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updated: 2/22/2012 4:52 PM

Charter school group makes pitch to District 26 residents

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A public hearing Tuesday served as a litmus test on a proposal to open a charter school in Cary Elementary District 26 in the next school year.

Residents got their first in-depth look at plans for the Concord Charter Academy, a kindergarten through fifth-grade campus Crystal Lake-based Vision Group wants to open in the fall.

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Terry Trobiani and Lou Bellson, leaders of the nonprofit Vision Group, spent more than 2 hours Tuesday talking to about 100 parents and residents.

"This is an alternative education. We are here to offer you an option to the form of education you are getting today from the district," said Trobiani, president of the Vision Group. "If you decide that you want your kids in a charter school, by all means, enroll your child. If you don't, keep your child in the district. ... We are asking you to keep an open mind to what a charter school offers the community."

Based on audience comments, questions and reactions, residents are not receptive to bringing a charter school to the district. Many of the more than a dozen people who addressed the charter school operators questioned the group's apparent lack of a tangible business plan, preparation and educational background.

Kathleen Park, former mayor of Cary, implored the district to reject the proposal.

"It is a sucking off your monies that you cannot afford," Park said.

Others questioned why the district had selected Cary to open its first charter school and what a group of business people know about education.

"This is a high performing district, so you're pointing to a situation that we're not preparing our students," resident Mary Forni said. "Did you go to your own districts and ask them if they were interested in a charter school? This is like you coming to me and asking me to change the oil in your car."

Chris Christensen, a parent with a 7-year-old in the district, asked to see the group's business plan but was told it would be available once the charter school was "real."

"How can I tell you how many teachers we're going to have if we don't know how many students we're going to have?" Bellson said.

Some, though, did support the proposal.

"I pay the school district to educate my children, and you tell me you balance your budget," said Angela Alfe, who will have five children entering District 26. "But it was at the expense of my child. You took out art, you took out music."

Vision Group has proposed purchasing the former site of the Maplewood School in downtown Cary.

The school board will discuss and vote on the proposal at a board meeting in March.

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