Indiana

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Judge Says Charter With Uncertain Future Can Lease Gary School Building For $1

Students at Charter School of the Dunes, another Gary school facing possible closure by Ball State, listen to a math lesson.

A judge has ordered Gary Community Schools turn over an empty building to a local charter school, writes Carmen McCollum for The Times of Northwest Indiana:

Judge John Sedia ruled the school corporation shall “immediately” lease the Ernie Pyle Elementary School building at 2545 W. 19th Ave. for $1 per year as required by IC 20-26-7-1 to LEAD College Preparatory charter school in Gary.

Indiana law calls for a school corporation to sell or lease unused buildings to charter schools for $1 per year. … Over the course of the case, Gary officials have said the issue is that LEAD College Prep was initially connected with KIPP management company. That management company initially bid $300,000 to buy the former Norton Elementary School. At issue was whether the charter school could be forced to comply with the initial offer made by its former management company.

Further complicating the case is that LEAD College Prep is one of seven charter schools across the state and two in Gary, which authorizer Ball State University did not renew based on an extensive review of academic, financial and organizational performance and compliance. They said the charter would close June 30. The Indiana Department of Education graded the school an F in 2012 and an D in 2011.

Currently Indiana law requires school districts wait four years to unload vacant properties, though state legislators are considering shortening that timeline to two years. We’ve written before that schools wanting to sell buildings or lease them to other organizations for more money have run into trouble because of the state charter school law.

As McCollum noted, the timing of Judge Sedia’s decision is interesting because it’s unclear whether LEAD College Prep will open next year. Ball State has said it won’t renew the charters of seven schools, though most have indicated they plan to appeal. Another Gary charter slated for closure, Charter School of the Dunes, is building a new, $13 million school and isn’t sure what will happen if their petition isn’t successful.

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