State hears from both sides on Elgin charter school plan
Supporters of a proposal to create a charter school denied by Elgin Area School District U-46 took their case to a higher authority Tuesday.
Members of the Illinois State Charter School Commission heard from dozens of parents, teachers, district administrators and community members at a public hearing appealing the charter application denial at Larkin High School in Elgin.
A majority of those who spoke Tuesday night opposed the proposal for a charter school in Elgin.
Shannon Pennington, a teacher mentor specialist at U-46, said the district has made great strides toward enrichment programs, such as gifted and dual language, and encouraging innovative teaching methods.
"We have a standards-based curriculum that is continually reviewed and aligned with state standards, such as Common Core," she said. "I would hate to see any funds diverted that would hurt the programs we are trying to move toward. I would like to see the entire community rallying around the schools that exist and supporting the programs that we have."
The Elgin Charter School Initiative is asking U-46 to contribute $8,115 per student, which includes educational and operational costs. The charter school's target audience is students from Elgin, and more than 320 families have shown interest in attending, group leaders said.
Elgin resident Gary Swick said he sees a school focused on math and science as a good investment.
"It would serve as a flagship for the district," he said.
Karen Schock, president of the Elgin Charter School Initiative and a former U-46 teacher, said the group has obtained more than 500 signatures supporting the proposal. The Elgin City Council also recently approved a resolution supporting charter schools, she added.
The charter group is eyeing the site of the former Fox River Country Day School, 1600 Dundee Ave., owned by the city of Elgin, for the future Elgin Math and Science Academy. The group also is in the process of starting a national search for a principal and selecting school board candidates, leaders said.
In July, the U-46 school board rejected the charter application with a 6-1 vote. U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said the charter group has not addressed the reasons for rejection.
"We have serious concerns regarding the charter school's ability to serve our district's needs," Sanders said.
Sanders added U-46 is not opposed to a charter school but would want one more suited to handle the diverse population of the state's second-largest school district, which has more than 40,000 students. "The developers have failed to secure a building in which they could educate students," Sanders said, adding that the Fox River Country Day School property would require at least $1 million in repairs.
"The developers have also failed to appropriately budget for staffing needs," Sanders said. "Ninety percent of the students would actually pay fees, so they have not adequately planned for low-income students to attend the school."
State Sen. Michael Noland said an overwhelming majority of voters in his 22nd District, which includes 10 communities in Cook and Kane counties, support the notion of charter schools.
"Parents and the general public want school choice," he said. "This is a true laboratory for the state and an opportunity to address educational concerns."
Greg Richmond, state commission chairman, said additional written comments may be submitted online through the commission's website until Oct. 28. "This hearing is one part of a larger process in which this proposal is being evaluated by the commission," Richmond said.
The commission will do its final review and render a decision at a meeting from 3 to 6 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Noble Street Charter High School Auditorium, 1010 Noble St., Chicago.