An Indiana school district says a law that allows charter schools to buy unused school buildings from districts for $1 is unconstitutional.
West Lafayette Community Schools is suing Gov. Eric Holcomb over the eight-year-old law. Superintendent Rocky Killion says local homeowners invest in community school buildings with their property taxes. Yet they don't get a say in if a school is sold or leased for $1.
“I think this is a question for every school district community to answer,” Killion says. “And to think that legislation could be passed in Indianapolis, bypassing those local taxpayers, bypassing any due process or input, I think it is unfair.”
West Lafayette School leaders hope the lawsuit makes it to the Indiana Supreme Court.
In 2011, state lawmakers passed the law that lets charter schools buy or lease empty school buildings for a dollar if the building was vacant for two years. Lawmakers shortened that window to just 30 days earlier this year and made additional requirements for charter organizers that want buildings of more than 200,000 gross square feet.
The 11-page lawsuit filed in Tippecanoe Circuit Court argues the law should be struck down because it violates both the 5th Amendment of the Constitution and the Indiana Constitution by taking property without just compensation.
Killion, a vocal critic of school voucher and charter school legislation, says the law creates a “stacked deck” against traditional public schools.
Concern over the law has been around for years, Killion says, but school leaders became more worried after it stopped using Happy Hollow Elementary earlier this year. The program moved to another school.
City of West Lafayette is renting the building but that agreement is expected to end in a few years. The lawsuit, Killion says, would protect the building for future community use.
“Because it takes time for public schools to jump through the legislative hoops if you have to sell bonds or take time to get community input to find out what the needs are," he says. "We want to be proactive and get these questions answered.”
A spokesperson for Holcomb says they have not seen the lawsuit yet.
State Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis), chairman of the House Education Committee, told the Journal and Courier he also had not seen the lawsuit. He said the new law aimed to help school districts more quickly sell their unused property.
“The last thing we want them to do is to sit on an unused building and use valuable dollars that could be reallocated to teacher pay, for instance, and hold that building for two years to see if someone decides they want to lay claim,” Behning said.
Few district schools have been sold or leased for $1 since the law was passed. Two vacant Indianapolis Public Schools’ buildings were taken over through the law: In 2014 KIPP Indy took control of Indianapolis Public Schools School 11 and in 2017 Tindley Summit Academy moved into School 98.