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Charter schools and vultures

When the Texas Board of Education reviewed the application for a charter school to be operated by Imagine Schools Inc., board member David Bradley had a question for company CFO Barry Sharp.

"So are you in the real estate business or the charter (school) business?" Bradley asked.

A great question. It's one the Allen County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals is asking, as well. Based on an Indiana Supreme Court decision from December, the board is reviewing the property tax exemption for the Imagine MASTer Academy in Fort Wayne.

In a review of the school's complex real estate arrangements, I came across a fascinating observation by Brent Van Alfen, who has advised charter schools on financing. He warns of the relationship between education management organizations like Imagine Schools Inc. and real estate investment trusts:

"There are many of these REIT/(education management organization) partnerships that remind me of a couple of vultures feeding off of an emaciated carcass."

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at