatedly forced to explain how he, as the current CFO for MCS, was unable to find a way to *figuratively “feed 5,000 with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish” amid 2010’s State referendum to implement permanent tax cap  and Gov. Pence’s new “Choice Initiative” privatization agenda that has begun shifting public education funds (which MCS and other public schools systems in the state depend upon) into charter, private and parochial (religious instruction) school vouchers.  This has caused catastrophic state-wide public education funding withholdings. Superintendent Glenda Ritz has been battling to retain control of public education funding with the CECI, a new organization focused upon privatization initiatives created by Governor Pence to undermine her efforts to keep Indiana’s educational system “public”.  Paired with protected tax caps, Muncie’s recovering local economy (that has suffered devastating closings and/or the outsourcing/relocations of multiple local corporations ) and Muncie’s shrinking income and tax-base, these factors have created a “perfectly manufactured  F-5 hurricane” public education crisis arguably construed as disaster capitalism. These factors plague many Indiana communities and communities all over the country.  State Representative Sue Errington, while speaking at the hearing, said: “MCS is in the front of the boat. All eyes are watching.” Errington is correct.  Watchful eyes have been waiting for this news; even as far away as San Francisco, CA.

On Dec. 9th, 2013  during the waiver hearing at Northside, all the eyes in Indiana were watching:

Muncie Comm. Schools CFO, Mark Burkhart-speaking to WISH-TV; Photograph-Aimee Fant, Muncie Voice 

When asked about an alternate plan to provide transportation for students, Burkhart said: The safest method of transportation for our students is yellow buses.” He contended nothing else was suitable or would come even close to being acceptable.

What does Muncie (and other communities like Muncie) do now? How does MCS move forward?

There are actually two fronts.

One includes a legislative fix by Sen. Tim Lanane and Rep. Sue Errington. We have been working with a group of citizens to help push these bills to correct the problems of protected taxes so we can save jobs in Muncie. There are over 20 other school districts facing this issue in Indiana – it is a legislative problem, NOT individual school mismanagement.  Head over to Facebook page End Protected Taxes to learn more about this legislation which has been written to amend “protected taxes” at the state level where the problem arose.

If this doesn’t work, there are other citizens working hard to fix the issue within the school district to save jobs.

While it is quite possible Superintendent Glenda Ritz showed some tough love and saved Muncie from itself by denying the transportation waiver, if there is a silver lining among a community in crisis, it is that there ARE residents who have not turned their backs to a community that has helped to cultivate them and their children.  They want to help, regardless of political party. They are looking forward, not back.

Among a few business professionals and experts that have reached out to MCS, is Muncie resident and President of Black River Partners, LLC- Shannon Yarger, whose 2 of 3 children attend MCS.

Yarger is a man with a plan to help MCS figure this bus thing out.

Muncie resident-Shannon Yarger; President of Black River Partners LLC-  Photo- Aimee Fant; Muncie Voice

He specializes in corporate efficiency advocacy- looking at cost-containment logistically and through operations.

Now MCS has to provide bus transportation and it is not a matter of if or when, it’s who can provide it at a new and reasonable cost how much will it cost if there are smart changes made, and what modifications to bus routes, school start times can be implemented efficiently and rapidly? Though MCS owns 10 buses (units) it has a contract with M&M Bus Company for the rest of its busing needs.

Yarger’s initial ideas to boost efficiency and cost-cut, first, within the area of transportation are:

–          Ensure ( in Yarger’s own words): “Every seat on the bus has a little butt in it” by maximizing capacity. Yarger’s own research and line of questioning with bus drivers indicates that MCS buses are not filling up. Reducing the number of out-going buses and maximizing space.

–          Establish a centralized neighborhood pick-up point. For every neighborhood (or determined number of blocks) there will be a designated point of pick-up and drop-off. No more door-to-door stops.  (With the exception of special needs’ students)

–          Triple stack bus routes and staggering school day start and end times to accommodate new transportation.

–          Use of technology. Moderately priced GPS systems are available to help maximize route efficiency. Yarger said: “Imagine a parent calls in their child sick. This is input to the system and the driver is updated that they no longer have to pick that child up and perhaps cut out a large portion of the route. The mechanics of what drives this is next.”

–          Renegotiating MCS’s M&M contract.

 Yarger points out that in a private-public partnership, bids are made based on profitability. He also indicates that he would love to offer suggestions and a game-plan for MCS, but ultimately it is up to MCS to make decisions and do the legwork.

Private-public partnerships aren’t free, nor do they come with a blank check.

School Board meeting today, Tues. at 6:30pm, at the Anthony Ad. Building. There will be a special reorganization meeting at 5:30pm. This would be the time to share ideas and support for MCS during this process.

Putting politics aside, forging ahead and working together to make lemonade from lemons is what those interested in meaningful solutions for Muncie Community Schools (and public education) intend to do

Muncie, again we need to adopt an orphan.

If you find this education crisis concerning and you voted/elected people who helped to create the conditions in which basic bus transportation and safety for our students, particularly our youngest of students is jeopardized, regardless of party, you may want vote for the correct leader, not the correct party, the next time around.

Your move, Indiana voters.  


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Aimee West

Aimee Fant is mother of 3, public educator, writer and a CASA for children.

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