Price Lab Supporters Argue in Court Against Closing School
WATERLOO, Iowa --- A judge's decision on a lawsuit to reopen the shuttered Price Lab School will likely come next week.
And it probably won't be the last ruling on the matter surrounding the February announcement of the closure of the University of Northern Iowa-run school.
After listening to attorneys for Price Lab supporters and the Iowa Attorney General's Office during a Monday morning hearing, Senior Judge Alan Pearson acknowledged whatever decision he makes will likely be appealed to a higher court.
"There is no wisdom of Solomon here," he said of his pending ruling, which is expected before June 30, the date the school is to officially close.
Thirty-seven parents and educators connected with the school took the Iowa Board of Regents to court arguing the board overstepped its authority when it voted to close the school.
Attorney Thomas Frerichs told the judge the case boils down to legislative intent. He said lawmakers wanted to establish a brick-and-mortar pre-kindergarten through 12 research and development school at Price Lab in a statute that went into place in 2010.
But he said officials at UNI didn't want to do it and closed Price Lab as part of a move to turn the R&D school concept to a "virtual think tank."
He said the Board of Regents’ February vote to disband the school shouldn't have been allowed without legislative action.
But Deputy Attorney General Jeff Thompson, who represented the Regents, said state law allows the board to create and close lab schools.
“Nowhere does it say ‘Thou shall not close Malcolm Price Lab School,” Thompson said.
He said the Iowa Legislature had looked into a plan to transition Price Lab into the R&D school. But that idea called for expanding the Price Lab site and was dropped because of the economy, political climate and sticker shock.
The state spent $35,000 to study the idea and found a $30 million cost for a new school, Thompson said.
Pearson quizzed the attorneys about the lack of budgetary support from lawmakers since the Regents’ February vote to close the school. He asked rhetorically if he could order the school remain open even if there was no money for teachers, books or administrators.
The Senate had floated a $3 million appropriation to fund the school in May, but it soon died.
Frerichs said any questions about funding are red herrings. He noted Price Lab’s past operations weren’t paid for by special appropriations from the Legislature. He said the school was always funded out of the pot money the University of Northern Iowa received for its budget.
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