Heated discussion erupted during East Allen County Schools' board meeting Tuesday evening among board members and Superintendent Karyle Green over disagreement about the direction of the district regarding the Harding area.
Board members received a draft of the lease agreement between the district and Timothy L. Johnson Academy, a local charter school that currently operates at two sites, one southeast of the city and the other in downtown.
Member Stephen Terry took issue with the lease because he believes the charter school should be allowed to purchase Village Elementary, instead of just leasing. The contract gives the school first rights to purchase the building if the district decides to sell.
But Village Elementary is currently home to the district's alternative high school for students who have been suspended or who request to attend.
Timothy L. Johnson has been in discussion for months with the district about leasing an unused portion of the school. At a previous board meeting, Terry made a presentation encouraging the board to approve the lease, but abstained from the vote because he works for the school.
Terry said it's a moral problem that the district is willing to sell the former Monroeville Elementary School to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, but “stonewall” the charter school, when the district has closed schools in the Harding community and created a magnet program at the former Harding High School that students in the Harding area aren't interested in, he said.
“You've sold my community out,” he said. “This board better wake up because you're killing a community.”
The closing of elementary schools was the result of EACS' redesign plan to consolidate the district and increase enrollment by creating an early college magnet program at Harding, which was closed due to looming state sanctions for low achievement.
Terry said he voted to approve the redesign plan because he was assured that the magnet program at Harding High School would serve the students in the area.
Voices rose in the small boardroom, as the discussion became a debate between Terry and Green about whether or not the early college academy magnet at Harding was a good fit for the area.
“It is perfect for that community,” Green said.
Terry responded by saying the program was the worst thing for the community. He said he was tired of trying to discuss the issue privately, “so I'm saying it publicly,” he said.
Terry said he would prefer to sell the Village Elementary School building now instead of waiting. Other board members said it would be unwise to sell any buildings in the area in light of the May referendum being voted down.
“I don't think anything in Adams Township should be sold until we know what we're doing,” said member Terry Jo Lightfoot.
Board president Neil Reynolds and member Rick Algier encouraged the end of the discussion.
“We speak as a board. We speak as one voice,” Reynolds said before adjourning the meeting.