Nov 15, 2023 - Education

Indianapolis Public Schools wins $1 law dispute

Illustration of a dollar made out of chalk on a chalkboard being erased

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Indianapolis Public Schools will move forward with the sale of Francis Bellamy School 102 after a court ruled the district is exempt from the state's "dollar law."

Driving the news: A Marion County Superior Court judge sided with IPS in its fight with the state about whether it may sell closed school buildings without first offering the properties to charter schools for $1.

  • The district quickly moved to add the sale to this week's school board agenda, allowing commissioners to vote on the sale Thursday night.

Why it matters: The closure and subsequent sale of several school buildings is part of the district's massive reorganization known as "Rebuilding Stronger," which includes the reconfiguration of middle school grades and a move toward more equitable academic and extracurricular offerings at all schools.

  • The district is working to shed aging buildings in poor condition as it works to right-size its footprint to a student body less than half of the size of its peak enrollment decades earlier.

State of play: IPS has been at odds with state officials — including Attorney General Todd Rokita and the Indiana Department of Education — over efforts to sell School 102 and Raymond Brandes School 65.

  • Nonprofit VOICES, which works to empower youth and their families, is set to buy School 102.

Meanwhile, the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired is leasing two other schools that closed this year as part of Rebuilding Stronger, and the Excel Center adult charter high school will open a new location in another closed IPS building.

Context: The state's dollar law is based on the idea that the public school buildings were funded by public money, so they should first be made available to public charter schools that don't receive property taxes to fund facilities in the same way as traditional public schools.

  • IPS argued — and Judge Heather Welch agreed — that a change in state law exempting districts that share referendum dollars with charter schools applied to this situation.

The intrigue: Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, the author of that law change, told Chalkbeat Indiana she didn't think it exempted IPS.

  • In her opinion, Welch wrote that she can see the legislature's attempt to tie the exemption to new referendum-sharing language but that it failed to write the law to do so.

What they're saying: "We are grateful for the judge's ruling, reaffirming the district's ability to make decisions about the reuse of Indianapolis Public Schools facilities," the board said in a statement released by the district Tuesday. "We continue to strive to not only be a good partner but also be fiscally responsible with the resources that have been entrusted to us by our community."

What's next: A spokesperson for the attorney general's office said it plans to appeal the decision.

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