Judge: Grayslake charter school should not have been renewed

  • Mark Vondracek

    Mark Vondracek

  • Geoff Deigan

    Geoff Deigan

  • Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake opened in 1999.

      Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake opened in 1999. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, 2012

 
 
Updated 3/25/2015 9:15 AM

Gurnee-based Woodland Elementary District 50 has received a favorable ruling on a lawsuit it filed that could lead to closure of a Grayslake charter school.

All sides in the case involving District 50 and Prairie Crossing Charter School agree the case is expected to land in an Illinois appellate court.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

On Monday, Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas Allen found in favor of District 50, which wants to overturn a state agency's decision last year to grant another charter allowing the small, public choice school to operate through the 2018-19 academic season.

Woodland alleged in the suit that Prairie Crossing should not have been allowed to stay open because it violated its last five-year charter approval in 2009 by not increasing student diversity as directed. Prairie Crossing has 0.5 percent low-income students, according to the 2013-14 Illinois State Board of Education report card.

"Judge Allen based his decision on the well-established record that the charter school has long significantly failed to enroll low-income and other at-risk students in its program," District 50 school board President Mark Vondracek said in a statement.

Woodland named the Illinois State Charter School Commission, Prairie Crossing and the state board of education in the complaint filed in May 2014. State Charter School Commission Chairman Greg Richmond was critical of Allen's reversal of his agency's decision allowing Prairie Crossing to continue.

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In a letter he issued Tuesday, Richmond said Allen ignored Prairie Crossing's academic success and the commission's careful deliberation before the five-year charter renewal was granted.

"We will be appealing the judge's decision and do not expect this case to be decided for perhaps a year or more," Richmond said.

Prairie Crossing is one of four state-authorized charter schools. Unlike traditional public schools, the charters launched by the state must go through a periodic renewal process.

Open since 1999, Prairie Crossing Charter School has had an environmentally focused curriculum that includes outdoor teaching and trash-free lunches. The 432-student capacity school is within the borders of Woodland and Fremont Elementary District 79 in the Mundelein area.

Parents at the larger Woodland and Fremont districts may send their children to Prairie Crossing, which determines enrollment by lottery. While most of Prairie Crossing's children come from Woodland, both districts lodged objections with the state before the charter school opened.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Woodland generally has been required to send about $3 million in state aid annually to Prairie Crossing to support children from the district. Officials at the 6,200-student Woodland contend the $450,000 or so in general state aid that remains for their district is inadequate.

Prairie Crossing Executive Director Geoff Deigan said in a letter to parents that Woodland is trying to close the school in an effort to "miraculously cure years of mismanaged budgets by their administration and their school board." Deigan said he expects Prairie Crossing will prevail in appellate court.

Illinois State Charter School Commission members voted 5-4 in favor of renewing Prairie Crossing through the 2018-19 academic year. Commission member Milton Wharton, a retired circuit judge from the East St. Louis area who voted against the renewal, criticized Prairie Crossing at length for the lack of diversity.

Woodland has about 31 percent low-income students compared to Prairie Crossing's 0.5 percent, according to the state report card.

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