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Bill would change rules for selling school buildings

Updated: February 19, 2013 3:01PM



INDIANAPOLIS — Proposed legislation on selling public school buildings to charter schools would speed up the process, requiring that a vacant property be listed for two years instead of four.

Legislation from 2012 provides that a school district must sell or lease an unused building to a charter school for $1. If the building remains on the market for four years, it may be sold to any buyer.

The new bill also allows a school district to petition the Indiana Department of Education to expedite the process, listing the building for sale for only 30 days before selling the building to a charter school.

Similar bills are moving through both the House and the Senate, but during an Education Committee of the House of Representatives Thursday, bill author State Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, amended the bill, requiring that a charter school could not purchase a school building, then flip the property for a profit. If a charter improves the building, then it could recoup the costs of improvements

State Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said the bill fixed a number of concerns, but still leaves cash-strapped schools in a bind. Gary Community School Corp. is in the process of selling 11 vacant buildings, as the district faces declining enrollment and a budget squeeze.

“To sell them for a dollar, it’s very painful when you’re short $15,000 or so. This whole concept is unjust to the school corporations,” Smith said.

State Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes, wondered if the bill would put extra requirements on the Department of Education that are unnecessary. “Why are we hamstringing the department if there’s never been a problem before?” Battles asked.

The extra time would make sure the sale wouldn’t drag longer than 30 days, explained Lehman.

Smith said that the Democratic member would provide amendments to the bill.



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