District 300 board sets deadline for fixing charter school problems
Community Unit District 300 officials have given the district's charter school a July 1 deadline to comply with state and federal requirements for supporting students with disabilities, special education students, and English language learners before its charter can be renewed.
At a special meeting Thursday, leaders of the Algonquin-based district laid out a detailed list of concerns with the management of Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove and its poor handling of those issues raised over nearly two years.
Audits of the school's policies and operations highlighted myriad concerns, including financial problems with some programs operating in deficit.
"To date, we have not received a satisfactory response to the majority of our material concerns," Superintendent Fred Heid said. "At this point, the district lacks confidence in the ability of the existing management company to satisfy these concerns."
Cambridge Lakes, which opened in 2007, is in the process of renewing its five-year contract, which expires at the end of the 2017-18 school year. Charter schools operate within public school districts' boundaries and are funded through property taxes. However, they are run by a separate nonelected board and administration.
Heid presented three fat binders of parents' complaints against the school, especially related to its ongoing treatment of students with special needs. He criticized the management for not providing an action plan to address those concerns and establish clear procedures to ensure they don't reoccur. The management has rebuffed previous deadlines for compliance, he added.
"If this were any other building principal, they would no longer be here," he said. "I will not stand by and allow these things to continue to happen. These issues must be resolved."
Officials said some parents with children with special needs have been denied services by the school, which is a violation of state and federal regulations.
"Every child does not have equitable access to this facility," Heid said.
Larry Fuhrer, Cambridge Lakes Charter School executive director, did not respond to specific concerns raised Thursday night, saying he did not want to get into "a tug of war."
Fuhrer said he is confident any issues can be resolved by the July 1 deadline, unless district officials keep adding to the "laundry list" of complaints.
Heid said he will be calling on state and federal authorities to look into the charter school's financial dealings. Ongoing discrepancies and errors with its invoices to the district has put a significant burden on his administration, he added.
A preschool program, which was not sanctioned under the original charter approval, is operating under a deficit of $188,000 this year and $2.4 million to date, while some other programs are losing money, per the audits.
Officials are concerned district funds intended for kindergarten through eighth-grade students are being used to help finance the preschool.
Corrective actions taken by the school's management to remedy the district's grievances were outlined in a recent letter to the school board.
School board members gave stern warnings to Fuhrer, though all agreed they don't want to see the school's charter revoked forcing its closure.
Parents and teachers made impassioned pleas to keep the school open, some urging District 300 school board members and administration to provide more support, while others suggested hiring a new management company to run the school. The district will conduct a public hearing before the school board votes on the charter renewal, likely in July.