Karen Rodriguez and Leslie Rivas, juniors at Broad Ripple High School, talk about what it would mean for them if the school closes at the end of the year.
The chorus of voices urging Indianapolis Public Schools to make way for a popular charter school to move into the recently-closed Broad Ripple High School is getting louder.
A group of Republican state lawmakers, including House Speaker Brian Bosma, have sent a letter to Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and the IPS school board, asking them to strike a deal with Purdue Polytechnic High School.
Purdue Polytechnic, which just kicked off its second school year, is trying to create a pipeline from underrepresented communities straight to Purdue University. The hands-on learning model has proven popular; it’s Downtown program is completely full. The school was recently approved for a second charter by the mayor’s office and plans to replicate the program on the city’s north side.
The initial offer: Charter schools say IPS rejected a multi-million dollar offer for Broad Ripple High School
More on the IPS plan: Future of Broad Ripple High School on hold, until at least next year
“As a coalition of state legislators, we ask that you immediately act to finalize a deal with Purdue Polytechnic that adds another great option to IPS,” the letter reads, in part.
If a deal with Purdue Polytechnic were to happen, the district would need to act fast.
Scott Bess, head of school for Purdue Polytechnic, said a location for the second school needs to be finalized before enrollment opens in November, in order to stay on track for an opening in the fall of next year. Bess said there’s still time to work out a deal and Purdue Polytechnic is still interested in the Broad Ripple building, but the school is looking at other options.
“We’re still interested,” he said. “We’re still talking. They have their own timeline and a process they want to follow. We’re respecting that, but also know that we have a timeline, too.”
Bess said Purdue Polytechnic reached out to IPS to express interest in the Broad Ripple building earlier this year but had been rebuffed by the district. Officials with IPS say they plan to run an open search for interested parties next spring, after taking the fall and winter to study reuse options and engage with the surrounding community.
In a statement released Monday, the school board said they remain committed to their process to engage the community in search of a responsible reuse.
“Indianapolis Public Schools appreciates the interest of some legislators in the future of the Broad Ripple High School campus,” the statement said. “We also recognize the expression of interest from Purdue Polytechnic High School to occupy the Broad Ripple facility for what they have described as market value.
“We believe our constituents would not want us to circumvent a public process and bypass due diligence. We will continue to move with urgency recognizing our commitment to maximize resources for student needs and minimize burdens on taxpayers.”
What the community thinks
Community leaders say the neighborhood has already spoken. A survey conducted by the Broad Ripple Village Association found the vast majority of people want the property to be repurposed for a community use, like a school. The group also secured more than 1,600 signatures on a recent petition in favor of the proposal from Purdue Polytechnic and another popular charter school network that includes Herron High School. Because of Broad Ripple High School’s large size, the two schools had considered sharing the space.
In their letter, lawmakers said that taking up Purdue Polytechnic on its offer to pay IPS fair market value for the property in booming Broad Ripple would solve several challenges that the district may otherwise face in selling the historic high school. If the building were to turned into something other than a school, it would need to go through a challenging rezoning process. State law also dictates that charter schools get first crack at the property, because of the so-called “dollar law.”
Empty school buildings must sit on a list of unused property for two years before school districts can sell them to private parties. While on the list, charter schools may claim the properties for $1.
Bess said Purdue Polytechnic’s interest in the property has never been about the dollar law. The school remains committed, he said, to ensuring that IPS gets fair market value for the property.
“We’re hopeful it would work out for all sides,” he said. “Both from a revenue basis for IPS and the cost for us on a lease basis.”
Plans for the building in the meantime
IPS had sought an exemption from the dollar law during the last legislative session and suggested recently the district would look again to work with lawmakers in the upcoming session. The district plans to house administrative services in the vacant high school during the upcoming year, keeping the building off the state’s unused property list while IPS weighs its options.
Having such an offer on the table from an interested charter school partner will make an exemption for IPS unlikely, though. The letter from lawmakers took issue with the district’s plan to put school district personnel in the building.
“It would certainly not be a good faith start to any effort to persuade the General Assembly to reconsider the charter facility law,” the letter said.
Rep. Bob Behning, an Indianapolis Republican who chairs the House’s education committee and considered a carve out to the law for IPS last session, is one of the nine members that signed on to this week’s letter.
The other members that signed on are Reps. Dave Frizzell, Cindy Kirchhofer and Mike Speedy and Sens. Michael Crider, Aaron Freeman, Jim Merritt and John Ruckelshaus.
Call IndyStar education reporter Arika Herron at 317-444-6077. Follow her on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.
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