The six candidates in a race for Elgin Area School District U-46 school board agree better communication will help improve the district's image, forge strong relationships with its unions, avoid future lawsuits and engage the community. Where the candidates' platforms differ is on charter schools.
Current board President Donna Smith, along with challengers Linda Campos-Moreira, Andrew Giggey, Frank Napolitano, Veronica Noland and Gary Percy, presented their thoughts on charters and other issues Thursday night at a forum hosted by the U-46 Citizens Advisory Council.
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The current school board will hold a hearing at 7 p.m. Monday about granting a charter to a virtual learning academy. This summer it should hear a second proposal for a science, technology, engineering and math-focused elementary school.
Percy and Napolitano spoke out in complete support of charter schools, while the rest of the candidates' opinions ranged from tentative approval to tentative disapproval.
"I look at charter schools as competition, and competition is good," Napolitano said. "It makes us all better."
He said he believes money should follow the student and spoke in support of school choice, a concept supported by Percy.
"Anything that offers the parents a choice is inherently good," Percy said.
The rest of the candidates held off on their praise, with Campos-Moreira and Smith citing studies that show mixed results on the success of charter schools. Campos-Moreira said she is not fundamentally opposed to charters but would need to analyze the specific plans being offered for U-46, adding a concern that charters would take money away from the district's other public schools.
That's exactly the issue for Smith.
"Being fiscally responsible and supporting a charter school at the same time will cause us some difficulties in our finances," Smith said.
When students choose charter schools -- which are public schools -- the money that would have gone to their neighborhood school instead follows them to the charter.
Giggey said there's plenty more that people don't understand about charters, like the fact that their facilities must be paid for and maintained with private donations. He said the high school academies in U-46, which he likened to charter schools, are better options.
"We should be more concerned with how our normal school system is working," Giggey said. "When we're done with that we can focus on charters."
Noland, like many of her colleagues, made clear she is not opposed to the concept of charter schools, but she said she has certain caveats. She will only support not-for-profit charters and those that allow their employees to organize into unions if they choose to. She specifically endorsed the idea of more choice at the elementary level.
The League of Women Voters will host a candidate forum with U-46 and Elgin Community College candidates from 6 to 9 p.m. March 28 at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin.
• To see all our coverage of the U-46 school board race, including candidate bios, go to dailyherald.com.
Charter: Borden library hosts candidate forum on March 28