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Three charters want to occupy closing IPS schools that district hopes to keep

Two people wearing blue shirts sit at a desk.

Students at Victory College Prep, one of three charter schools that have expressed interest in occupying school buildings that Indianapolis Public Schools plans to close.

Dylan Peers McCoy / Chalkbeat

At least three charter schools have expressed interest in occupying schools that Indianapolis Public Schools plans to close at the end of this school year, setting up a potential showdown with IPS over whether the buildings can stay under district ownership. 

The six planned school closures follow the IPS board’s vote to adopt the Rebuilding Stronger plan last week, which reorganizes the district in an attempt to combat declining enrollment and operational inefficiencies. 

State law requires school districts to allow charter operators and state educational institutions to purchase or lease unused classroom buildings for $1. Three charter operators — Victory College Prep on the south side, KIPP Indy in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood, and Adelante Schools on the southeast side — hope to use three nearby school buildings.

At least two of the three charters have indicated they intend to move into the buildings through any viable means — including invoking the $1 law. 

The district, however, hopes to keep those buildings by persuading the state legislature to grant some sort of reprieve. 

Instead, district officials said last week that they plan to welcome more charter schools into the IPS innovation network and “explore possible facility partnerships” — suggesting new innovation charter schools could occupy any of the six empty buildings while the district retains ownership of the properties.

Some believe the officials’ proposal and timeline, however, represent an attempt to circumvent the $1 law. Charter school supporters argue that the school board triggered the $1 law as soon as it approved the plan last week, giving the district 10 days to notify the state that its buildings are available for acquisition.

The vote to shutter the schools comes roughly one week after the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the $1 law after school districts sued to overturn it.

Ryan Gall, executive director of Victory College Prep, expressed frustration at the lack of response from district leaders after telling the school board last month that he hopes to occupy the nearby building that currently houses Paul Miller School 114 to give his growing school more space. Victory College Prep was willing to offer the district more than just $1 for the building, he said, before the board voted to close the schools. 

“We would like to acquire that building by whatever way we can,” he said.

Gall said he anticipates the school’s supporters to file a complaint with Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s office if the district does not alert the state.

A run down building sits in front of a grass lawn with trees to the building’s right under a blue sky.

Paul Miller School 114 is one of six IPS schools slated for closure at the end of the 2022-23 school year.

Amelia Pak-Harvey / Chalkbeat

The district did not respond to a request for comment about whether the $1 law has already been triggered. 

But after the board approved the Rebuilding Stronger plan last week, Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said the district “wanted to ensure that we acknowledged” the three charter schools’ interest in its buildings.

Adelante wants Raymond Brandes School 65

Adelante Schools, which IPS tasked with turning around the K-8 Emma Donnan Elementary and Middle School in 2020 as a charter school within the district’s innovation network, now hopes to occupy Raymond Brandes School 65 after this school year.

Adelante Executive Director Eddie Rangel said the school would work in partnership with the University of Indianapolis to create a K-5 “lab” school, in which student teachers gain experience alongside licensed educators.

“Our position is that we will use any available tool necessary to ensure that there is a school that is open at Raymond Brandes 65 next year,” Rangel said. 

KIPP Indy, which operates three schools in the district’s innovation network, also hopes to use the closing Francis Parker Montessori School 56 to make space for its growing elementary and middle school student population. 

But the school would prefer to work with the district through another innovation partnership, said Andy Seibert, KIPP Indy’s executive director. 

“Our strong preference is to continue to work collaboratively and meaningfully with IPS around facilities and just in general,” he said. “That’s our orientation.” 

A school building sits in the background with a sidewalk and rails leading up to it in the foreground.

KIPP Indy hopes it will soon be able to move into Francis W. Parker Montessori School 56, above, which is another school that IPS is slated to close at the end of this school year.

Amelia Pak-Harvey / Chalkbeat

A seventh building — the current Sidener Academy for High Ability Students — could also be available for charter schools when the school relocates in the 2026-27 school year.

Charter law sparks complaints, lawsuits

Across the state, the $1 law itself has sparked complaints to Rokita’s office and at least one lawsuit from a charter school.

A charter school hoping to open in Carmel is now suing the Carmel Clay School Board, alleging the district violated the law when it announced plans to partner with the city parks department to explore the potential reuse of a shuttered elementary school building. 

Rokita’s office previously concluded the district was not in violation of the law since the building was still occupied by the district.

Meanwhile, the South Bend Community School Corporation also faced two complaints alleging that the district failed to list Brown Intermediate Center and Hamilton Elementary School as available for acquisition. 

The attorney general’s office concluded in July that the district was using the Brown building and therefore did not have to make it available for sale or lease, but must list its Hamilton building.

Amelia Pak-Harvey covers Indianapolis and Marion County schools for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Amelia at apak-harvey@chalkbeat.org.

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