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Legislature puts further limits on school districts using deed restrictions

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

State lawmakers passed a bill today that would make it harder for school districts to prevent former school buildings from being used for new education purposes.  

The deed restrictions are often meant to keep competitors from opening schools that would siphon students away from the district.

The legislation is aimed at addressing issues being raised by a judge hearing a lawsuit brought by a charter operator fighting a deed restriction on a building the Detroit school district refuses to lift.  The building is no longer owned by the school district, but the deed restriction requiring it be used for housing remains in place.

Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw), chairman of the House Education Reform committee accuses school officials of “flouting” the law. The bill passed the committee this morning on a party-line vote.

“At the core of this bill is what is the best use of taxpayer resources to repurpose old school buildings?” said Sen. Phil Pavlov, the bill’s sponsor.

Democrats opposed the bill.

Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) doesn’t think it’s the right time to tweak the law.

“Why don’t we just let this play out in the courts?” Chang asked during this morning’s Education Reform Committee meeting.

Meanwhile, there’s another hearing in the case involving Detroit’s school district and Detroit Prep, the charter operator that wants to move into a former district school building.

Kyle Smitley is the co-founder and executive director of Detroit Prep.

She says the legal fight has put the charter operator’s plans for renovating the building three months behind schedule. It has also put in jeopardy plans to open the new school in August. 

“I hope that (SB 702)…is enough to clarify for anyone putting deed restrictions like this on buildings that, that’s not acceptable,” says Smitley. 

Smitley says, if the deed restriction issue is not resolved soon, her school will have to explore other options for holding classes for this fall.        

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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