Ohio Supreme Court Protects the Right of Charter Schools to Use Closed School Buildings

Ohio Supreme Court Protects the Right of Charter Schools to Use Closed School Buildings

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The public school establishment has tried a lot of dirty tricks over the years to stop the spread of charter schools. Charter schools attract many of their students, and siphon away some of the state money attached to those students.

One strategy employed in several cities has been to prevent charter schools from using abandoned school buildings. Appropriate classroom space is hard to find in many cities, and charter schools often have no place to go if unused public school buildings are deemed off limits.

In 2009, the Cincinnati school board went so far as to auction off nine closed school buildings, with a deed restriction preventing buyers from using the structures for charter schools.

As it turns out, the deed restriction was an obvious violation of state law and was shot down in the courts. In an ironic twist, the effort to keep charter schools out of the buildings may end up costing the Cincinnati school district millions of dollars in state building funds.

Roger Connors and his mother, Deborah Connors, purchased one of the buildings, according to a news release. After gaining permission from the city’s zoning hearing examiner, they opened a charter school called Roosevelt Public Community School.

Cincinnati Public Schools sued the Connors and lost at every turn.

Judges ruled in favor of the defendants in the local Court of Common Pleas and a state appellate court. Finally, last week, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 6-1 in favor of the Connors, noting that the deed restriction on the property violated an Ohio state law giving charter schools the right of first refusal when school districts sell buildings.

There’s no way Cincinnati school attorneys did not know about that state law when the district created deed restriction. The school board obviously adopted the restriction in defiance of the statute, and got what it deserved in court.

The Connors were represented in court by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law.

The court ruling could cost Cincinnati schools millions of dollars in funding from the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission, which requires school districts to follow all state rules related to charter schools, according to the news release. The fate of that funding will be determined in a separate court case.

“Deed restrictions like the one struck down in this case were devised simply to stop new charter and private schools from opening in Cincinnati, so that CPS could retain students and protect its state funds,” Maurice Thompson, executive director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, was quoted as saying.

“In its (legal) brief, CPS compares itself to a gas station or hotel that has a right to use hardball tactics against its competition. It seems to have forgotten that it’s a public school that exists to educate children, rather than amass revenue.”