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updated: 2/3/2012 11:17 AM

Charter school group eyes vacant District 26 school

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After somewhat of a false start, a Crystal Lake-based not-for-profit group has formally submitted an application to open a charter school in Cary Elementary District 26.

A public hearing has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21, at Cary Junior High School. The district is seeking input on the plan.

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The Vision Group is proposing to open the Concord Charter Academy, a school serving students in kindergarten through the fifth grade. The group seeks to utilize the site of the former Maplewood School in downtown Cary.

A charter school is a public school that operates independently from the district school board and is exempt from some state statutes. Charter schools cannot charge tuition and instead receive funding from the local school board or the state based on student enrollment. That figure is typically between 75 and 125 percent of the district's per-student spending.

Terry Trobiani, the president of the Concord Charter Academy board of directors, said the organization targeted Cary for a number of reasons, including the three empty school buildings that are available, as well as an opportunity to provide a choice to parents.

"A charter school is a private school in a public school environment," Trobiani said. "It is a great opportunity to bring back classes to the district that have been cut and gives parents an option. We are bringing in alternatives for education. If you don't want to go, don't penalize your neighbor who might want to go."

In January, informal talks with the district ended with a rejection of the plan based on a financial analysis, school board President Christopher Spoerl said.

The Vision Group had estimated enrolling 300 students in the 2012-2013 school year at a cost to the district of about $8,000 per student. That would send $2.4 million to the charter school, Spoerl said. While the district could recover some of the expenses related to the charter school, Spoerl said the district still would be operating at a loss.

"Our criteria was that it couldn't take anything away from other students in the district, and it does," Spoerl said. "From our point of view we needed to see a cost-savings and needed a little bit of a margin. But with this plan, we wouldn't have broken even."

Trobiani said the group made it clear from the get-go that a charter school would not solve the district's financial woes.

"We will be a cost to the district but what the competition will force you to do is take a better look at your budget and find ways to make money," Trobiani said.

District 26 Superintendent Brian Coleman said the district is open to the charter school concept and will discuss the advantages and disadvantages over the next few weeks in preparation to grant or deny the application.

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