The Minneapolis School District can evict a 300-student charter school from its Cityview building, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Administrators at the Minnesota School of Science said they had no backup space for its classrooms.
Hennepin County District Judge Regina Chu gave the charter a week to see whether it can come up with the back rent or negotiate a smaller amount with the district.
But the chances of coming up with back rent of nearly $518,000 are “very small,” charter board member Gene Scapanski said after the ruling. The district also wants about $70,000 in monthly rent going forward, its lawyers told Chu, and her ruling gives it little incentive to negotiate. At a hearing Tuesday, the school’s board told Chu it couldn’t raise the rent owed.
The dispute began when the state Department of Education decided last year that the charter isn’t entitled to the lease aid that most charters use to pay their rent. That’s because a conflict-of-interest statute for charter schools prohibits paying such aid when the charter’s authorizer and landlord are the same. The district serves both roles for the Minnesota School of Science. The state reversed its position after paying the charter’s rent for its first year but didn’t pay lease aid last school year.
“I feel bad,” Chu said after telling the school it would have to leave, barring a negotiated resolution of the issue. “I wish the Department of Education didn’t do what it did.” But district efforts to overturn the department’s interpretation in court and at the Legislature failed. She said that changes in the wording of the charter’s lease for Cityview led her to disagree with its assertion that it didn’t owe most of its rent if the state didn’t pay lease aid.
The district had started recruitment efforts to launch a new type of school in Cityview on Aug. 26, but that looked increasingly iffy as the legal dispute hampered recruiting.
The charter said in court documents that it had no luck in finding a replacement building on relatively short notice after the district told it last spring it was in arrears. It considered a St. Paul site, but that was farther from the school’s students, two-thirds of whom are in Minneapolis.
“The people who really suffer are the parents and the kids,” Scapanski said.
The district said during Tuesday’s hearing that it will use the school for preschool and other programs.