U-46 says no to Elgin charter school after heated debate
A proposal for an Elgin charter school has once again failed to garner the blessing of officials at the state's second-largest school district.
After a heated debate, Elgin Area School District U-46 school board members voted 4-3 Monday to deny the Elgin Math and Science Academy Charter School Initiative's proposal and contract primarily because of concerns with the plan's economic soundness that could not be resolved over two months of negotiations.
Board members who voted against the proposal cited the same reasons for denial as had surfaced throughout negotiations.
"The financial plan does not appear sustainable," school board member Traci O'Neal Ellis said. "Our school district's own public school finance experts have expressed deep concerns about it and that the plan was not solid. I have not seen a coalition of parents of at-risk students come forward clamoring for this school. Your finances appear overly reliant on debt, loans that haven't materialized, and fundraising that hasn't happened."
The charter school would have opened in August 2018 with 200 students in kindergarten to third grade, adding grades each year through eighth for up to 450 students. The initiative sought 92 percent of tuition -- about $9,476 per student -- from U-46 to maintain a proposed $1.9 million budget for the first year of operations.
Several board members questioned the school's ability to attract and serve 60 percent at-risk students and provide adequate special education services. Officials said enrollment would not open to all students because of the lack of transportation provided for at-risk and homeless students.
A 2014 proposal by the same group was denied by the U-46 school board and the Illinois State Charter School Commission.
School board member Sue Kerr said U-46 cannot afford losing $2 million to $4 million yearly to the charter school in the current economic climate.
"U-46 could not afford to buy buses this year because of the state budget crisis," she said.
Kerr also questioned the charter group's claims that it could secure an interest-free loan or absorb a loss of roughly $500,000 in Title I funding over six years, if less than 60 percent of its student population is low-income.
The charter group's budget also assumes $4 million in needed repairs and renovations of the proposed school site -- the former Fox River Country Day School at 1600 Dundee Ave. to be leased from the city of Elgin.
That does not take into account lead testing and remediation that all public schools are required to do now, Kerr said.
Board members on the dissenting side were outraged that Monday's decision meant altogether failure of the charter proposal, which they believed already had been approved in April.
The school board on April 10 allowed the charter proposal to move forward against the recommendation of district administrators, on condition that both parties could agree on contract terms by June 30.
"I feel like this was a bait and switch," school board member Veronica Noland said. "We were led to believe that we were going to be presented an agreed-upon contract that both sides worked diligently to achieve. It makes us seem disingenuous with EMSA."
Noland said the charter school would offer U-46 parents a choice they currently don't have.
"Our district is a huge bureaucracy that it is difficult to be innovative," she said. "It is a group of individuals wanting to be innovative to provide something we aren't doing. We don't offer variety and options at the elementary level."
The charter group can appeal U-46's decision with the state commission.