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Allen County judge rules against charter schools

An Allen Superior Court judge ruled two local public school districts can get rid of two vacant schools without letting the buildings languish for four years in case a charter school wants to use them.

The ruling came Tuesday in two cases involving the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association and Fort Wayne Community Schools and East Allen County Schools.

In the case involving FWCS, the charter schools sued to stop the sale of the Pleasant Center Elementary School building to the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority. It was an agreement reached before the changes to the law went into effect but was about to be made official by an airport board vote the day the association filed its lawsuit. The association said the Timothy L. Johnson Academy expressed a desire in the building, but FWCS attorneys said the school has since decided on another property and merely wanted to look at the building to gauge its usefulness.

In the EACS case, the district sued the charter schools association to get a judge to weigh in on whether the district should be allowed to sell the Monroeville building to the diocese, which wanted to use it for educational purposes. Since the diocese has offered to buy the building, no existing charter school has expressed any interest in its use.

At issue was whether amendments to the Indiana law governing the sale of abandoned school buildings mean that vacant classroom buildings have to sit on 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.

In her12-page ruling, Allen Superior Judge Nancy Boyer found in favor of the school districts. She said that state law does not prohibit the districts from selling or transferring the buildings to the entities which want them.

"(The) Charter Schools' interpretation fails to protect taxpayer investment in school assets," Boyer wrote. "Forcing unused school properties to sit idle for four years, even if no charter school is interested, is contrary to the public interest."

For more on this story, see Wednesday's editions of The Journal Gazette or visit www.journalgazette.net after 5 a.m.

rgreen@jg.net

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