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About the Emergency Management Team

The Administrator Assistance (AA) Emergency Management Team hired by the Distressed Unit Appeals Board (DUAB) in June, has pledged to work aggressively to resolve the Muncie Community Schools’ financial crisis and maintain an open and transparent communication campaign with MCS stakeholders.
The immediate priority of the team is to get a complete picture of MCS’ financial status by reviewing current health insurance contributions to employees to determine compliance with State statutes; examining other property that might be sold beyond the three elementary sites already determined, assessing the efficient use of available revenues, and exploring potential revenue streams to meet the needs of MCS.
This is not business as usual at this critical time for MCS, thus, it is the priority of the AA Emergency Management Team to, not only be clear about the goals, but to also maintain regular, open and transparent communication about the process and findings.
MCS has already experienced significant hardship, and certainly more difficult decisions will need to be made. The AA Emergency Management Team will do everything it can to minimize the student impact of this process and the resulting plan. It will take ALL OF US, in a spirit of cooperation and compromise, to restore financial health and make Muncie Community Schools stronger than ever.
Personnel from Administrator Assistance who will be working with MCS administrators and staff include:
• Steve Wittenauer, co-owner of Administrator Assistance
• Steve Edwards, Emergency Manager, retired school superintendent
• Paul Pledderer, financial consultant, retired business manager
• Donna Petraits, communications consultant, executive director of the Indiana Chapter of the National School Public Relations Association
This is the post excerpt.

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Emergency Manager’s Report 2/13/2018

THE SALE OF SCHOOL PROPERTY

Friday evening, February 9, Emergency Manager Steve Edwards spoke at the beginning of the special meeting of the Muncie Redevelopment Commission (MRC).  He outlined the role the Emergency Manager had by law in selling MCS properties and let members of the Commission and the public know all appropriate laws had been followed in the marketing and sale of MCS properties. His comments were brief and he left the meeting after speaking.

At the meeting, the MRC decided to not go forward with the purchase of Mitchell, Storer or Sutton Elementary Schools at this time.

We are disappointed the MRC has decided not to purchase the properties but believe there are other interested parties who may submit purchase bids.  The Emergency Manager is working with the attorney for the EMT to determine how to proceed.

MUNCIE FIELDHOUSE

At the request of the Emergency Manager, Dr. Baule met with representatives of the MCS insurance company and contractors on February 6, to discuss the repairs of the Fieldhouse storm damage.  There have been discussions with individuals who are interested in the historical nature of the fieldhouse to determine if funding would be available for other repairs if the building were designated a historical building.  Mr. Edwards will have additional discussions about this matter.  Jim McWhirt, a member of the Emergency Management Team is also involved, and we intend to gather as much information as possible about not only the storm damage but other repairs needed to the fieldhouse with associated costs.

ADDITIONAL EMERGENCY MANAGER TEAM MEMBERS

With the expanded role the Emergency Management Team was given beginning January 1, 2018, it has been necessary to add a few new members to the team to adequately complete the work.

John Williams was previously introduced.  Dr. Williams will be assisting me with the oversight of total operations and directing the efforts of the EMT as well as working with current MCS administrators.  Dr. Williams is a retired Superintendent.

Jim McWhirt will be working with operations.  He will be reviewing the non-educational operations of the school district and looking for additional efficiencies in spending and program operation. Mr. McWhirt will be in the school district two days a week.  He is a retired school business official.

Betsy Biederstedt will be working with MCS school administrators and the elementary instructional staff in reviewing elementary instructional programming to determine ways the programming might be enhanced.  Dr. Biederstedt is a retired school principal.  Her time in the district will be limited.

Dawn Puckett will be working with MCS school administrators and the secondary instructional staff in reviewing secondary instructional programming to determine ways the programming might be enhanced. She has expertise in technology integration and will be working some with Tony Harvey and his staff to review the district’s technology plans. Ms. Puckett is a retired school superintendent.  Her time in the district will be limited.

ROLE OF NEW TEAM MEMBERS

Mr. McWhirt, Dr. Biederstedt, and Ms. Puckett will not be evaluating staff.  They will provide another perspective to the work of the district and will be reviewing programs with the assistance of current administrators.

They will be able to provide advice on how to enhance the instructional programs and the case of Mr. McWhirt, the non-instructional programs.

The new EMT members will not be taking on the work of current MCS school administrators.  They are here to help with the work.

OTHER EMT TEAM MEMBERS

Steve Wittenauer and Gilbert Crimmins, co-owners of Administrator Assistance, will continue in their role as senior advisors to the EMT.

Paul Pfledderer will increase his time in the Business Office to serve in the capacity of the CFO.  He has been working with Mr. Coddington one day a week.

Donna Petraits will continue to serve as the Public Relations Officer for the EMT.

COLLABORATION AND SUPPORT

The EMT is pleased with the support all stakeholder groups have provided especially the teachers and the Muncie Teachers Association.  The MTA has been extremely positive from day one.

We appreciate the cooperation the Board and MCS administrators have demonstrated.

Together we are making progress.

Emergency Manager’s Report 1/24/2018

Work of the Emergency Management Team

It is the intent of the Emergency Management Team to work as collaboratively as possible with the Muncie Community Schools Board of School Trustees, all stakeholders and community partners.

The EMT will be responsible for making decisions and providing leadership, but does not intend to do so in a vacuum. We believe in shared leadership and value the input of all stakeholders.

We will strive to be transparent and good partners for those in the community and the school system and will work toward improving MCS.  We have been pleased to have this opportunity to assist MCS.

High School Graduation Rate

In the spirit of being transparent and responsible for finding solutions to issues, we have asked the Central High School Principal, Chris Walker, and the Director of Curriculum, Cassandra Shipp, to report to the Board this evening on a recent issue regarding the 2017 Central High School graduation rate.  The Indiana Department of Education, each year, randomly selects a number of Indiana High Schools and audits their graduation rates.  Central High School was selected for 2017 audit and documentation errors were found in the school’s reporting documents which ultimately had a negative impact on the graduation rate previously reported by the school.

Mr. Walker and Ms. Shipp will discuss the documentation errors and explain the steps being implemented to correct this issue going forward.

Facility Update – SMS Pool

A heating line in the HVAC unit above the swimming pool at Southside Middle School froze and burst leaking chemicals (rust inhibitor) into the water.  This was discovered the afternoon of January 16th.  Currently, the pool is out of commission.

After the pool was drained approximately six feet to assist in filtering out the chemicals leaked from the pipe, the old paint in the gutters dried out.  As a result, the paint cracked and splintered.  Due to the nature of the paint’s structure to allow it to withstand the constant water and chemicals, these cracks formed jagged and sharp edges, capable of cutting into the skin.  SSC devoted as many maintenance crew members as they could to this project, and they spent the day yesterday scraping and sanding the gutters to remove the dangerous dried paint and are in the process of repainting the gutters.

The paint requires a 7-day cure time to be ready for water and wear and tear of swimmers.  Ceiling tiles over the pool and deck area damaged by the leak in the HVAC line are also being replaced.   The SMS and NMS swim teams are currently practicing in the Central High School pool.  The goal will be to get the pool opened at SMS the week of February 5th.

I want to give a shout out to Paul Dytmire and SSC for their fast and professional attention to this problem with the SMS pool.  This is exactly the kind of work they did in getting the water line repaired in quick fashion at East Washington Academy a couple weeks ago.

Activity Update

In most ways, the issues the Emergency Management Team has faced after assuming responsibility for decision-making in the Muncie Community Schools are the same any school administrator would face in overseeing the day-to-day operation of a school corporation, but here is a brief rundown.

The Emergency Management Team has

  • held meetings with all administrators and with the Superintendent’s cabinet
  • met with representatives of Chartwells
  • participated along with Bob Coddington and Dr. Baule in a conference call for the review of the district’s credit rating
  • worked with the Assistant Superintendent, the Curriculum Director and the Director of Elementary Education
  • continued to maintain our close daily working relationship with CFO Bob Coddington

We are pleased the board and the district have continued with the board luncheons and I am told the luncheon this past Monday at Grissom went well.  I apologize for not being able to attend.

New Team Member

Dr. John Williams has joined the Emergency Management Team as Chief-of-Staff.  Dr. Williams is a retired superintendent who has worked for some time as a consultant with Administrator Assistance.  He has worked with Muncie Community Schools on a consulting assignment in recent years and is familiar with several members of the administrative staff.  He is an excellent addition to the Emergency Management Team.

We get questions . . .

Question: Please tell me what is planned to attract and retain incoming kindergarteners? Focusing on this demographic is surely the most efficient way to address declining enrollment. I think the dual-immersion program at Westview will be a draw. What about a Montessori or a Science-Nature Magnet at one of the other schools? Perhaps it seems counterintuitive to focus on new ideas, but it will take enthusiasm and innovation to draw families back in or keep them from leaving in the first place.

EMT response: You are absolutely correct that it will take enthusiasm and innovation to draw students back and retain them. That is a very high priority for the Emergency Management Team, and one we will be spending a great deal of time and energy in planning.

It’s premature at this point to discuss any specific plans, but kindergarten-age students will be a crucial piece. We will be looking for additional input and recommendations from the community and MCS staff. Stay tuned!

 Question: I just finished reading the article about the Middle School considerations. Abruptly Close North? Has this not been discussed for the last ten years? What is so abrupt about that? The plan that was on the table was innovative and could possibly move the needle on education in Muncie.

EMT response: At this point in the year, closing Northside for the 2018-2019 school year would, indeed, be abrupt. Many decisions that require careful consideration and considerable input must be made prior to that decision. Our priority is to do what is best for the students of Muncie and any innovative programming cannot be established in such a brief timeframe with an expectation of success. Does closing the building make sense? Absolutely. But we must balance that with the quality education that our students deserve.

MCS Emergency Manager Makes First Report to Board Since Takeover

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Tuesday, January 8, 2018

In his first board meeting since the state-mandated takeover, Emergency Manager Steve Edwards addressed the Muncie School Board and community members tonight. In his opening statement he announced that the Emergency Managers, “will continue the schedule of regular MCS board meetings for the primary purpose of informing the board and the public, in a public setting, of decisions that are being made in the interest of Muncie Community Schools.”

Edwards then moved to his report which clarified the responsibilities of the Emergency Manager with the takeover, provided an update on the fiscal health of the school district and defined financial goals.

Responsibilities of the Emergency Manager

As defined by the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board (DUAB), the Emergency Manager shall assume and exercise all the power, authority, and responsibilities of both the Board and the Superintendent. Working through the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board, the Emergency Management Team (EMT) assumes leadership and management of all facets of the school system operation from financial oversight as well as instructional, academic, curricular and non-educational programming.

Edwards said that, although the EMT will be responsible for making decisions and providing leadership, they wish to work as much as possible in a collaborative fashion with the Board and all staff.

“We believe in shared leadership and value the input of all stakeholders. There are many good things occurring in MCS, and the EMT wants to support or even enhance those things where and when possible,” Edwards said.

Differences the public may notice will primarily be in Board meetings in that:

  • The Board will not vote on agenda items; it is the responsibility of the Emergency Manager to approve agenda items.
  • The Board will provide input for the Emergency Manager’s consideration when appropriate.
  • Since the Board does not vote or make motions on agenda items, the Emergency Manager will adopt, authorize or approve agenda items as necessary.

Six months progress toward financial stability

Edwards expressed the concern in July of 2017, about the district being to pay all its bills through December, and recapped six months of progress:

  • Refinanced the debt and gained approximately $1.9 million for 2017.
  • Sold Northside Middle School for $1.27 million to Ball State.
  • Gained permission for a Maintenance of Effort Waiver for Special Education to provide an increased cash flow this fall for MCS of approximately $400,000.
  • Realized approximately $203,000 increased revenue through the retroactive payment of higher health insurance premiums by current MCS teachers for the past two contract years. From all teachers, current and former, the district potentially will receive $720,000 reimbursement over this fall and next year.
  • Realized additional savings due to the staffing cuts MCS made prior to the start of the current school year.

Financial goals for MCS

“Although MCS revenue was greater than its expenditures in 2017,” explained Edwards, “it is important to keep in mind the money generated from the sale of Northside Middle School is one-time money and the district still has a sizeable General Fund deficit. Last summer’s staffing cuts will continue to have a positive impact, as well as the new teachers’ contract with a savings in health insurance costs, but there is still considerable work to do as we look forward to the coming year.”

  • Reduce expenditures to approximately $38 million.
  • Reach out to the legislature and determine if there might be help in addressing the GO Bond obligation.
  • Implement the line item budget developed by CFO Bob Coddington and live within its scope.
  • Decrease the trend of rapid loss of student enrollment to increase revenue.
  • Continue the work with the City and the Mayor to complete the agreements for the City helping fund capital repairs at EWA and South View.
  • Seek out avenues of additional community support.

Edwards closed his comments with, “This is our school corporation and the most important stakeholder is our students. We must all work together to make MCS the best it can be for the benefit of our students.”

Press Release 11/30/2017: Teachers Ratify 2017-2018 Contract

Members of the Muncie Teachers’ Association met late this afternoon and this evening to ratify the 2017-2018 contract between the Muncie Teachers’ Association and the Muncie Community School Corporation. The agreement, which provides no salary increases for teachers, does lower their health insurance premiums and will help the school district achieve a substantial reduction in teacher health insurance costs.

Emergency Manager, Steve Edwards, stated that contract negotiations were amicable as both sides worked to reach an agreement.  “It is a difficult time for the school district and both sides came to the table with the realization that costs had to be reduced,” Edwards said.

Pat Kennedy, MTA president, believes each party recognized the needs of the other and worked toward middle ground on the three major areas within the contract –  salaries, health insurance and early retirement benefits.  “Each of these areas was discussed in depth,” said Kennedy, “and compromises were made by both parties. “

Though she doesn’t expect teachers to feel overjoyed with the contract for this year, Kennedy hopes it will provide a sense of relief. “Teachers will not have to continue through another year of financial uncertainty which has caused a great deal of stress in the lives of the teaching staff and been a significant factor in the exodus of teachers from Muncie.”

The contract reduces MCS teacher health insurance costs by approximately $1.9 million over the previous year.   Another primary focus of negotiations was teacher retirement health insurance.  Teachers who qualify for the early retirement benefit and submit retirement paperwork by June 30, 2018, will be eligible to receive 75% of the school district’s contribution toward the single plan at a reduced cost.  After June 30, 2018, teacher retirement health insurance benefits are eliminated.

 

Emergency Manager Report to Board 11/15/2017

Sale of Northside Middle School

The Emergency Management Team has completed the sale of Northside Middle School with Ball State University.  The sales price of $1.27 million matched the appraisal BSU obtained on the building and was higher than the appraisal of $870,000 secured by Muncie Community Schools.  No other parties submitted proposals for Northside, and we are pleased BSU officials offered a price that was equal to their appraisal rather than suggesting a sales price the average of the two appraisals.

BSU will lease the building back to MCS for a period of 5 ½ years through the end of the 2022-2023 school year at $1 per year renewable annually.  This provision will give the district the time it needs to solicit community support for the future realignment of school facilities and perhaps avoid a large exodus of students.  BSU also will pay the MCS $60,000 a year for maintenance for each year the district occupies the facility including $30,000 for the first six months, January – June 2018.

We believe the idea of selling Northside and leasing it for a period of time surfaced in the Board meeting last spring when the Board voted to close the three elementary buildings.

To guarantee title insurance can be obtained on the properties, William Hughes has indicated, based upon the statute which declared MCS to be a “fiscally impaired” corporation, no action by the Board of School Trustees will be required and presumably no signature on the conveyances.  What the underwriters of title insurance will need are:

  • Proof that the “right of first offer” provision has been complied with;
  • A legal opinion regarding the appointment of the emergency manager and its authority to convey property.  This will have to come from counsel to the Emergency Manager. (We are now securing).
  • A written waiver of the right of first refusal in recordable form from Ball State for any property not being conveyed to Ball State.

As has been indicated, the negative cash flow balance has been estimated to be $1.7 million in at the end of December.  This influx of $1.2 million dollars will help address that negative balance.

Delaware-Blackford Special Education Maintenance of Effort

Dr. Baule, in his Board report this evening, highlighted the fact the Delaware-Blackford Special Education Cooperative has now received the waiver for the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirement. This will permit the other school districts participating in the Special Education Cooperative to pay MCS on a semester basis for transfer tuition and shared costs.  This, in the long run, will not be additional money for MCS, but the funds will be received on a timelier basis.  With the cash flow shortages the district is experiencing this fall, receiving an approximate $400,000+ in additional funds in December will be very helpful.

As Dr. Baule pointed out, many folks assisted with obtaining the waiver for the MOE.  I was pleased to also assist and work with not only Jennifer Thompson from the Indiana Department of Education but also Lee Ann Kwiatkowski and Pam Wright.  Robin Peckinpaugh and I participated in two conference calls with representatives of the IDOE and U.S. Department of Education, the first on October 3rd and the last on November 3.  We laid out our case for the waiver in the call of October 3rd and received the official approval for the waiver in the November 3 call.

Teacher Contract Negotiations

Teacher contract negotiations are proceeding, and we are close to an agreement.  The deadline for contracts to be submitted is November 15.  We have had conversations with IEERB, and if not completed by Friday, will need to have IEERB declare an IMPASSE and give us a brief period to complete agreement.

We are close to settlement and should be able to get there soon.  One of the challenges, of course, will be the Thanksgiving Holiday and accommodating busy schedules next week.

DUAB Hosts Community Meeting

Last week the Distressed Unit Appeals Board (DUAB) hosted a community meeting at Northside Middle School as part of their process to determine the future of Muncie Schools. Reports from the MCS included Dr. Baule and various school board members, including board president Debbie Fieck. Steve Edwards, AA Emergency Manager, and Administrator Assistance co-owner, Steve Wittenauer also provided fiscal reports.

Ten community members elected to share their thoughts on the district’s future with some voicing support and others critical of the district.

In positive news released earlier that day, Ball State University has purchased the Northside Middle School campus for $1.27 million. A lease-back agreement for $1 per year will allow the district to continue using the facility for another five years. BSU will also provide $60,000 annually to the “fiscally impaired” district for building maintenance.

The DUAB is expected to decide by December 2, 2017, to either turn the district back over to administration or declare it a “fiscally distressed” district, which will allow a state takeover.