The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Latest U-46 Board vote rejects charter school
By Seth Hancock
“We did not go in good faith and negotiate if this is what happens in that our administration has rewritten the proposal and rehashed all the same issues that we discussed before and negated the 6-1 vote,” said School District U-46 Board of Education member Veronica Noland after the board denied a contract and ended negotiations with the Elgin Math and Science Academy (EMSA) charter on Monday, June 26.
The board had initially approved the EMSA proposal in April by a 6-1 vote pending a mutually agreed upon contract, Donna Smith casting the lone no vote, but a 4-3 vote against school choice in U-46 was taken to end the contract negotiations. Smith, Traci Ellis, Sue Kerr and Melissa Owens all voted against the contract while Noland, Phil Costello and Jeanette Ward voted for it. Owens was not on the board during the April vote.
EMSA can appeal the decision with the Illinois Charter School Commission.
The vote ended a long process that saw four negotiation meetings between the U-46 administration and the EMSA team as well as updates to the board at five meetings, two of which were special meetings of over six hours just to discuss the contract. EMSA was denied a charter in 2014 by the U-46 board.
The concern on the process started from the first motion in which the resolution stated it was a vote on not only a contract but also a proposal.
Ward asked: “I’m unsure if this motion is appropriate given that we have already approved their proposal, 6-1, on April 10. So shouldn’t we only be voting on the contract?”
Miguel Rodriguez, chief legal officer, said his legal opinion was that the resolution needed to be for both, but Noland felt like it was a “bait and switch” to essentially wipe the board’s hand clean of having ever approved the initial proposal.
Noland said that what the board was led to believe the previous week at a regular board meeting was that it would be approval of a contract, not a contract and proposal, and things “changed in the course of a matter of days.”
“We were going to be presented with an agreed upon contract that both sides worked diligently to achieve” and on Friday “it’s suddenly a different resolution… and opening it up again to rehashing what has already been hashed and basically, in my opinion, negating all those efforts and it makes us seem disingenuous in our efforts with EMSA, that all along we haven’t worked in good faith if this is what we pulled out in the end,” Noland said.
Ellis said “the two go together” and the original proposal “has no meaning unless we’ve reached a mutually agreed upon contract.”
“This to me has been an appropriate process that we’ve gone through, and EMSA is a grassroots group that’s been working for four or five years… to bring something to our community that we don’t have right now, that our district isn’t putting forth,” Noland said.
After the vote on that resolution, the board voted on a denial resolution. U-46 CEO Tony Sanders read off a list of the administrations grievances with EMSA in the resolution and said the denial “hereby supersedes” the original approval. In April, the board approved the proposal despite the administration recommending denial.
“I feel that this proposal… has really been created by staff because we did not create this. We directed administration to work with EMSA to work on a contract, not to rehash the proposal that we already did,” said Noland who added: “This is disingenuous, and I strongly object with the way this has been manipulated.”
Smith replied that “they cannot go to the state without a denial” to which Noland responded it didn’t “justify rewriting the proposal.”
Smith said that “a lot of the things” in the denial resolution were concerns raised by the board recently, but Noland said the previous week there were just a few things left to be ironed out in the contract.
“That list was an extremely long list that included things that we, I thought had [been] resolved back in April,” Noland said. “We have staff now who have rewritten the proposal and rehashed the same information and brought it forward to us tonight. This just basically lets EMSA know that we did not negotiate in good faith, did we?”
Ellis disagreed: “We negotiated and administration followed our direction.”
Noland understood that the board is the boss of the administration and is supposed to guide staff, not the other way around, as she said “when my boss says to me that I’ve heard you and now I want you to move forward and do x, I do x.” She added: “Now it’s the laundry list of every single grievance that administration has had with the entire project, that’s disingenuous. Why did we waste EMSA’s time?”
However, Ellis said the board works for the administration saying the administration’s “job is not to sit quietly and just let the ball bounce wherever it’s going to. [The administration is] to direct and guide the board, guide the board, in decision making, and I appreciate that you did your job.”
Ward said: “This wasn’t guiding. This was behind the scenes manipulation to make sure that this didn’t pass. And here it is not passing.”
Ellis said she “was not manipulated so I take offense to” Ward’s evidence-based rebuttal to how the vote went down.
The vote was just a disagreement and not manipulation according to Ellis who said Ward disagreed with an added $50 million in debt a few years ago which Ward replied “that $50 million bond was never brought before the board if you recall.” That previous bond proposal offered more evidence that the administration, not the board, controls the agenda as Sanders pulled it because he thought it was going to be denied by the board.
Ellis also made things personal earlier in the meeting saying Costello made “egregious comment” when he suggested the district needs to be more innovative and accountable in supporting EMSA.
Costello said: “It really drives home innovation and accountability which I haven’t seen from the other 57 schools we have. I think this is a great model for what we can do in the future with an accountable and innovative resource like EMSA.”
Ellis, who brought up a line Costello wrote on a website claiming he advocated firing district staff, replied: “First of all Mr. Costello, really for you to make that type of disparaging remark about our schools with no data… and now you come and publicly state you haven’t seen any innovation or accountability from any 57 schools is in my humble opinion is irresponsible.”
Costello said Ellis was twisting his words when he later responded: “I have never disparaged anyone on this board and will never do that at any cost. I’ve never disparaged a public speaker when I’ve been attacked…. I never said anything about cutting staff. I said it might be in order. There is a range that all businesses have to deal in, and that’s that there is failure and there are successes. So I do take offense when someone says that I want to cut teachers or even cut the district staff.”
“It upsets me that somehow I’m the person that wants to cut schools,” Costello added. “I think that EMSA would be a prime example of how all of our schools should be dealt with. If they had that level of innovation and accountability, we would be a much better district.”