April 13, 2021

Indiana Lawmakers Change $1 School Building Law, Despite Pending Court Challenge

Original story from   IPBS-RJC

Article origination IPBS-RJC
Under the law, school districts have to notify the state of a vacated building within 10 days of a local school board taking official action to no longer use it. - Lauren Chapman/IPB News

Under the law, school districts have to notify the state of a vacated building within 10 days of a local school board taking official action to no longer use it.

Lauren Chapman/IPB News

Indiana lawmakers are fine-tuning a state law that forces school districts to offer vacated buildings to charter school organizations, despite an ongoing court challenge from schools.

The law says a school district has to offer up empty buildings formerly used for classroom instruction, for charter organizers to buy or lease for just $1.

It doesn't mean there's always a buyer or interested party, but lawmakers are now extending the right to a $1 school building to state educational institutions – like colleges and universities – though Senate Bill 358.

Bob Reiling is an attorney for schools challenging the law in court and said the changes are troubling, but shouldn't affect the case.

"I don't think it really affects the lawsuit because the fundamental issue about taking is still there," he said.

He said the root of the issue isn't having to offer vacated school buildings to charters and state institutions first, but rather the fixed price point.

Meanwhile, lawmakers' recent changes grant enforcement of the law to the state attorney general, something Reiling says could create a "bureaucratic nightmare" for the AG's office given the complications of school real estate procedures.

The changes approved by the General Assembly also mean if a school district doesn't follow the law, the state will split money made from a building's illegal sale equally among local charter schools, or add it to the state's charter grant fund. 

Reiling said he expects the court will be in a position to make a decision on the case by early fall, but fully anticipates the case heading to the Indiana Supreme Court.

Contact reporter Jeanie at jlindsa@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @jeanjeanielindz.

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