Just minutes before the 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline, a group seeking to open an Elgin charter school filed an appeal with the state after its proposal failed a second time to gain support from Elgin Area School District U-46.
The school board last month denied the Elgin Math and Science Academy charter school, citing concerns with the plan's economic soundness and its potential impact on the district.
A 2014 proposal by the same charter group was denied by the U-46 board and the Illinois State Charter School Commission.
The commission now has 75 days to consider and vote to grant or deny the appeal. After interviewing the charter group and U-46 officials, commissioners will conduct a public hearing at which community members can weigh in on the charter proposal and U-46's denial. The commission will vote to grant or deny the appeal at a later public meeting.
Since 2011, the state commission has authorized eight charter schools -- including Prairie Crossing in Grayslake -- serving more than 3,600 students. In almost 90 percent of cases, local school boards' decisions are upheld.
If the commission reverses U-46's latest denial, the Elgin charter school could open in August 2018 under state oversight. It would cater to roughly 200 students in kindergarten to third grade in the first year, adding grades each year through eighth for up to 450 students. As its own educational entity, the school would be responsible for providing all services for special education and at-risk students -- its target audience.
Kerry Kelly, president of the Elgin Charter School Initiative, said the design team has reworked the school's budget to reflect the added costs of hiring a special education director, bilingual education coordinator, and related service providers and paraprofessionals.
Tuition provided to state charters varies, ranging between 75 percent to 125 percent of local per pupil costs. The Elgin charter group is seeking 100 percent of state funding for tuition -- roughly $10,300 per student -- plus categorical funding, such as special education and Title I funds for low-income students, for a total of roughly $2.4 million.
The charter group is promised $950,000 in federal grant funding to assist with the facility's opening. The money would come in the form of reimbursements and be used toward hiring a principal or school leader and for training staff members and teachers. That Charter Schools Program grant would help cover the planning, program design, initial startup costs and implementation of an expeditionary learning model.
In June, U-46 officials primarily were concerned about the charter group's finances and the roughly $4 million it would need for repairs and renovations of the proposed school site -- the former Fox River Country Day School at 1600 Dundee Ave., which would be leased from the city of Elgin.
The Elgin City Council approved the lease with the charter school in an 8-0 vote Wednesday night. Councilman John Steffen, who is married to Kelly, abstained.