East Chicago canceling school's bus parking lease

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EAST CHICAGO, Ind. (AP) — East Chicago officials are moving to cancel the local school district's long-running lease to use a municipal bus barn because the district owes the city nearly $1 million in bus parking fees.

A letter from the city's law department dated June 3 said the lease allowing School City of East Chicago's 37 buses to use the bus barn will be canceled on July 3. It also states that East Chicago will no longer supply gasoline to the district starting on the same date.

East Chicago City Attorney Carla Morgan said the district's lease with the city dates back to the administration of Mayor Robert Pastrick, who led the city for 32 years before leaving office in 2005. She said East Chicago has sent several letters to the school district and board members individually, both certified and through regular mail.

Morgan said the city has suggested it is willing to renegotiate the lease but has had no response. She said School Board attorney Richard Lesniak sent a letter to the city May 30, and that was the first response city officials received after having sent letters over a two-year period.

"The lease says either party can terminate with 30 days notice," she told The Times of Munster (http://bit.ly/1ma5sHV ). "They have never reached out to renegotiate the deal. We've sent them notice after notice. We couldn't continue to let this go. Something had to be done because of their failure to handle their responsibility. Our only option was to terminate the lease."

East Chicago School Board President Jesse Gomez said the district owes the city $966,000 on its long-term bus parking lease and is "trying to find the right way" to address the situation.

He says the district's cost of renting the bus barn is $42,000 a month.

The school district is facing a $6 million deficit that board members attribute to property tax caps, declining enrollment and reduced property tax collections.

Over the past decade, the School City of East Chicago has lost nearly 2,000 students. In 2003-04, student enrollment was 6,255 students. This school year, enrollment is 4,310 students. With a per-pupil cost of $7,668, school leaders said that translates to a loss of $14.9 million from the general fund budget.


Information from: The Times, http://www.thetimesonline.com

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