SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers are considering policy changes to speed up the acquisition of land for new charter schools and further expansions of existing schools.

On Monday, the Administrative Rules Review Committee questioned what authority charter schools have to call on the state to seize property through eminent domain laws. While schools operating under charter are considered public education, the charter developers are often private entities that own the school facilities, leaving the question of whether such an arrangement could fit within the state’s definitions for where eminent domain is permissible.

“There is confusion about how a charter school can exercise (eminent domain),” said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. “A charter school can exercise it. It’s very clear that they are public schools and do have that authority.”

Stephenson said the problem in a number of cases for charter schools has been with them seeking to use eminent domain to gather a small property to complete their planned footprint, where cities do not wish to exercise eminent domain for such a small purpose.

“We also have the state charter board and the state board and then the charter school itself, and there is confusion about which one of them would be optimal for exercising that,” Stephenson said.

Ward Ogden, the Ogden community development manager, described his own experience with the use of eminent domain to obtain 27 properties for the creation of New Bridge Elementary in Ogden.

“The fact that Ogden School District came to the city and said, ‘Let’s do a partnership’ is frankly what made the whole thing work,” Ogden said. “The fact that it was a school versus a redevelopment project was immensely useful in terms of getting the public’s mind over the hump.”

Brent Bateman, the director for the Office of Property Rights Ombudsman, said Utah’s eminent domain laws describe a list …read more

Source:: Deseret News – Utah News

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