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updated: 11/9/2011 6:56 PM

Local officials say state charter school commission is cause for concern

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  • Catherine Campbell

      Catherine Campbell


Woodland Elementary District 50 officials say there should be widespread concern about how smaller state-created charter schools are funded.

Gurnee-based Woodland officials have lamented in recent public meetings how general state aid from the district remains the main funding source for Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake.

Illinois law dictates that per-pupil general state aid follows Woodland children to the environmentally focused public choice school within the district's boundaries.

But Woodland officials contend the 12-year-old formula must be changed because too much state money now flows to Prairie Crossing. They say the state should directly fund any charter school it creates.

At a meeting Tuesday, Woodland board member Catherine Campbell said officials at other districts should be just as concerned about state-sanctioned charter schools. Prairie Crossing is one of two such schools in Illinois.

Campbell said the root of concern is the Illinois State Charter School Commission, formed in September. She said the new commission can authorize charter schools within large-district boundaries even if objections are lodged.

District 50 board President Lawrence Gregorash said the commission's potential actions can have significant ramifications for a community.

"This is the state chartering a school above and beyond what a school district wants," Gregorash said. "In essence, although not legally, it is the forming of a school district."

Established by lawmakers this year, the nine-member commission primarily will handle appeals of charter agreements and proposals that have been denied, revoked or not renewed by a local school board.

State Board of Education Chairman Gery Chico said the commission intends to expand opportunities for at-risk students with "high-quality charter schools."

"These nine (commission members) provide a diverse range of expertise and real world experience that will serve our state and schools well as they consider appeals for local charter schools," Chico said in a statement.

Of roughly $3.47 million in general state aid allotted to Woodland for the 2011-12 academic year, a little more than $3 million will be diverted to Prairie Crossing. A Woodland report states 324 district students are enrolled at Prairie Crossing.

Woodland officials said about $461,000 in state aid will be left for 6,750 district pupils for prekindergarten through eighth grade.

Should Woodland's enrollment decline, officials said, the per-pupil value would rise and more money would be sent to Prairie Crossing. Gregorash said District 50 will reach a point where it no longer has state aid for the charter school.

Prairie Crossing has a 392-student capacity and is within the boundaries of Woodland and Fremont Elementary District 79. The state granted Prairie Crossing's charter over the objections of those districts in 1999.

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