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Thursday, May 03, 2012

Ind. Law - "Lawmakers didn’t foresee EACS dilemma"

Today Niki Kelly and Devon Haynie of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette report in a lengthy story that begins:

St. Joseph Elementary, a five-classroom school in Monroeville, turns 100 this year. And members of the parish that manages the school had a grand plan to mark the occasion.

Last summer, the Rev. Lourdino Fernandes learned that a former elementary school in the same neighborhood was up for sale. The idea of buying the larger, more modern school was lofty, he thought, but just the kind of goal needed to re-energize the parish.

He pitched it. And soon St. Rose of Lima Church members, many of whom had dug deep into their pockets, raised about $520,000 to buy and maintain Monroeville Elementary from East Allen County Schools.

“People who couldn’t pay any money before, suddenly they found money to pay,” Fernandes said. In mid-April, the East Allen board agreed to sell the closed school to the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese for $189,000. But now the deal, which has not yet closed, may fall through.

The Indiana Public Charter Schools Association, the state’s leading pro-charter group, is asking both parties to back out, alleging the sale violates state law. The problem arises from a 2011 law passed by the General Assembly making unused school buildings available for possible charter tenants for $1.

GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma authored the legislation and said Tuesday the intent was to address situations in which districts were purposely refusing to sell buildings to charter schools to avoid competition. Only anecdotal evidence was offered in hearings on the legislation, and it focused on urban areas such as Indianapolis and Gary.

The law that eventually passed requires districts to put unused buildings on a list with the state Department of Education so that anyone interested in creating a charter school can find a possible location.

A district can reclaim the school on the list if it wants to use it for classroom instruction again. Other than that, though, the building has to sit unused for four years before it can be sold.

Legislators clearly didn’t envision a case such as in Monroeville, where no charter school has expressed interest in the rural Allen County town of 1,235.

“Everyone is extremely upset, they are extremely disappointed,” said Lori Wagner, a member of the parish. “The school has been empty for a year and nobody has put forth any interest. We’re pretty upset they are trying to do this on a technicality and not on a practicality.”

The story follows on another FWJG story, from December 19, 2011, where according to a press release: "the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association (IPCSA), today announced that the IPCSA has filed a lawsuit to stop a transfer of title of a vacant school building to the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority ("Airport Authority") because it violates a new state law." See also this Dec. 20th entry.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 3, 2012 10:30 AM
Posted to Indiana Law