Muncie Schools: Leadership Isn’t a Popularity Contest

Muncie, Indiana NEWS– I met with Dr. Stephen Baule, Superintendent of Muncie Community Schools, and found him to be a transformational leader which is exactly what our school system needs. After thirty minutes with him, I left the meeting with two other gentlemen who were equally impressed and all of us agreed, “Muncie school system is lucky to have this guy.” He was able to grasp visionary concepts within a few short minutes and put the pieces together on how to get there. This is a rare talent, but it’s also one that gets you crucified.

When I read the local newspaper article where they were researching his previous jobs, and questioning whether he deserves to be superintendent, I was startled, but not surprised. Change agents are looking for approval from those who serve under them. It’s not a job for a politician either. You have to make tough decisions which are rarely popular.

I was also impressed by the journalism I discovered in the local newspaper by Emma Kay Fittes. She once again elevates the bar for her peers.

The article had resources and the journalist interviewed the superintendent, a group of teachers, union leadership, and school board members. She even sought out comments from previous employers.

I’ve written plenty about education from federal policies on down to local issues. You cannot grasp the issues locally with Muncie Community Schools unless you understand why they have operated at a deficit for what seems like an eternity. Former Superintendent Heller was tired of operating at a deficit, but also couldn’t make the changes needed. From the article, board member, Robert Warrner stated, “He [Baule] knows where he wants us to go, and I want to be there when we get there,” Warrner said. “(Former Superintendent) Heller would have kept us in 2005 forever.”

Hoosiers have voted for very conservative governors over the past several decades who have sliced and diced the education budget (the state’s largest budgetary line item). The new Republican Party dislikes public education. They dislike unions. They hate what they believe is a “socialist and liberal educational system”. They hate science. They hate intellectuals. They want to shift resources from inner cities to the rich white suburbs – they’ve been doing this for years, so what we face in Muncie is negative consequences of conservative public policies.

Due to a grassroots effort led by now Public Schools Superintendent, Glenda Ritz, the angst felt in the school systems across the state were taken out on Tony Bennett, but many of the people who voted against Bennett, crossed over and voted for the Republican, Mike Pence, for governor. We’ve written plenty about the power struggles between Pence and Ritz. Pence has turned into a statewide embarrassment for Hoosiers.

Hoosiers voted for property tax caps which hurt the schools and other local taxing districts. The state increased our sales tax by 1% to help, but the state republican leaders have repeatedly cut public education funding to local communities like Muncie. When it became obvious the school district couldn’t afford buses for children, Muncie residents were convinced to vote against the funding for school buses.

Guess what? We live in a democratic society, so your civic responsibility is to educate yourselves and vote. We’ll assume that you’re doing so, and support all these efforts to cut funding to local public schools while shifting monies to charters, private schools, and religious institutions.

If you’re not informing yourself, or not voting, than shame on you. Based on the last general election, less than 9% of registered voters could find their way to the polls. Time for the consequences. We’re not hapless victims of public leadership. We elected the people making the decisions to cut funding for public schools and create a privatized school system. It’s not the school superintendents fault, or even the school board. They are dealing with the hand death to them.

Muncie Community Schools and Dr. Baule have limited options. However, I firmly believe our superintendent will take Muncie exactly where it needs to go.

The bottom line is Muncie residents, and Hoosiers across the state, have made their proverbial beds by not informing themselves on the issues facing our community and/or not voting. Dr. Baule is the right leader for our present circumstances. Cuts will need to be made which will upset teachers and their unions. Buildings or facilities will need consolidated or closed. Upgrades may also be needed. This will upset parents and students. If you’re angry, look in the mirror. Ask your neighbor and family member if they understand what is happening in our community/state.

However, blaming Dr. Baule or the school board members isn’t the solution. They did not create this mess. They are leading us in a direction of where we need to go based on the conditions community members have imposed on them. Let them do their jobs.

If you don’t like the conditions our school system is operating, then change who you vote for in this state. Governor Pence is hostile toward public schools, and has been since day one. If you want to see monies cut further from Muncie’s school system, vote for him again. If you are tired of seeing the school work on minimal funds, only support candidates who support properly funding local schools.

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.

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