Muncie Community Schools needs $2 million for yellow buses

Tony Costello new leader of Muncie Community School Board

By Rick Yencer

MUNCIE, INDIANA (NEWS) - Bleak and unenviable are ways the state described Muncie Community Schools and it's inability to afford yellow buses for students.

And $2 million is how much outgoing financial director Mark Burkhart estimates that MCS needs to support bus service outside of property taxes available after tax caps and protected taxes.

Tony Costello, new school board president succeeding Bev Kelley, who was sworn in Tuesday for a second term, said 2014 would be challenging amid the school's transportation crisis and consolidation to one high school.

Parents, teachers and Tea Party operatives watched as the school board heard Burkhart's best suggestions for continuing bus service after the state refused to let MCS stop bus service this year, and offered few other alternatives.

Costello pointed out the state's lack of help after telling MCS to continue bus service with the means it has.

While Burkhart insisted the state found fault with the school's safety plan in denying the waiver, other Good Government operatives like Chris Hiatt point to Burkhart's own financial mismanagement besides leading the school board into debt and an unpopular referendum to raise taxes that failed.

Burkhart, who is quitting after this school year, did point out other ways to make bus service more economical like consolidate routes and change bell times at schools.

Actually, with the closing of Wilson Middle School building and moving students to Southside that is consolidated with Central, several bus routes could be eliminated or reduced.

And Muncie Indiana Transit System serves Southside, and reached out this week to help get students to school.

City buses now transport many high school students, and Burkhart said the same could happen for middle school students at the old Southside and current Northside.

The school system also will take bids this summer on a new bus contract. It's current agreement with M&M Bus Service is about $3.3 million for a two tier bus system that serves elementary and high schools.

Burkhart also said there might be relief from the Indiana Legislature after local lawmakers filed bills to eliminate protected taxes.

 Current tax codes have taken nearly 90 percent of MCS transportation funds and there is little extra money in the school's general fund to make up the difference.

Burkhart estimated about $2 million needed from other sources, and there have been efforts to secure local Ball Brothers and Community foundations grants.

That money has not been forthcoming, but the school system has been approached by others who want to help.

Shannon Yarger, a parent and crisis management consultant, offered help Tuesday to make the school system more efficient an live within its means.

Yarger wants to see bus service continue and said he traveled around the world to help business in crisis find solutions for their problems.

The school system runs on $77 million a year and has another $50 million in debt.

As Burkhart talked about streamlining bus service, he also warned about layoffs of teachers and staff to help make up the difference to continue transportation.

Pat Kennedy, president of Muncie Teachers Association, expressed concerns that school administrators wanted to balance their financial problems on the backs of teachers.

The school system has 496 teachers for about 6,600 students.

Kennedy also was not surprised the state did not bail out MCS on its transportation crisis and even less surprised thst Republican lawmakers were doing little to help financially distressed public schools.

Republican lawmakers passed tax caps and protected taxes to protect homeowners, businesses and farmers while the tax controls depleted money for schools and government.


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