State commission denies Elgin charter group's appeal
In a unanimous vote Tuesday, a state commission denied the Elgin Charter School Initiative's appeal of its charter application, upholding an earlier rejection by the Elgin Area School District U-46 school board.
Illinois State Charter School Commission members said they were impressed with aspects of the application and urged group leaders to take more time to address concerns raised about finances and how the school would cater to its target audience of at-risk students.
"This school is not ready," said Jeanne Nowaczewski, commission executive director.
Commissioner Rudy Valdez said though he liked the innovative approach of the proposed charter school, he doesn't think it's financially stable.
"I don't think it's in the best interest of the students," he said. "A charter can respond quicker than a traditional district to go with innovative approaches in learning. It could augment the learning environment in U-46. I would hope you resubmit when you have more preparation."
If approved, the Elgin Math and Science Academy would have opened in August 2015 offering classes from kindergarten through second grade in its first year. Its target audience is students from Elgin, and more than 320 families have shown interest in attending, according to group leaders.
The charter group was eyeing the former Larkin Center's Rakow Campus in Elgin for its school.
Karen Schock, charter group president, said the design team will take some time to assess whether to resubmit the application. It took the 12-member group three years to prepare this application.
"I'm proud of what we did," she said. "I still think we have a valuable, viable proposal for a school in Elgin."
Kerin Kelly, charter group vice president, said the commission staff imposed "unduly rigid standards" that were not required by state law.
Nowaczewski said the charter school proposal did not meet the commission's standards in any of four categories -- education plan, organizational plan, business plan and evidence of capacity.
She noted that the education plan lacked detail on assessments and how they would be implemented.
Nowaczewski acknowledged the community support for the charter school proposal but added the charter school board "lacks collective substance and experience to manage, govern and deliver."
U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said he was pleased with the commission's decision.
"Overall, our team is grateful that the charter school commission staff recognized the same deficiencies that we saw in the proposal," he said.
Officials primarily were concern about the school's ability and readiness to serve the diverse population of the state's second-largest school district with more than 40,000 students.
"In the Elgin community, minority students represent 86 percent of the population, and ELL (English Language Learners) make up 28 percent," Sanders said.
Sanders said the charter group failed to appropriately budget for staffing needs, startup and maintenance costs and is seeking too much funding from the district -- $8,115 per student.
"The proposal is not economically sound," he said.