Reactions to a proposal for a charter school in Elgin were mixed at a public hearing Monday night before the Elgin Area School District U-46 school board.
District officials recommend denial of the charter proposal for the Elgin Math and Science Academy because they say its education and business plans are flawed and don't adequately address the needs of at-risk populations. U-46 released a detailed response on its website.
A 2014 proposal by the same Elgin Charter School Initiative was denied by the U-46 school board and the Illinois State Charter School Commission.
Supporters say an Elgin charter school would offer parents the choice of a different style of education where teachers have more control over the curriculum and students are challenged through hands-on, expeditionary learning.
"I am dreaming of a charter school that would be a model of ethnic and socio-economic diversity with all the children pursuing their own interests and academic passions," said Carole Seid of Elgin, who works as an educational consultant. "There is just a huge groundswell movement of understanding the power of nature in working with children with learning disabilities, children that are academically challenged that don't fit into the norm, how healing being in nature is as we develop our children's intelligence and creativity. Elgin is ready for this. Our community can only be enriched by diverse academic choices."
Critics say it would draw resources away from public education while creating an "elite" school that won't provide equal opportunity for all students, especially those with special needs, such as English language learners and students with disabilities.
Dan Carlson of South Elgin said there is no demonstrated need for a charter school and questioned why officials would take money from an already underfunded district of more than 40,000 students and put it into a school that would serve only 200 students initially.
The school's opening also hinges on the group's ability to borrow nearly $4 million to finance needed renovations of the proposed site -- the former Fox River Country Day School at 1600 Dundee Ave., owned by the city of Elgin -- and to initially fund operations.
"We will be paying interest on loans to rehab buildings that we will never own," Carlson said. "There is no return on investment in this proposal. The taxpayers will have increased burden while students will receive either identical or inferior instruction."
U-46 Chief Operations Officer Jeff King cited concerns with the latest proposal's business plan and the charter school's tentative budget for operations, which relies heavily on grants, loans, and reimbursements from the state for categorical expenses, such as special education services and transportation. Part of the school's proposed budget depends on U-46 receiving complete and on-time categorical payments from the state to be able to reimburse the school for students it educates.
King said the state owes U-46 $1.9 million from last school year and another $18.3 million for this school year.
"This year, we have not received any categorical funding," King said. "The state is now 20 months behind on any transportation reimbursement."
By year six, roughly 10 percent of total revenues will be needed to pay down the charter school's debt, which leaves little room for contingencies, King said.
District officials estimate the school likely would run on a deficit that could grow to $1.2 million within five years.
The school board will render its decision on the charter proposal April 10.