U-46 board debates terms of Elgin charter school contract
Elgin schools' officials Monday night debated terms of a contract for a proposed Elgin charter school, which remains controversial.
Nine people spoke against the Elgin Math and Science Academy charter school proposal Monday during a special school board meeting.
"The proposal you are considering will annually divert at least $4.5 million or more out of the U-46 budget to a charter that is completely unnecessary and represents a frivolous use of funds," said Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford of Elgin. "On a day-to-day basis, what current student services will be cut or diminished because of the charter? Which U-46 staff and teachers will lose their jobs, and which positions will be cut in which schools across the district? Which programming will be threatened by charter approval?"
Elgin Area School District U-46 officials are negotiating with the charter group on a contract for the school to open in August 2018 with 200 students in kindergarten through third grade. Another grade would be added each year, eventually offering classes through eighth grade for up to 450 students.
In April, the U-46 school board allowed the charter school proposal to move forward against the recommendation of district administrators, provided both parties can agree on contract terms by June 30.
Elgin resident Veronica Betz asked how U-46 could afford to fund a charter school when there are ongoing uncertainties with state funding.
"At this juncture, the time has come for the board to publicly state how they propose the district to afford to annually pay $4.5 million, $6 million or up to $8 million to EMSA," Betz said.
Betz also questioned how the proposed charter school could serve its target audience of 60 percent at-risk students when admission would be determined by a lottery and if transportation is not provided. "That seems to eliminate a large student population from even applying to the school," she said. "This charter school seems to be gerrymandering what population students they choose to serve."
Several school board members also expressed concerns about the school's ability to attract and maintain 60 percent at-risk student population.
School board member Traci O'Neal Ellis said the charter group needs to develop a recruitment plan detailing how it will achieve that diversity and maintain it going forward. "They have to show some reasonable chance of getting this otherwise it is just lip service," Ellis said. "This has to be something that is really happening in the first year because the available seats significantly decrease after that."
Officials agreed to assess the school's performance toward meeting that goal of serving at-risk students as part of annual accountability measures.
Other key points officials want to include in the contract is requiring special education services for eligible charter school students be provided by the district through third party vendors, and a provision to reduce the school's funding by whatever costs are associated with the district providing specialized services. Student transportation costs also would be the responsibility of the school and not the district, officials said.
The charter group must secure permits for construction and rehabilitation of the proposed school site -- the former Fox River Country Day School at 1600 Dundee Ave. to be leased from the city of Elgin -- from the regional office of education by Sept. 30 and have the occupancy permit by May 15, 2018, officials said.