Opinion: What to Expect From the State-Appointed Emergency Management Team

Steve Edwards. Photo provided.Steve Edwards. Photo provided.

By: Steve Edwards—

There’s no two ways about it. Muncie Community Schools is at a crossroads. It’s designation as a distressed district takes its fate solely out of the hands of the local school board and existing administration.

That’s where Administrator Assistance (AA) and I come in. Administrator Assistance, a 10-year-old company specializing in strategic planning for public schools, work for the State of Department of Education and under the direction of the state’s Distressed Unit Appeals Board (DUAB).  Our charge is to assist the district in implementing an effective debt reduction plan, and we have a December deadline to meet.

As a member of this community and a former MCS employee, I am excited and honored to serve as a part of the emergency management team in Muncie. I am working with experienced educators on the project including Paul Pfledderer, a financial consultant, Jim McWhirt, a financial consultant, Judith Brewer, an academic specialist, and company founders, Steve Wittenauer and Gilbert Crimmins, who will assist in an advisory capacity.

How Muncie got to this point is a complicated answer. More important now is how we climb out of the hole we’re in and emerge a better, stronger school system. The emergency management team is like an assistant superintendent but brings an outside perspective on the school district’s finances and how to reduce its debt. The team is responsible for reviewing all facets of the school district’s operations, educational and non-educational, for overall fiscal impact.

The team also will conduct teacher contract negotiations on behalf of the school district. Some other big-ticket items that will be under our purview include staffing, facility use, closings, sale and maintenance, vendor contracts, the district’s debt, and efficient and effective delivery of instructional services. The emergency management team is responsible for monitoring and evaluating each of these respective areas and providing the superintendent and the school board with recommendations for any identified change, which may be needed to improve the overall financial picture. The fundamental charge of the emergency management team is to help the district develop an effective debt reduction plan that will lead to financial stability over a period of time.

Senate Bill 567 designated MCS as an impaired district versus what is known as a distressed district.  Impaired is a less serious designation, and therefore the emergency management team is in place only until December.  If, by then, the school district is unable to develop a satisfactory plan for debt reduction, the state could designate it as a distressed unit beginning January of 2018 and put in place a long-term emergency management team.

I come to this assignment with every intention of working with all constituencies – the administration, the school board, teachers, parents, public officials and the community at-large. I’ve done this work before but in other districts. Because of my ties to this school district, and to this community, it is far more personal and I am even more determined to do whatever I can to set a course that will strengthen our public school system for the next generation of students and beyond.