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Article updated: 4/2/2013 12:38 AM

Dist. 203 board disenchanted with virtual charter school proposal

By Justin Kmitch

With a list of almost 150 unanswered questions and no corporate representatives present to answer them Monday night, Naperville Unit District 203 officials had little to discuss regarding a proposal to operate a virtual online charter school in the district.

Instead, Superintendent Dan Bridges and board members spent the portion of their meeting reserved for discussing the plan apologizing to staff and community members for "wasting their time" by investigating the company planning to create the Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley and other due diligence.

On March 18, a vice president of the Virginia-based education corporation, K! 2, which would likely run the day to day operations of the school, appeared before a public hearing on the charter school proposal and was unable to answer a majority of questions posed by board members and acknowledged he didn't know how suburban public schools are financed.

The representative pledged to seek answers to all 143 questions posed by the board by March 21.

Bridges said he did receive an email on March 21 from Illinois Virtual Charter School@Fox River Valley President Sharnell Jackson indicating she would not be able to provide responses to the questions. She later, in another correspondence, promised to respond by March 29 and stated no representatives would be present at the meeting to answer questions. As of Monday night's meeting, Bridges said he still had not heard from Jackson or anyone else behind the proposal.

"We feel students who will opt to enroll in this proposed virtual school will be limiting their options and their experiences," Bridges said. "The proposal itself does not satisfy several of the statutory requirements. The applicants have failed to produce evidence of support from students, parents and the community. My recommendation is that you would not approve this charter application."

Board members were unanimously put off by the charter school's lack of effort or interest.

Terry Fielden said the proposal doesn't deserve consideration based on the initial proposal.

"I've done a couple hundred sales presentations in my life and I thought if I were to come to a room and not be able to answer one out of four questions, at least, I certainly wouldn't get the job," Fielden said. "So I don't know why they would even be deserving of consideration at this point because he couldn't answer question one as far as how this program was even going to be backed up."

Jackie Romberg called the entire process a "huge waste of time."

Suzyn Price said she fears the charter school officials are setting themselves up to let the Illinois State Charter School Commission rule on whether to allow it to operate within the district and 17 others in the region.

"Their lack of participation in this process is evidenced by sending an unprepared staff member from their contracting organization. Their unwillingness to answer questions and the fact that they didn't even send us the real contract to consider seems to indicate they are either not interested in working in Illinois or they believe there is another way you can receive their charter," said Suzyn Price.

The district now has 16 days to decide if they will approve or deny the proposal, in which case the charter school's governing board would appeal the decision to the Illinois State Charter School Commission. A third option would be for all 18 districts involved to agree to let the state commission decide whether to approve the online program.

The entire 215-page proposal can be found online at http://www.naperville203.org/assets/ILVCS_FRVProposal.pdf.

The board expects to make a decision on April 15.

The other 17 districts debating the proposal include Indian Prairie Unit District 204, Elgin U-46, East Aurora, West Aurora, St. Charles District 303 and Oswego.

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