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House OKs looser rules on selling closed schools

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana House has approved a bill – sparked by northeast Indiana cases – that would shorten the time that school districts must hold onto vacant buildings in case a charter school operator wanted to move into the building.

The House voted 98-0 Monday in favor of the bill cutting the current four-year waiting period to two years and allowing a fast-track, 30-day period for selling a closed school. The bill now goes to the Senate.

House Democratic leader Scott Pelath said the bill improves a bad current law that allows privately operated charter schools to take over public property for $1.

The law in question resulted in two lawsuits in Allen County in which a judge recently ruled in favor of the public school districts' ability to sell the buildings.

In a case involving Fort Wayne Community Schools, the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association 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 charter school law went into effect but was about to be made official by an airport board vote the day the association filed its lawsuit.

In another case, involving East Allen County Schools, the district sued the charter school association to get a judge to weigh in on whether the district should be allowed to sell the shuttered Monroeville Elementary School to the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese, which wanted to use it for educational purposes.

The Journal Gazette archives contributed to this story.

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