Legislation that aims to give districts more freedom to sell their unused schools would grant a charter school dibs to space in the former Broad Ripple High School — even if it is sold to a private developer.
It’s a stumbling block that could lead Indianapolis Public Schools to hold off on selling the site.
The bill finalized by Indiana lawmakers this week would loosen some of the restrictions of a state law that requires districts to make school buildings available to charter schools for $1 before selling them on the private market.
The legislation, the result of months of political jockeying, shortens the window for charter schools to claim buildings from two years to 90 days. Additionally, a charter school would need to ensure it meets enrollment guidelines in order to take over a large campus.
But if a district ultimately sells a large property to a private buyer, nearby charter schools would be able to make claims for space at the site at below market value.
The changes are of particular interest to cash-strapped Indianapolis Public Schools, which has sought the ability to sell the Broad Ripple campus without restrictions. Interim Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said the bill is an improvement, but requiring developers to make space for charter schools would possibly prevent the district from getting the maximum revenue for Broad Ripple.
“I’m not pleased that we are going to be limited in our ability to get maximum value because the Statehouse decided to limit our ability to do so,” Johnson said.
If the bill is signed by the governor, the Indianapolis Public Schools board will need to decide how to proceed with the site. The board could decide to sell the property, continue to use it, or use it temporarily and return to lawmakers next year to seek additional modifications to the law.
The bill could pave the way for charter network Purdue Polytechnic, which has the backing of former Governor Mitch Daniels, to locate its second campus at the site. Since the charter school has opened a temporary location about a quarter mile from Broad Ripple, it would fall within the area governed by the provision allowing a nearby charter to pay half the market rate for facilities in the building if sold on the private market.
Scott Bess, who leads the Purdue charter schools, said that the network may be interested in the site depending on the eventual development plan. But its decision hinges on whether and when the district decides to sell the property, he said.
“If there’s gonna be an educational component in the development, we want the option to raise our hand and say, ‘Hey we’ve made a commitment to the community, we’d like to have an opportunity to be the educational component,’ ” Bess said. “If the conditions are right, we might raise our hand and say we’d like to be part of the development.”
Some neighbors have supported Purdue’s interest in the property, saying they want it to continue being used for education rather then for housing and other commercial development. Colleen Fanning, a city council member and the executive director of Broad Ripple Village Association, told Chalkbeat that it’s reasonable to expect multiple uses for the site, but the community wants an educational use.
“The ball is in IPS’s court. They need to move it forward,” she said. “We don’t want a vacant parcel there.”
The bill drew opposition from lawmakers who say that districts should not be required to sell buildings to charter schools in the first place.
Rep. Ed DeLaney, an Indianapolis Democrat, warned that current law prevents school districts from reducing their footprint.
“What’s wrong with this bill is what it doesn’t do: It doesn’t address the underlying $1 problem. It compounds it,” DeLaney said Monday during debate over the bill.