Elgin gives preliminary OK to charter school lease
Members of the Elgin City Council gave preliminary approval for leasing property to a proposed charter school over the objection of a councilman who claimed there is a conflict of interest for several other council members.
At a special committee of the whole meeting Saturday, Councilman John Prigge cast the only dissenting vote on leasing the former Fox River Country Day School, 1600 Dundee Ave., to Elgin Academy and the new Elgin Charter School Initiative.
The two entities are interested in renting different buildings with some shared use of the 19 acres the city acquired through land agreements last April.
Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger works for Elgin Area School District U-46 and her brother, Keith Rauschenberger, is on the board of the Elgin Charter School Initiative.
Councilwoman Anna Moeller and Councilman John Steffen's wife, Kerry Kelly, are members of the design committee for the charter school, to be called Elgin Math and Science Academy. Kelly is also a charter school board member.
"In my opinion, there's a blatant conflict of interest in this proposal," Prigge said.
Corporation Counsel William Cogley said there is no legal conflict of interest.
Still, appearances matter, Prigge said.
Steffen called Prigge's accusation "a cheap shot."
"(My wife and I) had many arguments and conversations about this because it is a big decision," he said. The quality of schools in Elgin is "a lingering problem," he said.
"We've seen too many people move out or not move in, or hold their noses and send their kids to private school."
Rauschenberger agreed. "We have an image problem and I believe a charter school would help that image," she said, adding she hopes U-46 officials won't view the charter school as competition but as another option for students.
Opportunities like this don't come along often, Moeller said.
"I see this as a legacy project that will have long-term benefits for the city far beyond our time on this council and perhaps in Elgin," Moeller said.
Under the proposed terms, the charter school would pay $50,000 in rent the first year, gradually increasing to $115,000 by the fifth year. With another five-year renewal, the city would receive more than $1.1 million in rent over 10 years, Cogley said.
Prigge asked if the rent amount was market rate. Cogley said he negotiated it reviewing the charter school's budget.
"I ended up backing into what I thought was the most they could afford and help us defray our costs," Cogley said.
Prigge also questioned the city's rush to approve the charter school lease.
The charter school and the academy submitted the only responses to the city's request for proposals to rent or buy the property, Cogley said.
Also, the charter school -- which ultimately has to gain approval from the state -- is on a timetable to open for the 2015-16 school year, he said.
Elgin Academy wants to provide English-language immersion classes for international students, mostly from Asia, on the property, Cogley said. Classes would take place in summer and winter, likely starting in January.
Cogley said he expects to negotiate the lease with the Elgin Academy in the coming weeks.
The city will have to pay for extensive repairs on the property, including $33,000 in damage caused by frozen pipes, $248,000 in dining hall repairs, $395,000 in repairs to the gym, plus yet-to-be determined expenses to repair the pool and paved surfaces, Cogley said.
Also, the city would be responsible for utilities and maintenance costs to the tune of $225,000 per year.
City Manager Sean Stegall said he'll present a complete financial analysis of the charter school lease agreement to the city council on March 19, including how to fund the repairs.
Two other entities might want to rent the property this summer, council members said.
The Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra is interested in housing the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq from late July to Aug. 15, Mayor David Kaptain said. The idea is to have a performance in Elgin before the Iraqi orchestra embarks on a U.S. tour, he said.
Also, the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora might be interested in renting the property this summer to run some programs while its campus undergoes renovations, Steffen said.