Citizen Truth Article on the takeover of Muncie schools by Ball State
People who follow my blog know that I take particular interest in patters of school funding and a crucial test of this is what happens when a state feels compelled to take over failing schools. A whole school district can be considered failing for multiple reasons. Taking a district over is an extreme measure and not without its costs and risks.
I have written and spoken about the Ball State University takeover of the Muncie Community Schools. Having a public university take the lead is an innovative approach that has only been tried a few times before. So as this article mentions, I am watching it carefully and am hopeful it is a new tool in the arsenal of public education administration.
thank you for reading and for your continued support
Professor Felix Rippy
As I’m sure you can tell from this blog, I am passionate about education policy and news. I’m so interested because education is the cornerstone of American democracy, it is the future, it is the vehicle that pulls people out of poverty—or it should be.
For this to be true to the United States, we need a healthy, functioning, equitable public-school system. But sadly, entire school districts around the country are failing. This brings me to Muncie, Indiana. Muncie public school district is a bleeding, losing waves of students to neighboring public or private schools. It’s also drowning, staring up at an insurmountable debt after irreversibly misspending a $10 million bond.
Before Muncie, Gary, Indiana’s public-school district fell underwater—about $100 million below the surface. It was these two school districts that set the stage for innovative Indiana House Bill 1315 “[aiming] to monitor schools in danger of falling into financial distress,” my newest USA Herald Op-Ed remarks. The bill establishes indicators of financial status and a formal process by which the state remedies a district’s downfall.
I detail this process in my Op-Ed, but to summarize, it begins with a vote by the Distressed Unit Appeals Board on whether the state should take over the district. If the vote is in favor of the state takeover, this bill removes many powers of the district’s school board. The bill even allows the state to appoint a new school board.
Indiana House Bill 1315 provides that universities may step in where school boards have lost power. This allows Ball State University (BSU) to stage an intervention that has only been seen once before in American history. In 1989, officials of the public-school district of Chelsea, MA voted to give control to nearby Boston University (BU). BU drafted goals that heavily emphasized early-childhood education and rigorous and relevant professional development, among other strategies for improvement. For the first time since well before BU’s takeover, Chelsea schools had more graduating students than dropouts. Elementary and middle schools had art and music programs, and high school students were offered a multitude of Advanced Placement classes. The partnership lasted for about twenty years.
Of course, the takeover was not a panacea. In 2007, unproficiency in math and reading continued, and less than thirty percent of Chelsea high school grads said they planned on attending a four-year university. Nonetheless, then president of BU John Silber thought that the endeavor was successful. After all, the school district could finally breathe when it was drowning in debt and student failure.
If you really think about it, universities are perfectly positioned to intervene in failing school districts with their ability and duty. As summarized in a press release on my Op-Ed, they have highly leverageable networks, knowledge and resources—especially those with well-regarded schools of education. Ability aside, universities have “a vested interest in the success of these local ‘feeder schools’, [creating] a welcoming environment for university takeover,” the press release explained. Further, while BU is a private university, BSU’s public status means they have a duty to give back to the local community that supports its function. A multitude of universities across the country have the perfect combination of ability and duty to serve their local public schools.
This BSU takeover and Indiana’s new law signals a shift toward openness to new ed-solutions. With BU as a guiding example, this should work. If it does, we would have a solid precedent for a 21st century remedy for failing public school districts. Many questions remain about the implications of such a success, but I am excited to continue tracking Ball State University’s progress w
Public Safety Expenditures
Public safety is a large, necessary and popular expenditure by most every level of government, but in the past 20 years, the cost of maintaining safety has increased by about 300%. This increase has happened despite 20 years of declining crime rates. Interestingly, in Indiana per capita police numbers have been lower than the national average. Yet, crime numbers are down. Regarding public safety and crime numbers, the big question involves the relationship between the two, especially in Indiana.
When it comes to successfully reducing the crime rate, there are plenty of surprises. Many might assume that increased incarceration and mandatory sentencing would reduce the number of crimes committed, but this is far from the truth. Since the 1990s when mandatory sentencing was put into place, the crime rate hasn’t seen much change. But, the United States is currently the leader in incarceration, with at least four times more adults in prison than any other country in the world. Yet, the crime rate is in the middle of pack. Mandatory sentencing, private prisons, and the immense number of people spending time in jail is not reducing recidivism.
What does seem to reduce crime rates is local control. By using community policing and by decentralizing policing, communities are seeing a drop in crime. Another technique that reduces crime is investment in communities. When businesses invest in communities through Business Improvement Districts, crime rates also fall. By investing in communities that are suffering from poverty and segregation, businesses help cover the expenses of community and civilian policing and public safety increases.
The crime rate is not affected by the number of police with college degrees or the number of police who receive pay raises. It is not affected by removing the requirement for job applicants to state whether they have been incarcerated or convicted of a crime. The rate does not drop when police departments are consolidated.
Several studies have been conducted on these numbers and the statistics speak volumes. If communities want to have less crime, they should police their communities at the local level. They also must have businesses show that they care about neighborhoods by investing in them.
First Amendment Rights and Students
In late 2015, a group of students protested on the campus of the University of Missouri. To keep student journalists from getting involved, an assistant professor of communications, Melissa Click, attempted to block them. Her actions resulted in being charged with assault and being fired from her job at the University. Since her actions to silent student journalists’ First Amendment rights, the University of Missouri has seen a decline in enrollment.
Because of her actions, colleges and universities around the country would be wise to establish clear policies regarding First Amendment rights and student-led activities. At this point in time, the Indiana University and IUPUI system does not have a policy in place that clearly defines where the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and freedom of the press can be fully expressed.
A strong policy should include clearly labeled locations on campus and what can be done in those spots. There are three different types of spaces that can be designated for student-led activities: public, limited public, and designated public spaces. Public spaces include common areas, sidewalks, streets, and parks. Designated public spaces include classrooms, auditoriums, and public utilities spaces.
A well-crafted policy should include protections for groups that are meeting in private, like sororities and fraternities or political groups meeting to plan events. The spaces where they meet should be free from intrusion by traditional journalists. However, in public spaces, like parks or sidewalks, journalists should be allowed to enter those spaces and speak with students. But, even the term ‘journalist’ would need to be defined as blogging is a reality in today’s world.
The policy should also include how protests can be covered by journalists. When the most protected types of speech need to be moved to safe areas, schools need to address how they recognize this need and where the safe areas should be. If Professor Clink and the University of Missouri had a policy in place that addressed the potential issues with the First Amendment on college campuses, they would not have their problems they are facing today. The IUPUI system needs to be proactive to avoid any fall out that could occur from First Amendment violations.
We need to get creative in helping our schools and their funding. I wrote an article for USA Herald going over some ideas for this very relevant issue. You can find it here.
Public/ Private Partnerships In Addressing Funding Issues
One idea that requires a lot more attention is increasing public/ private partnerships in new and creative ways. There is a concern about private enterprise involvement turning into marketing opportunities within the school systems but this can be managed.
Many industries are very active in working to resolve the skills gap and improve American schools including finance, healthcare, high tech, electric vehicles and bikes, household goods, apparel and food and beverage among others. This is accomplished in a myriad of ways including financial support, volunteerism and donations of services and products along with money.
Public Schools In The United States
Public schools all over the United States are facing a financial crisis. One district that is in dire straits is the Muncie Community Schools (MCS) in Indiana. This state supported district has been handed over to emergency managers, who will most likely do what most of them do: close buildings and consolidate funds. But, there are other ways to save struggling districts like the one in what is affectionately known as Middletown, USA.
These eleven strategies have been tried and tested by other emergency managers and superintendents in other struggling districts. Most public school districts that have shuttered buildings to save money have not seen any long-term success financially. But these techniques have proven to help other districts, even some in the State of Indiana. Any combination of them could help MCS get back into the black.
Public Schools Strategies
1.) Use a program called Payments In Lieu of Taxation (PILOT) to make changes to the currently tax-exempt buildings within the MCS border.
2.) Force consolidation of nearby public school districts to dilute the effects of these valuable properties not paying taxes.
3.) Implement a distressed-district program to the one already operational in Lake and Dearborn Counties.
4.) File for a referendum that would allow Delaware County to bypass the property tax caps.
5.) Create a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) or Business Improvement District (BID) district so local businesses could specifically assist MCS.
6.) Partner with private or other public entities to repair facilities or to buy underused MCS buildings
7.) Partner with the State of Indiana in their new Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) for grant opportunities.
8.) Partner with the Federal Government in the heavily funded upcoming Teacher and School Leader Incentive grant program.
9.) Seek a write off the $10 million special education cooperative “debt” to MCS itself.
10.) Pass a local sales or income tax to assist the public schools.
11.) Utilize two foreign exchange student programs to pay tuition.