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Judge: Indiana districts can sell schools despite law

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A judge has ruled that two northeastern Indiana school districts can sell vacant schools, bypassing a state law requiring them to wait four years in case a charter school wanted to claim the buildings.

The decision that Allen Superior Court Judge Nancy Boyer released Tuesday found that the 2011 law establishing the waiting period didn't change other laws on how districts can sell property and forced districts to incur unnecessary costs, The Journal Gazette reported.

The Indiana Public Charter Schools Association had challenged the Fort Wayne Community Schools' plan to sell an unused elementary school building to the county airport board and the East Allen County district's plan to sell a vacant school to the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese.

The law on the sale of unused schools was sponsored by Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma, who said the intent was to address situations in which public school districts were purposely refusing to sell buildings to charter schools to avoid competition.

Russ Simnick, president of the charter schools group, said he disagreed with the judge's ruling and an appeal was being considered.

"It essentially allows a district to get rid of a building at any time," he said.

No charter schools have shown interest in the two schools included in the lawsuit, according to district officials.

Boyer ruled that the four-year waiting period wasn't triggered unless a charter school files a letter of intent expressing interest in the building.

"Reading (state law) to require a school corporation to refuse to sell or transfer unneeded property to a purchaser ... forces a school corporation to bear the costs associated with maintaining an unneeded and unoccupied building for an unreasonably long period of time," she wrote.

Simnick said he supported changes to the law that would shorten the waiting period from four years.

Krista Stockman, a Fort Wayne Community Schools spokeswoman, said the district wants to follow through with plans to sell its vacant building.

"It is good for the community," she said. "It takes care of a building that has been sitting empty since 2010."

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