EACS sued for discrimination in proposed referendum

Lawsuit against EACS

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A lawsuit has been filed against the East Allen County School district in connection to its proposed $87 million referendum. President of United Pastors of Fort Wayne Robert Bell filed it Tuesday on “behalf of Afro American minor children of the East Allen County School District, residents and taxpayers within the East Allen County Schools District.”

East Allen County Schools district headquarters
East Allen County Schools district headquarters

The lawsuit claims the EACS Board of School Trustees didn’t provide enough transparency and details when presenting the proposed referendum before taxpayers and parents. The board started an approval process on Oct. 27, with a 5-2 vote for the referendum proposal.

Prior to that meeting, the district held a series of community meetings to present the referendum to parents and taxpayers. Initially, the proposal was set for $74 million, but increased to $87 million after more projects were taken into account. The board first stated the estimated tax impact would be $0.23 per $100 valuation on residential property. That later increased to $0.39 per $100 valuation on residential property.

SEE | Full 8-page lawsuit

The lawsuit said the board’s vote on Oct. 27 “lacked transparency, and was arbitrary and capricious, because those who attended community meetings in September didn’t know the referendum included turf football fields at almost one million dollars each.” The district added revenue pulls from the attendance areas of Woodland, New Haven, and Heritage for artificial football field turf at each of those high schools, but denied the Harding attendance area that would have added an educational addition to the high school.

The petition said the referendum fails to address the needs of the Harding attendance area. It details how Harding-area students are the only ones without a full-service high school in the district, yet represent the majority of the district’s growth.

The proposal includes the following projects for the Harding area:

  • Secure entrances for Southwick Elementary, Prince Chapman Academy, Paul Harding Jr. High, and East Allen University
  • Addition of four classrooms at Southwick Elementary
  • Drainage work at Prince Chapman Academy
  • Remodel East Allen University Tiered Classrooms

The suit claims the referendum would only provide the Harding building with “routine maintenance items.” It claims those “do not provide for the needs identified as 25 to 30 million dollars on a discriminatory basis.”

According to the lawsuit, the Harding building is “the only EACS building that has not received any renovation or new construction since it was built in 1973; and Harding area students are the only students without a full-service high school in their community.”

The lawsuit claims the referendum as a whole has lost its student focus and that the district is “rushing through a referendum process to capitalize on a school district grade ‘A’.”

Wednesday afternoon, the district held a short press conference to address the lawsuit. EACS officials said they hadn’t yet received a copy of the lawsuit, but noted how the referendum is just a proposal and can still change.

NewsChannel 15 reached out again today to both the district as well as Pastor Bell and his lawyer. The district didn’t have any further comment, and Bell’s lawyer said he’s not yet been authorized to talk by his client.

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