Group will ask state to reverse U-46 on Elgin charter school denial
A group proposing an Elgin charter school may be taking its case to the state after failing a second time to gain support from the local host district.
The Elgin Area School District U-46 school board last week denied the Elgin Math and Science Academy charter school due to concerns with the plan's economic soundness and its potential impact on the district.
Kerry Kelly, president of the Elgin Charter School Initiative, said the group plans to appeal the decision with the Illinois State Charter School Commission within 30 days.
"We're just very disappointed," Kelly said about U-46's rejection. "We really wanted to work with the school district. We thought we would be a great asset to them ... having a choice like this will improve the image of U-46."
A 2014 proposal by the same group was denied by the U-46 school board and the state charter school commission.
If the commission reverses U-46's latest denial, the Elgin charter school could open in August 2018 under state oversight. It aims to cater to 200 students in kindergarten to third grade, adding grades each year through eighth for up to 450 students.
"In almost 90 percent of the cases local school board decisions are upheld," said Hosanna Mahaley Jones, state commission executive director. "We work really hard to foster collaboration between school districts and the charters. We really think it's in their best interest to work together."
Since 2011, the state commission has authorized eight charter schools -- including Prairie Crossing in Grayslake -- serving more than 3,600 students.
Finances were a primary concern for U-46 officials as the charter group has zero funds in the bank, U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said.
The charter group hasn't yet secured a $500,000 line of credit or loan as promised to support the school's cash flow, he added.
Officials also were concerned about the roughly $4 million in needed repairs and renovations of the proposed school site -- the former Fox River Country Day School at 1600 Dundee Ave., which would be leased from the city of Elgin.
Kelly said a majority of those renovations would not happen until year three and would be funded through a loan. Getting the school ready for the fall of 2018 would cost roughly $180,000, she added.
The group also is promised $950,000 in federal funds to assist with the facility's opening, but that money would come in the form of reimbursements.
The Charter Schools Program grant from the U.S. Department of Education would help cover the planning, program design, initial startup costs and implementation of an expeditionary learning model. It is budgeted to be split over the first two years of operations, Kelly said.
Those funds cannot be used for operating expenses, but can go toward hiring a principal or school leader, and for training staff members and teachers.
"We've had our budget looked at by so many different experts," Kelly said. "There's a couple of local banks that we plan to approach ... we're going to try to get some kind of line of credit preapproved before we go before the state commission."
If the Elgin charter school becomes its own educational entity, its proposed $1.9 million budget for the first year of operations would have to be increased because the school would be responsible for providing all services for special education and at-risk students -- its target audience.
"We would perform a very thorough analysis of whether or not they have a plan and intend to allocate resources to serve those (students') needs," Jones said. "They would have to bear all of the responsibility. It (the school) has to pick up special education costs. It has to pay its own legal fees. The cost to run a school as a state charter is slightly higher than the cost to run it as part of a district."
Tuition provided to state charters also vary, ranging between 75 percent to 125 percent of local per pupil costs. If approved, the Elgin charter could receive 100 percent of state funding for tuition -- roughly $10,300 per student.
Kelly said the design team has adapted the school's special education and English language learner programs to better meet state requirements.
The Elgin charter proposal has a much better chance of getting state approval this time around, said Anne Levy Brown, senior charter growth manager for the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, who has been advising the group.
"Theirs is a solid plan on par with highly successful charters," Brown said. "I think that the (U-46) board was overly cautious. As with any new small charter school, the budget is tight. However, it is doable."