FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - The tug of war game over Pleasant Center Elementary School is headed to court.
Monday the Indiana Public Charter School Association filed a lawsuit against Fort Wayne Community Schools and the Fort Wayne - Allen County Airport Authority. The lawsuit aims to stop transfer of ownership of the vacant school building.
IPCSA President Russ Simnick says FWCS and the Airport Authority are in violation of a new law passed by the Indiana General Assembly in July 2011.
The law requires vacant school buildings to be listed through the Indiana Department of Education for 48 months. Pleasant Center closed in June 2010 and was added to the list in August 2011.
In addition, the law requires districts to lease the property to interested public charter schools for $1 per year. "One of the greatest challenges facing charter schools throughout this country is facilities. Charter schools don't get funding for facilities, so it is really challenging to get those," says Simnick. "This is one way the General Assembly found that they can bring more buildings for high quality charter schools to open."
Simnick says a public charter school in Fort Wayne, Timothy L. Johnson Academy, expressed interest to the IDOE, and the IDOE in turn informed FWCS and instructed the district to move forward with the agreement.
However, on December 12, 2011, the FWCS school board voted to approve the transfer of ownership from FWCS to the Airport Authority. Simnick says this is a clear legal violation. "The Indiana General Assembly, by passing this law, said that the first use of a taxpayer funded school building should be to educate children. That's what we intend to do. No school district has the right to decide otherwise."
At a meeting Monday afternoon, the Airport Authority voted to delay transfer of ownership until the lawsuit is resolved.
Meanwhile, FWCS issued a statement saying the partnership with the Airport Authority was more than a year in the making.
“Pleasant Center closed in June 2010, and the Airport Authority was the first entity to show serious interest in the building,” Superintendent Dr. Wendy Robinson said. “We are following state law by transferring the property to another government entity that has a use for the land that will benefit the community. This demonstrates the partnership between FWCS, the Airport Authority and the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance to support economic development, and the conversations the partners began long before the state even adopted the law allowing charter schools to take possession of vacant school buildings.”
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