U-46 school board candidates debate school choice, charter schools

Updated 3/16/2017 3:47 PM
  • Clockwise from upper left, Enoch Essendrop, Cody Holt, Veronica Noland, Donna Smith and Melissa Owens are running for three seats on the Elgin Area School District U-46 school board April 4.

    Clockwise from upper left, Enoch Essendrop, Cody Holt, Veronica Noland, Donna Smith and Melissa Owens are running for three seats on the Elgin Area School District U-46 school board April 4.

Candidates vying to lead the state's second-largest school district have different views on what school choice means and whether charter schools are a good idea.

School board President Donna Smith of Hanover Park, and trustees Veronica Noland and Cody Holt, both of Elgin, face challengers Melissa Owens of Bartlett and Enoch Essendrop of Elgin, for three 4-year terms on the Elgin Area School District U-46 school board. The election is April 4.

U-46 administration recommends denying a second proposal for an Elgin charter school because it falls short of addressing the needs of the district's diverse and at-risk students. A 2014 proposal by the same Elgin group was rejected by the U-46 school board and the Illinois State Charter School Commission.

Owens, 48, chairwoman of the U-46 Citizens' Advisory Council, said she was against the previous charter school proposal because it didn't provide specifics about how special education services would be handled.

The proposal sought full reimbursement from U-46 for educating special needs students, yet the school would have passed off some services to the district, she said.

"That is a direct drain of services from the district," Owens said. "A charter school should have the same financial and academic accountability as any other district school, and should not cause any financial burden to the school district."

Owens said while she would like to see a charter school operated by a local group rather than a national chain, she still has some of the same concerns with the latest proposal. Smith, 59, said she has reviewed three charter proposals during her tenure on the board since 2001, each on its own merits.

"The finance part of it has always been a concern," she said. "It is a hit on your budget."

Holt and Essendrop are strong proponents of charter schools and say they favor "school choice."

"It's (school choice) one of the greatest civil rights issues of the 21st century," said Holt, 25, a 2010 graduate of Larkin High School who is completing a 2-year elected term. "It will give these students an opportunity to get an alternate education."

Holt supports having multiple charter schools within the district and believes it will lead to "innovation and competition."

"It cedes power that has been taken by school boards and teacher unions back to parents and students of our district," said Essendrop, 19, who himself was home-schooled and is a student at Providence Baptist College in Elgin.

Noland said she is open to charter schools with the condition that they are run by nonprofits, allow their employees to unionize, and there is no selective enrollment.

She added, she is concerned about the latest charter proposal's finances, how the school would serve special education students and provide transportation, and its proposed location.

The site being considered is the former Fox River Country Day School at 1600 Dundee Ave., owned by the city of Elgin. The school's opening hinges on the group's ability to borrow nearly $4 million to finance needed renovations of that site and initially fund operations.

"I want to see it work and be successful, and model it," said Noland, 50, an alumna of the district's Hispanic Parent Leadership Institute first elected in 2013.

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