Gov. Mitch Daniels zinged an arrow at the Gary Community School Corp. recently for failing to do business with charter schools when it comes to selling empty school buildings.

Daniels, a Republican, said schools shouldn't refuse to sell to charter schools and, in fact, should give empty schools to charters.

Gary has a lot of empty schools -- 22 are listed in that category. Until recently, the schools just have been attracting dust, weeds and enterprising scrap thieves, and generally making neighborhoods look shabby.

Three years ago, the Gary School Board maintained a ban on selling or leasing property to charter schools because its members saw the schools as competitors, draining students away from classrooms. So despite attempts by charter schools to purchase the empty schools, they were rebuffed.

In 2007, the director of Ball State University's Office of Charter Schools, which sponsors all eight charters in Gary, voiced concern about the backlash charters were getting from the school district and the city. The attitude isn't unlike the response to charters in other urban areas like St. Louis and Washington, D.C.

Since then, there's been a thaw, which coincides with the district's shrinking budget. Gary has 11 schools now on the sale block, and the district is holding open houses for potential buyers, including charter schools like KIPP LEAD College Prep, whose representatives toured one last week.

Daniels said recently that Gary should give the schools to charters, saying taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for them twice. Gary school officials didn't agree with that suggestion, but it's gaining traction among lawmakers.

"It's a discussion that needs to take place," said State Sen. Earlene Rogers, a Democrat and retired Gary schoolteacher. One way or another, charters and traditional schools need to find a way to get along.

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