The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 continues review of charter school pact
By Seth Hancock
“We have God knows how many meetings. Lately we’ve been having a board meeting every Monday or Tuesday,” said Miguel Rodriguez, chief legal officer for School District U-46, at a special Board of Education meeting to discuss the Elgin Math and Science Academy (EMSA) charter school contract on Monday, June 13.
Although said in jest, Rodriguez was pretty accurate as the board has now held over six hours in special board meetings as well as dedicating over an hour and a half to discuss the contract at its regular meeting on Monday, June 19. The board set a deadline of June 30 to reach a mutually agreed upon contract when it gave tentative approval to EMSA back in April by a 6-1 vote, Donna Smith casting the lone no vote.
A contract is expected to be finalized on Thursday, June 22 with a vote at a special board meeting on Monday, June 26.
As the vote nears, some board members appeared ready to prolong the process at the June 19 meeting during a discussion sparked by Smith saying she wants a final contract submitted.
“I had a very, very difficult time going through the EMSA notes and going through the contract,” said Smith who said it keeps going back and forth, and she added: “I’d like to see language for their request… that we can either approve or disapprove.”
Rodriguez noted “we already have a contract, and we are required to propose… a contract that’s viable and sound,” and these discussions are simply trying to iron out concerns both sides have had during negotiations.
Board member Jeanette Ward noted that the number of concerns have been whittled down to a “pretty small” number as the negotiations continue, and board member Veronica Noland said “we’ve asked for this. As a board, we’ve asked for these updates going along the way,” and “we’re almost where we need to be”
Board member Traci Ellis said she had new questions and concerns to raise that have not been discussed, which could prolong the process, when she went on an over four-minute speech to say the current issues being discussed aren’t the only issues which Smith, the board’s president, agreed.
However, board member Phil Costello said “well, we are” down to these current issues adding “that’s the contract, that’s what the district has brought to us,” and “we’re not here to negotiate.”
Costello also had to force his way into the conversation as he attempted to get the floor to talk before Ellis embarked on her speech. Ellis did interrupt Costello forcing him to ask: “Can I talk now?”
Most of the issues discussed by the board have hinged on who will have control on issues such as a code of conduct. Costello, Noland and Ward have all sought for EMSA to have more autonomy.
Noland said at the June 13 meeting that “part of the idea of being a charter school is to have that autonomy,” and Costello said: “We are considering a proposed charter in which they take control of it, and I just want to make sure that they have control of it so they can do the things without having to ask for permission to do things, because if that’s the case they kind of lose their ability to have an effective school system. Everything I’ve read about what they’re doing kind of makes sense. I want them to have that control and autonomy within reason.”
On the code of conduct, the contract will likely require EMSA to adopt U-46’s in the first year, but EMSA will be able to develop its own in future years.
U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said “our student code of conduct is probably one of the best in the state if not the country” because “we do not suspend student grade pre-K through second.”
Ellis, Smith, Sue Kerr and Melissa Owens all said they wanted EMSA to adopt U-46’s code of conduct over EMSA over fears that charters may overuse suspensions and expulsions, Ellis saying “this is an area where charter schools notoriously have a problem with respect to discipline and what I believe is over discipline.”
However, that seemed to ignore that EMSA said it would follow U-46’s suspension and expulsion practices regardless of if it used U-46’s or developed its own code of conduct.
Ward said “I don’t think we should require them to adopt our code of conduct if they agree to those things,” but was willing to compromise as a “fallback” requiring EMSA to use U-46’s code of conduct in the first year. Ward also noted: “Our code of conduct is differently implemented and enforced in different schools across the district.”
Rodriguez’s comment about the many meetings the board has held to discuss the contract was in response to a question from Ward over language stating EMSA’s “governing Board shall hold meetings at least 6 times a year.”
Kerry Kelly, the founding EMSA board member, said “all of this is already required by law. It’s sort of like treating us childlike” to include that in the contract.
Ward asked if six meetings were required by law which Rodriguez said there wasn’t a specific number required but that was “standard language” in other charter contracts. Kelly said EMSA’s board will be “meeting 12 times a year.”