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updated: 5/20/2014 11:38 PM

Dist. 50 files suit over Grayslake charter school staying open

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  • Video: Woodland Files Lawsuit

  • Woodland Elementary District 50 has sued seeking to overturn a state agency's decision to let Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake continue to stay open for another five years. The Illinois State Charter School Commission, Prairie Crossing and the Illinois State Board of Education are named in the stui that alleges the charter school shouldn't have received approval to keep operating because it violated its last charter renewal by not increasing student diversity.

       Woodland Elementary District 50 has sued seeking to overturn a state agency's decision to let Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake continue to stay open for another five years. The Illinois State Charter School Commission, Prairie Crossing and the Illinois State Board of Education are named in the stui that alleges the charter school shouldn't have received approval to keep operating because it violated its last charter renewal by not increasing student diversity.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, 2012

  • Woodland Elementary District 50 Superintendent Joy Swoboda

      Woodland Elementary District 50 Superintendent Joy Swoboda

  • Dist 50. attorney James Petrungaro

      Dist 50. attorney James Petrungaro

 
 

Woodland Elementary District 50 has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn a state agency's recent decision allowing Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake to continue for another five years.

Gurnee-based District 50 contends in the suit filed Tuesday in Cook County circuit court that Prairie Crossing should not have received state approval to remain open because it violated its last charter renewal in 2009 by not increasing student diversity as directed. Prairie Crossing has about 2 percent low-income students.

District 50 board President Mark Vondracek discussed the lawsuit before a meeting Tuesday night. The Illinois State Charter School Commission, Prairie Crossing and the Illinois State Board of Education are named in the complaint.

"Prairie Crossing continues to enroll primarily high-achieving Caucasian and Asian middle-class students at a percentage that is indefensible in light of demographic trends that have greatly increased the diversity and number of at-risk students in our shared community," Vondracek said.

Last month, the state charter school commission voted 5-4 in favor of renewing Prairie Crossing through the 2018-19 academic year with a cap of 432 pupils. With the renewal came conditions that Prairie Crossing make an effort to diversify the student body.

Contrary to what District 50 alleges in the suit, officials from the state charter school commission wrote in a finding that Prairie Crossing has not violated any state mandates regarding pupil diversity.

"Although the renewal process generated concern by the commission about the low enrollment of African-American, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged and English Language Learner students at (Prairie Crossing) relative to the students of one of the host districts, Woodland, the renewal process did not uncover any unlawful policies or practices being enforced ... that would cause or perpetuate such low enrollment," the commission said.

Prairie Crossing Executive Director Geoff Deigan didn't return messages seeking comment.

Created by the State Board of Education, Prairie Crossing is a small, public choice school that has had an environmentally focused curriculum since opening in 1999. The 384-student charter school is within the borders of District 50 and Fremont Elementary District 79 in the Mundelein area.

Parents at the large Fremont and Woodland districts may send their children to the charter school. Both districts lodged objections with the state before Prairie Crossing opened 15 years ago.

Woodland most recently shipped about $3 million in general state aid to Prairie Crossing to support 321 children from the district. Vondracek said the $451,000 in state aid that remained for Woodland was inadequate for its 6,400 students -- a funding method long criticized as unfair by district officials.

But charter school commission officials said they found "no objective evidence" to back the argument that Prairie Crossing is causing financial harm to Woodland or Fremont. The commission also said an analysis indicates the large districts appear financially sound.

Court papers filed by attorney James Petrungaro, on behalf of District 50, contend Prairie Crossing has failed to "implement an effective and adequate transportation plan to address the needs of low-income and at-risk pupils in material violation of the 2009 charter renewal agreement."

Petrungaro said the most recent state report card supports Woodland's position. Prairie Crossing has roughly 2 percent low-income students compared to Woodland's 30 percent.

If Woodland prevails in the lawsuit and Prairie Crossing were to be forced to close, Superintendent Joy Swoboda said the district would be able to accommodate all students.

Prairie Crossing is one of four state-authorized charter schools. Unlike traditional public schools, the charters must go through a periodic renewal process.

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