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updated: 5/13/2013 11:14 PM

Dist. 300 considers second online charter school plan

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Community Unit District 300 board members have moved from one charter school proposal to another, holding a public hearing Monday night for the Illinois Online Charter School.

Several board members as well as the applicant drew a sharp distinction between this proposal and the one they heard in March for the Illinois Virtual Charter School at Fox River Valley, which was proposed to encompass 18 school districts from Algonquin to Plainfield and was denied by every single one. Both proposals, though, include a partnership with curriculum company K12 Inc.

Monday's hearing was about the Illinois Online Charter School, which would be a new entity run by the Northern Kane Educational Corp. -- the organization already running Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove as well as its online arm, Cambridge Academy.

Cambridge Lakes got its charter from District 300 in 2006 to serve students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and Northern Kane created the Cambridge Academy for K-12 students after the charter renewal process in 2011.

Monday's proposal, which District 300 officials received April 9, would not change the services District 300 students receive. Northern Kane CEO Larry Fuhrer was asking for a new charter to serve students in the rest of the state -- a plan that didn't sit well with board members.

"This just doesn't feel right to me," said board member Chris Stanton. "It's almost like we're making a decision for somebody else's district."

Board President Anne Miller asked why Fuhrer was in front of them instead of the boards in Naperville or Glenview or wherever else Fuhrer hopes to find students.

Fuhrer said he already has a relationship with District 300 and hoped to get the charter from them to have a cleaner separation between the new school and the existing academy. If District 300 does not grant the charter, Fuhrer said he did not plan to appeal the decision but to expand the online services under Northern Kane's existing charter.

Fuhrer said he would prefer having two separate charters, but he doesn't need them to make his vision for the growth of the online school a reality.

The Cambridge Academy serves students who are learning two grades above or below their actual grade level in a particular course through a blended model that incorporates online course requirements and in-class aspects where students interact with a teacher.

Fuhrer hopes to offer the online courses to students across the entire state, getting tuition dollars beyond District 300 for outside students who are recommended for the program. Northern Kane sees its clients as school districts, not families, and would form intergovernmental agreements with those districts, relying on them to identify students who would benefit from the program and pay their students' way.

The extra money would be a revenue source for Northern Kane, not District 300.

"The business guy in me doesn't see what the monetary upside is," Stanton said.

District 300 school board members planned to discuss the proposal in closed session and make a decision on the charter within the next 30 days.

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