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Monroeville school sale given a ‘go’

December 20, 2012

   FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — A judge has decided that two northeastern Indiana school districts can sell vacant schools without following a state law requiring them to wait four years in case a charter school wanted to claim the building.
    Allen Superior Court Judge Nancy Boyer ruled Tuesday that the 2011 law setting the waiting period didn’t change other laws on how districts can sell property. Boyer also found the waiting period forced districts to bear unnecessary costs for maintaining vacant buildings.
    The Indiana charter schools association had challenged plans by the Fort Wayne Community and East Allen County districts to sell closed buildings.
    Charter schools association president Russ Simnick told The Journal Gazette that the ruling allows a district to sell a building at any time. He said an appeal is being considered.
    One of the buildings involved in the ruling is the closed Monroeville Elementary School. The East Allen board had an agreement to sell the building to the Fort Wayne-South bend Catholic Diocese, which planned to move students from the St. Joseph Elementary building in Monroeville to the shuttered much-larger building.
    No existing charter school had expressed any interest in it, but upon learning of the prospective sale, the charter school association stepped in to halt the sale, saying it violated the law requiring a four-year waiting period.
    The East Allen board sued the charter school association to get the matter into court.
    East Allen had another building to sell, the closed Harlan elementary school, and a prospective buyer, but put negotiations on hold after the Monroeville sale was halted.
    At issue was whether amendments to the Indiana law governing the sale of abandoned school buildings mean that vacant classroom buildings have to adhere to a waiting list for four years providing charter schools the opportunity to claim them for $1, or whether the districts can sell the buildings under long-held state laws if no existing charter school is asking for them at the time of the sale.
    The law on the sale of unused schools was sponsored by Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, who said the intent was to address situations in which public school districts were purposely refusing to sell buildings to charter schools to avoid competition.
    Russ Simnick, president of the charter schools group, said he disagreed with the judge’s ruling and an appeal was being considered.
    ‘‘It essentially allows a district to get rid of a building at any time,’’ he said.
    Boyer ruled that the four-year waiting period wasn’t triggered unless a charter school files a letter of intent expressing interest in the building.
    ‘‘Reading (state law) to require a school corporation to refuse to sell or transfer unneeded property to a purchaser ... forces a school corporation to bear the costs associated with maintaining an unneeded and unoccupied building for an unreasonably long period of time,’’ she wrote.
    Simnick said he supported changes to the law that would shorten the waiting period from four years.
    Krista Stockman, a Fort Wayne Community Schools spokeswoman, said the district wants to follow through with plans to sell its vacant building.
    ‘‘It is good for the community,’’ she said. ‘‘It takes care of a building that has been sitting empty since 2010.’’

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