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New law snags diocese’s bid to buy school

May 7, 2012

    The sale of the former Monroeville Elementary School building by East Allen Schools to the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese may not happen.
    The Indiana Public Charter Schools Association, Indiana's leading charter school advocacy group, has asked that the sale be halted, claiming the deal violates state law.
    "Our legal team has been in contact with East Allen's team," diocesan spokesman Sean McBride told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. "It doesn't look good."
    Legislation passed by the Indiana General Assembly in 2011 requires that school districts place their unused buildings on an Indiana Department of Education list. The schools are obligated to remain on the list for 48 months, unless the district plans to reclaim the schools for academic purposes.
    During the 48 months, approved charter schools can buy or lease the school for $1. If the building is not taken by a charter school during the four years, the school district can sell the building to another entity.
    Russ Simnick, president of the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association, told the Journal Gazette that his group simply wants the districts and the diocese to abide by state statue – giving current or future charter schools a chance to use the building. So far, he said, he has not received an official response from either the diocese or East Allen.
    He told the newspaper that he hopes both parties will back out of the deal. If they don't, he said, the association would consider other options, though he wasn't specific.
    The diocese had planned to move its 99-year-old St. Joseph Elementary School in Monroeville to the former public school building, some two blocks away. Monroeville Elementary had been closed by East Allen Schools at the end of the 2010-2011 school year.
    The Journal Gazette said St. Rose of Lima Church, which manages the school, helped raise $189,000 to purchase the closed building.
    After EACS closed the elementary school, Monroeville Town Council President Don Gerardot said he reached out to local and national charter groups, seeking a buyer, but found none. “Everybody’s disappointed,” he said. “That’s got to be the dumbest law I’ve ever heard of," he told the Journal Gazette.
    GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma authored the legislation and said 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.
    Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, told the Journal Gazette that he is interested in possibly adding some triggers to the law allowing a district to sell within four years, especially in a rural area where the likelihood of a charter school is much smaller.
    “Four years is a long time to sit with a building when you have a buyer there with a check,” he said.

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