When is no plan a plan? ~ Muncie Community Schools waiver hearing and other tidbits

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If and when the referendum is passed we will begin strategizing -Tim Heller

December 9th 2013 the Muncie Community Schools (MCS) held their waiver hearing before the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE).  No ruling was made, and none was expected.   In attendance,  the Muncie Community school board,  the superintendent, the financial officer, and  approximately 60 citizens.  I would have liked more people in the auditorium, but it is what it is.

Things went fairly smooth, and the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE)  asked some compelling questions.  I watched as they sifted through the paperwork which was presented.  They were extremely attentive to all parties which spoke that evening.  Asking for clarification when needed.  City Council person Mary Jo Barton cited State and Federal law regarding elementary children on the public transportation buses.  None of the IDOE members was aware of the law and asked Mrs. Barton to supply the law.  Hopefully, she will do so.

I am going to skip through the opening remarks from MCS and the testimony of the 20+ people and get to the closing remarks.

Mr. Burkhart (financial officer) clarified the balance of the rainy day fund as $2.1 million.  He said this was one time money only.  The issue of the iPad purchase was introduced and although he said the iPads were used for classroom instruction, many from the audience disputed this.  You may be asking, what does an iPad have to do with the bus waiver?  In 2012, MCS embarked upon an ambitious technology program with the purchase of thousands of iPads (I forget the exact amount) .  Apparently in 2012, MCS wasn’t prepared for what was to come.  Namely canceling bus service. .

The current balance of $2.1 million, according to Mr. Burkhart was to pay for the leasing of the iPads and transportation.  So, that money is spent before it’s spent.  Did the Muncie Community Schools enter into a contract with M & M Bus Service 2013-14 school year with plans to use the rainy day funds instead of the transportation fund?  Don’t know.  Did the State Board of Account slap the wrists of MCS for transferring $200,000 from the transportation fund to pay salaries?  According to Riley:

Did you know in the last audit by the State Board of Accounts, MCS got their knuckles rapped for wrongly siphoning $200,000 out of — guess what? — yes, the transportation fund to pay ad­ministrators?

MCS officials defended their claim that for 17 percent of the workday many administrators were “transportation related employees.” They did, though, halt the practice. Election: Who wants thrown under school bus? Muncie Star Press Larry Riley 10-27-13

Indiana law states that for a school district to cancel bus service outside of the three-year notice, it must submit a waiver and provide a plan for getting children to and from school safely.  Although, MCS said it was working with the Muncie Police Department, no one from the department spoke as to what the plan may be.    A few minutes later, we learned the only plan was for the referendum to pass..  Please refer to Exhibit B in the MCS_Waiver_ Request June 2013. for the plan submitted to the state on safely transporting students.    As you can see, there is no plan.  No plan with or without the city has ever been produced, even though the board approved this waiver on June 11, 2013.   Six months have passed, and  still no plan.  In addition, Mr. Burkhart referred to the tax caps, and this is when MCS entered into an agreement with Muncie Transit System (public bus transportation) to pick up the students.    MITS has been transporting students to school for several years, long before the tax caps were even a thought.  Perhaps there is another agreement or an extension.  I doubt it, though.

6-11-13 Board Agenda -MINUTES (Approval of the waiver submission)

Besides the waiver being approved, the very next meeting saw the school board approving the referendum and special election.  MCS board minutes records a minimal amount of discussion,.  No questions were asked on how much this tax would raise or the cost to the taxpayers.  Mr. Burkhart noted that several districts will be filing referendums soon due to the tax caps affecting general funds.  Only four districts filed a referendum out of 300 Indiana school districts.   Nov 2013 Indiana School Referendums

No questions on how this money would be spent and little discussion of the impact this would have on a city of struggling citizens.  Mr. Warrner asked how much the special election would cost.

Mr. Burkhart stated the actual cost is approximately $42,000. He stated the fees would be covered by current funds. Marketing and advertising for the referendum will have to be paid through external funds. (MCS 6-25-13 board minutes)

Mrs. Feick raised the question of the proposed tax increases the county was currently investigating.

Mr. Burkhart stated public safety increase would also require a property tax offset which would lower the property tax below the tax cap. (MCS 6-25-13 board minutes)

The above quote, Mr. Burkhart was referencing Local Option Income Tax (LOIT).  This tax must be approved by the City of Muncie.  Mr. Warrner had stated at one of the town hall meetings MCS’ problems would be over by the implementation of this tax.  Not so.   I believe Mrs. Feick was questioning both the LOIT and Cumulative Capital Development (CCD) taxes.

MUNCIE — Two new local taxes — including one that would provide nearly $2.5 million a year for public safety — were among the fi­nancial proposals Delaware County officials heard Monday.

A public safety local option income tax would generate $2.4 million in new money per year, according to the report from H.J. Um­baugh, the Indianapolis consultants hired by the Delaware County commissioners to make recommendations to help the county’s fi­nances.

A tax to fund a cumulative capital devel­opment account would generate just more than $1 million a year to help pay for building construction and maintenance, Umbaugh principal Paige Sansone told officials at the Monday afternoon meeting of the commis­sioners and Delaware County Council.

Two new county taxes possible Muncie Star Press 6-28-13

6-25-13 WEB MINUTES Board Agenda – (Approval on special election)

MCS Public Hearing (Administration-video)

MCS Public Hearing (Public testimony-video)

Mr. Heller stated if and when the referendum is passed we will begin strategizing. Looks like he was spot on….

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