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The Journal Gazette

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018 1:00 am

General Assembly

School safety, takeovers dominate session

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers returned to the Statehouse for a one-day special session Monday and passed two education-related bills – including additional school safety funding.

The second bill focused on the takeover of Muncie and Gary schools as well as creating a formula to identify districts in fiscal distress.

Holcomb signed all the bills into law Monday afternoon.

The takeover measure – House Bill 1315 – was the most-discussed in both chambers Monday. It passed the House 63-30 and the Senate 34-14.

The legislation allows Ball State University to take over the financially strapped Muncie school system and replace an elected school board with an appointed one. Some members are allowed to live outside the Muncie school boundaries as well.

A second section of the bill deals with Gary schools – changing its elected governing school board to being advisory only. An emergency manager currently runs it.

Another part of the bill directs a formula be established to try to identify struggling school districts across the state and allow them to get confidential technical assistance to improve their fiscal state. If the district does nothing, the corporation would go on a public watch list.

Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said schools currently go along until they hit a fiscal cliff and fall. The bill creates a more gradual process to help without labeling a school corporation as distressed, he said.

Democrats spoke against the measure, which takes away the powers of elected officials. They also pointed out that the legislation exempts Muncie from a number of rules and regulations – including receiving a state accountability grade.

“This is all too punitive,” said Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary. “We are setting a dangerous precedent. It's Gary and Muncie today. It could be you tomorrow.”

The school safety legislation – House Bill 1230 – passed the House 96-1 and the Senate 47-1.

The bill has a number of measures but the biggest is an additional $5 million for a school safety grant program that schools can apply for to help with safety costs.

The legislation requires a state audit of all school safety plans and allows schools to seek an advance for safety capital costs from the common school fund.

The legislation also expands the definition of cyberbullying to include using cellphones or other wireless devices.

The bill allows teachers to barricade a door for three minutes when a fire alarm goes off but must evacuate after that if an active shooter hasn't been verified.

Democrats supported the bill but several said it didn't go far enough.

Tim Brown said the $5 million is only new money. The state has already spent $45 million on school safety grants since the fund was created.

“Let us not forget what we've done in the past,” he said.

Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, said the school safety bill is incomplete without a full discussion about guns, which Republicans danced around during regular session.

Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, agreed, saying “This body will never deal with the root of the problem. This bill is a smokescreen. It's camouflaging the real issue.”

nkelly@jg.net