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posted: 12/5/2013 4:30 PM

State receives feedback on Grayslake's Prairie Crossing Charter School

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Compliments about academics and concerns regarding a major funding source for Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake have been presented to a state agency that'll decide if it should remain open.

Prairie Crossing seeks another five-year renewal of its state charter that would start for the 2014-15 academic season. It is expected to receive a decision next spring from the nine-member Illinois State Charter School Commission.

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Jeanne Nowaczewski, the commission's executive director, told more than 50 spectators at Wednesday's session that traditional public schools aren't required to seek state approval to stay open in five-year increments. She said the process is necessary because charter schools must be held more accountable in exchange for having great leeway in education delivery.

Prairie Crossing is a smaller, nontraditional choice school with an environmentally focused curriculum sanctioned by the state in 1999. It was allowed to open within the boundaries of Gurnee-based Woodland Elementary District 50 and Mundelein-area Fremont Elementary District 79, and remains the only charter school in Lake County.

During public comment time at the forum, parent Melody Johnson said Prairie Crossing deserves a charter renewal, in part, because it delivers quality education for a per-pupil expenditure that's less than larger districts. The 2013 state report card listed Prairie Crossing's per-pupil spending at $4,246.

Prairie Crossing board President Dean Thorson said his children have received academically sound educations in a setting with a 392-pupil capacity for kindergarten through eighth grade.

"I believe as a parent my children have a very wonderful education here by nurturing teachers and I really appreciate the fact the children are outside," Thorson told charter school commission board members DeRonda Williams of Long Grove and Bill Farmer of Chicago, who represented the panel Wednesday.

Woodland board President Mark Vondracek and Fremont Superintendent Jill Gildea also addressed the two charter school commission members about Prairie Crossing's top funding source. While not against the charter renewal application, Vondracek and Gildea said they are concerned about the amount of general state aid diverted from their districts to support children attending Prairie Crossing.

Children in districts 50 and 79 may be sent to Prairie Crossing at no extra cost to parents. Prairie Crossing determines enrollment by lottery.

Vondracek said Woodland most recently shipped about $3 million in general state aid to Prairie Crossing to support 321 children from his district. Gildea said Fremont most recently was obligated to transfer about $757,000 to the charter school for 70 of its children.

Parent and former Prairie Crossing board member Laura Elizabeth Fay had a different concern, saying more effort should be made to increase diversity at the school. She said it appears the school has an abundance of pupils from the upscale Prairie Crossing subdivision in Grayslake bordering the campus.

Fay contended the lack of transportation services deter minority children within Fremont and Woodland boundaries from attending the charter school if they are not within walking distance.

"So, I'm asking how this can be a public school of choice when so many children in our district cannot choose to attend?" she said.

Twitter: @DHBobSusnjara

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