MUNCIE — The school system that was once in crisis is finding its footing and moving forward. The district is now ready to pay back millions of dollars.
Muncie Community Schools were in desperate need of leadership and money. The school system found itself in a better place that includes plans to pay off a big loan years before it is due.
The Muncie Community School District is maneuvering through the pandemic, while also creating a comeback.
This isn't a quick fix, though. This is going to take multiple years.
The district is still facing academic and enrollment challenges that is emerging from a difficult place. Compared to 2018, its finances are better and students and teachers are choosing to stay.
2018 was the year Ball State University was appointed to help Muncie turn things around. The legislature also stepped in by providing a $12 million interest-free loan.
"On a national level, this is unprecedented there has never been a public university that has taken on the responsibility for administering an entire school system," Geoffrey Mearns, President of Ball State said.
Ball State's involvement brought calm to the chaos. Their top education program provides support in the classroom, and trains the next generation of teachers. The university also set up the process to pick the non-elected school board, which manages the school system and is focused on the success of the kids and teachers.
"It's about providing quality education to help sustain and transform their lives," Mearns said.
That transformation includes offering college credit courses, to save big bucks for the parents of college-bound students. The district is also offering preschool classes and is working with the YMCA and other groups to focus on literacy in before-and-after school care. And, care of tax dollars is also behind Muncie's plan to repay the $12 million state loan before it's due in 2028.
"It has built confidence among stakeholders, students, families, businesses, employees," Mearns explained. "We feel it will benefit for us later on with credibility that the system is establishing."
Better money management means teachers and staff have been able to get raises for the past three years.
"That's been a game changer with allowing us to be competitive with local districts and across the state," Mearns said. "Quite frankly, to be able to attract and retain with us. And in the end, what happens in the classroom is what matters most."
The school system may pay off that state loan as early as next year. And, while there is progress, the school system faces challenges like seeking to improve test scores and overall academic success.