State commission hears from Elgin charter school supporters, opponents
Supporters of an Elgin charter school urged a state commission on Thursday to overrule Elgin Area School District U-46's denial of its proposal.
But those who backed the school board's decision expressed concerns over the plan's economic feasibility, its effect on the district and the school's ability to serve at-risk students.
Dozens of parents, teachers and community members spoke before members of the Illinois State Charter School Commission during a public hearing regarding the proposed Elgin Math and Science Academy. The commission is expected to decide next month whether to approve or reject an appeal of the district's June decision. The U-46 board and the state commission also shot down a 2014 charter school proposal by the same group.
"Our design team has shown deep dedication and resilience in this process," said Kerin Kelly, president of the Elgin Charter School Initiative. "We have put a lot of time and effort in working collaboratively with the district. We are disappointed to have to take this route for approval."
But Lisa Hopp, an Elgin resident and district parent, said she does not believe the plan has improved over the last three years; rather, she says, it has gotten more costly.
"EMSA still knows little about running a school for at-risk kids," Hopp said. "From top to bottom, the vagueness and lack of planning in every aspect, from budget to location to curriculum, limits the accessibility of this school to a great number of district families."
The charter group is seeking 100 percent of state funding for tuition -- roughly $10,300 per student -- and other categorical funding for a total of roughly $2.4 million each year. Federal grants will also cover $950,000 of the school's initial startup costs.
The academy is also expected to borrow millions of dollars over the next decade to fund renovations to the proposed charter school site, the former Fox River Country Day School at 1600 Dundee Ave.
While several speakers were concerned the school would divert funds from other U-46 programs, others said it would be a small price to pay to enrich the district's portfolio.
Parent Rick Newton said the proposal would provide district families with more options for their kids. The school would implement an Expeditionary Learning curriculum -- a hands-on approach that allows students to explore real-life problems.
"Recognizing that not all students learn effectively by the same methods, I am simply asking the state charter commission to approve this charter," he said.
If the state commission grants the appeal, the charter school could open next August under the state's oversight. It would have roughly 200 kids in kindergarten to third grade in its first year. Another grade would be added each year, eventually offering classes for up to 700 students through eighth grade.
Kelly said the group has received support from hundreds of potential students and their families, many of whom are low-income. But district leaders said Thursday they do not believe the school is in the best interest of U-46.
"We care too much about our students and our families to support a school that even after three years of planning remains unprepared for students," said Suzanne Johnson, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.
The state commission will make its final decision on the charter appeal at an Oct. 3 meeting, scheduled for 3 p.m. at Gail Borden Public Library. Additional comments can be submitted through 7 p.m. on Sept. 14 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.