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South Bend School Corp. considers future of Clay as $1 law looms

Even though South Bend school board members voted to close Clay High School back in April of last year, the future of the building is still up in the air in a different way.

District leaders set their sights on the future of Clay, even though it's unclear whether the district will even get to keep the building.

A vaguely worded resolution is going before the South Bend school corporation’s board Monday saying that the district will continue to use the Clay High School building even as it enters its final months as a high school.

If adopted, the resolution approves the use of Clay "for purposes allowed under Indiana law including: classroom instruction for school corporation, charitable and tax exempt purposes; civic or public purposes, operation of school age care programs, administrative or school officers."

What exactly the district plans to do with the building hasn't been decided yet. The school district’s communications director Andrew Goetz said the resolution will not reopen Clay as a high school, but it simply gives the district flexibility in determining Clay’s future.

“This is, simply put, a decision on the future usage of the Clay High School building," Goetz said Friday. "That is to be determined, but there is a lot of value in that site and a value South Bend schools sees going forward."

But a future use for Clay may not be within the South Bend School District’s control. The local charter network Career Academy has made a claim to buy the school building under Indiana’s $1 law according to the Indiana Department of Education. The original aim of the law was to give charter schools, which do not receive property taxes for facilities, access to vacant buildings.

That law requires traditional public schools, like the South Bend school corp., to sell closed buildings to interested charter schools or other educational institutions for $1. In 2021, Career Academy unsuccessfully attempted to buy the Tarkington Elementary building for $1, but it was awarded to a different charter network.

The $1 law has been through a few iterations and due to pushback from traditional public school advocates, the law was recently changed to exempt districts from the $1 sale provision if they share referendum funding with a charter network in their area.

That exact issue was at the heart of a recent lawsuit in which Indianapolis Public Schools successfully argued they were exempt from the $1 law because of a 2021 agreement to share referendum funding. The Indiana Charter Network argued that the exemption only applied to referendums that occurred after May 2023, but the judge in the case ruled the law was vague and the prior revenue sharing counted.

Based on the resolution going before the school board on Monday, it appears South Bend schools similarly believes it is exempt from that law due to a recent agreement to share referendum funds with a the Purdue Polytechnic charter network. The agreement with Purdue Polytechnic is structured similarly to the one IPS entered into.

Goetz did not comment on the district’s stance on whether it believes its exempt from the $1 law. School board president Stuart Greene was unable to speak with WVPE on Friday. Former board president and current school board member John Anella declined to talk on-record about the measure.

"We don't take the situation with Clay High School lightly," Goetz said. "We understand the feedback we've received from the community. This is something people care about quite a bit. At the end of the day what we want to do is take a considered, thoughtful approach — as we've done before and will continue to do —to make sure we're maximizes Clay High School's building and whatever we do going forward, it's going to have a positive effect on South Bend and the community."

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.