Smith speaks against bill expanding one dollar school sales

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INDIANAPOLIS – State Rep. Vernon G. Smith (D-Gary) today spoke against Senate Bill 358, which would expand Indiana's controversial One Dollar School law.

The One Dollar law, originally passed in 2011, requires traditional public school corporations to sell or lease a vacant or unused building to a charter school for one dollar before the building can be sold to other buyers or otherwise disposed of. SB 358 expands the One Dollar law, mandating that a governing body receive approval from the Indiana Attorney General before proceeding with any other plan to sell or dispose of a school building and requiring that the building be maintained until it is sold.

“This bill makes plain what we have said about this policy all along,” Smith said. “This is purely a partisan targeting of the traditional public schools that the vast majority of Hoosier students use.”

If a school corporation is found by the Attorney General and Department of Education to not have followed the One Dollar requirements, all proceeds obtained by the sale will be claimed by the state and reallocated to local charter schools. The bill also states that the school cannot partner with other nonprofits to make use of the building before it is sold.

“What is the value of a public school?” Smith asked. “We are telling Hoosiers that these buildings meant for the education of their children are worth all of one dollar. Why do we say that? Because our charter schools, which already receive a massively outsized portion of our funds, supposedly cannot afford their own buildings without pirating them for next to nothing. But if a charter school closes, they are not told that they owe the same deference back to public school corporations. The street only seems to go one way here.”

The bill states that the school corporation owning the vacant or unused building is also responsible for its maintenance, including protection against theft, vandalism, fire protection and adverse weather conditions.

“If you're strapped in the first place, this extra maintenance responsibility is just adding insult to injury. This bill now requires the school to pay for utilities, have police security, make repairs and generally keep the building maintained before it's sold. That just doesn't seem fair.

“The schools in Gary, whose staff, parents and students I represent, have watched as their funds are diverted to charter schools and have found themselves in a financial crisis. They have needed additional money so they chose to close. They're already strapped, and this bill will not allow them to sell or lease for the fair market value of their buildings. They need dollars and they have access to resources that would generate dollars, but this bill prohibits them from helping themselves.”

Another provision of the bill states that colleges and universities would also now be allowed to purchase the property for one dollar.

“The premise of the bill has been that charter schools need access to facilities through alternative means because they do not receive property tax dollars. Well, state universities and colleges receive state funds for the acquisition and maintenance of their capital assets. They're in a completely different arena than our charter schools.

“This is a bad bill and it goes against what's good for local communities. It at least needs to go into a conference committee for further review because there are just too many problems here.”

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