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updated: 6/26/2014 6:11 PM

District 50, Prairie Crossing Charter School clash over lawsuit hearing

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  • Mark Vondracek

    Mark Vondracek

  • Geoff Deigan

    Geoff Deigan


Differing perceptions about a recent court hearing have surfaced related to a Woodland Elementary District 50 lawsuit challenging a state agency's decision allowing Grayslake's Prairie Crossing Charter School to operate another five years.

Officials used their schools' websites and distributed emails to give their respective communities the opposing views of what happened in a June 17 Cook County circuit court hearing for the lawsuit.

About the only point both sides agreed on was that nothing that occurred in the hearing would prevent Prairie Crossing from opening as scheduled Aug. 14, for kindergarten through eighth grade.

Gurnee-based District 50 contends in the suit filed last month that Prairie Crossing should not have received state approval to remain open because it violated its last charter renewal in 2009 by failing to "bridge the demographic disparity." About 2 percent of Prairie Crossing's students are low-income.

Prairie Crossing Executive Director Geoff Deigan has labeled as unfounded Woodland's accusations. Named in the lawsuit are the Illinois State Charter School Commission, Prairie Crossing and the Illinois State Board of Education.

On Thursday, Deigan issued a statement criticizing Woodland school board President Mark Vondracek's take on the hearing before Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas Allen.

In his statement, Vondracek said Allen "delivered a favorable decision" for Woodland. He added: "The court found it likely that Woodland would have 'success on the merits' of its case once fully litigated."

Deigan questioned how Vondracek offered an upbeat view of the hearing that was held regarding Woodland's emergency motion to set aside the charter school commission's five-year renewal for Prairie Crossing.

"Woodland and their attorneys have a gift of distorting reality," Deigan wrote. "In this most recent example, they cleverly manipulated the judge's denial of their motion to stay ... to sound as if they (are) gaining traction in a case that has yet to be heard."

Neither Deigan nor Vondracek elaborated beyond their statements. There were no rich details about the hearing in the statements, but Vondracek said District 50's website will have court transcripts for the public when they are available.

Vondracek has said too much of the district's general state aid is "siphoned off" to pay for its students attending Prairie Crossing, which provides an environmentally focused curriculum to 384 students.

Open since 1999 and authorized by the state board of education, Prairie Crossing is within the boundaries of Woodland and Fremont Elementary District 79 in the Mundelein area. Fremont and Woodland children may be sent to the small, public choice school that determines enrollment by lottery.

Woodland most recently shipped about $3 million in general state aid to support 321 district children attending Prairie Crossing. That left $451,000 in state cash to supplement income derived from property taxes to educate about 6,400 students -- a funding method long labeled as unfair by District 50 officials.

Deigan said Prairie Crossing has every right to the state money that follows the Woodland children whose parents send them to the charter school.

In April, the state charter school commission voted 5-4 to renew Prairie Crossing through the 2018-19 academic year with a cap of 432 pupils. With the renewal came a directive for the charter school to create a plan on how it'll attempt to diversify the student body.

Twitter: @DHBobSusnjara

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