Charter school inquiry raises concerns about Michigan City school deal

2013-03-23T19:45:00Z 2013-03-23T19:45:04Z Charter school inquiry raises concerns about Michigan City school dealStan Maddux Times Correspondent
March 23, 2013 7:45 pm  • 

MICHIGAN CITY | School district officials are concerned an inquiry from a charter school about a vacant elementary building could end an agreement to add a police officer in the schools.

The inquiry is not sitting well with Michigan City School Corp. officials, who say a mandated $1 sale of an empty school building to a competitor is a slap in the face.

"The funding does follow the student, so it would follow to the charter school," district spokeswoman Betsy Kohn said.

An out-of-state charter school recently inquired about the old Eastport Elementary School at 1201 E. Michigan Blvd and the old Pines Elementary School at 1594 N. 500 East.

Under state law, Kohn said one of the empty schools would have to be sold for $1 if the charter school wanted to purchase one of the structures.

The state keeps a list of empty school buildings that local school corporations must report as vacant.

However, the school district entered into an agreement last year to sell the Eastport building to the city, which plans to build a new police station at the site.

Despite the agreement with the city, the district would have to sell the building to a charter school if it wants to purchase the structure, Kohn said.

Under the purchase agreement worked out last year, the city and school district would not exchange any money.

The city will provide the school district with an extra police officer in the schools at no cost for five years, and the city will keep being compensated $44,000 a year by the school corporation for providing the one officer who is currently working in the schools.

The building will be demolished to make way for construction of a new police station.

The agreement between the city and school district has not gone through because under current state law contracts to purchase property between government entities must wait three years before closing.

There is a bill making its way through the General Assembly that would allow governments entering into purchase agreements to close on those deals within 30 days to help stop purchase agreements from getting broken, said state Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte.

Dermody said it's common sense for two entities to realize what they have worked out.

Kohn said district officials support the measure.

Dermody said the bill has passed the House and is now in the Senate for further review.

Charter schools are not necessarily competition for public schools, Dermody said.

Instead, charter schools represent one of the solutions in improving education across the board, he said.

"We have to begin working together and not protecting our own area and do what's right for the students," Dermody said.

Kohn said she is not sure if the charter school has any serious interest in one of the empty school properties.

So far, she said there have been no follow-up contacts.

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