U-46 committee says 'no' to charter school
An Elgin Area School District U-46 committee recommended denial of a proposal to create a new math and science elementary charter school in Elgin.
The Elgin Charter School Initiative is proposing to open the Elgin Math and Science Academy on the site of the Fox River Country Day School at 1600 Dundee Ave. The city of Elgin owns that site and has yet to approve a lease with the charter group.
The site is within the boundaries of Community Unit District 300, but, according to the Illinois State Board of Education, a neighboring school district can approve the charter school application, charter school design team President Karen Schock said Monday night at a public hearing held by the U-46 school board.
Two proposed alternate sites -- Highland Christian Academy at 2250 W. Highland Ave. and Good Shepherd, 1111 Van St. -- are both in Elgin. Schock said another possible site is the former Larkin School in Elgin.
According to the U-46 charter school evaluation committee, the proposal appears to target Elgin students, but charter schools must be open to all school district residents.
Elgin is being targeted because eight of 10 district schools under restructuring are in Elgin, Schock said, but applications for the charter school's lottery would be open to the entire district.
The charter school would be part of the Expeditionary Learning nonprofit system, which has more than 160 schools in 33 states, said Expeditionary Learning regional director Ryan Maxwell.
The charter school proposal doesn't identify the educational needs it would serve, the U-46 committee said. The need to better instruct students in math and science exists locally and across the United States, Schock countered.
School board member Traci O'Neal-Ellis questioned how the charter school can meet its goal of serving at-risk students.
"(Parents of at-risk students) are not even engaged and involved when their kids are in the school," she said. "How are you going to get them engaged and involved in the lottery (to enroll in the charter school)?"
Charter school design team Vice President Kerry Kelly said it will take targeted, on-site marketing like registration fairs.
"We will work to make it happen," charter school design team member Kevin Echevarria said.
Echevarria also said he hopes the school district will work with the charter school to provide adequate transportation for students, which the U-46 committee deemed lacking in the proposal.
The charter school is asking U-46 to contribute $8,115 per student, but that's more than twice what the district spends for general education students in grades 1-6, district officials said.
Charter school design team member Keith Rauschenberger explained that amount covers educational and operational costs, which in U-46 can cost up to $12,000 per student, he said.
"It will take money from our students," school board member Maria Bidelman said.
Resident Basil Doeringsfeld said many parents don't want their kids to attend U-46 schools and would rather choose private schools -- or move.
"The type of kid I was growing up, I know I would have benefited from this type of curriculum immensely," he said.
School district officials also questioned the lack of science labs at the proposed school locations; Kelly said there is no need for those initially, because the first students in K-2 would do science in the classroom.
Former U-46 teacher Linda Kuehl said she opposes all charter schools because there is no public oversight even though they are funded by public money.
Kathryn Castle, president of the Elgin Teacher Association, said the union doesn't support the charter school.
"We are concerned that if any of our professional colleagues were to engage in this experience, they would shoulder all the burden for the lack of professional resources and planning."
The school board is expected to vote on the charter school application at its July 21 meeting.