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The Examiner U-46 News Feed

Defeat of charter school in U-46 sustains conflict


By Seth Hancock
  “I’m a firm believer that education starts at home. I’m also even a firmer believer in freedom of choice and to have options. So don’t let the neighborhood school down the street from my house be the only option for my daughter next year. Allow me as a parent to choose what is best for my family, what is the best fit for my daughter,” said Denise Momodu, an Elgin mother who spoke in support of the Elgin Math and Science Academy (EMSA) during public comments on Monday, June 26 at the special Board of Education meeting in School District U-46.
  The majority voted to not allow Momodu, as well as others, that choice by a 4-3 vote despite the board approving the charter by a 6-1 margin in April, pending a contract agreement. Donna Smith, the lone no vote in April, was joined by Traci Ellis and Sue Kerr, who both approved the EMSA proposal in April, as well as Melissa Owens, who was not on the board in April, in denying the contract and ending negotiations altogether.
  Phil Costello, Veronica Noland and Jeanette Ward all voted for the contract after also supporting the proposal in April.
  EMSA can appeal the decision to the Illinois Charter School Commission (ICSC).
  Smith said in April and at the June meeting that she “was very disappointed with the presentation that we were given” and “a lot of things that we found as concerns were not addressed in this proposal” from 2014 when EMSA was denied a charter on its first try.
  Ellis said she “clearly stated at that time that I had problems” when she voted to approve the proposal in April, and she said EMSA’s financial plan was unsustainable.
  Kerr appeared to do a complete about-face from April when she sounded in full support of EMSA saying at the time: “If you can reach kids that maybe aren’t being reached in our schools, and make them more successful, let’s see what happens. The other thing is that, like it or not, charter schools are very attractive to a lot of people.”
  A recent Bloomberg report showed that property values increase by 3.5 percent where there are charter schools.
  In April, the U-46 administration was making the same complaints of uncertainty on funding from the state as it still has been making which didn’t deter Kerr from initially approving the proposal, but in June she said: “In this economic environment, I think this is not a good proposal for U-46.”
  Kerr said the EMSA budget relies on “optimistic assumptions” and said she was not “picking up a huge amount of public support” because she’s received some emails opposed to EMSA. However, as in 2014 the vast majority of public comments were in full support of EMSA and Kerry Kelly, the founding EMSA board member, has said the charter school has over 800 supporters on social media, over 500 supporters in writing and over 200 families have pre-registered.
  Both Kerr and Owens said that the district would not be able to cut expenses for the loss of funds that would follow the child. Owens said that the funds that would follow the child wouldn’t be accompanied by any “expectations that we are going to reduce the redundancies that would create.”
  Owens also said: “The state does not want to see expansion without the natural increase in students… when we are being restrained by the state at the same exact spending level as 2010.”
  However, according to the Illinois State Board of Education numbers the opposite are true for U-46 as the district received $86.1 million from the state in 2010 compared to $139.2 million in 2015, the most current year with available information on the ISBE report card, while enrollment has declined by nearly 1,000 students. That increased state revenue for U-46 also far exceeds the rate of inflation, $46.3 million over according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.
  EMSA was seeking 92 percent of funding to follow the child from U-46, and Noland noted to the opponents that if the charter is approved by the ICSC, something Ward said she believes will happen, the charter “can ask for up to 125 percent for full funding.”
  For the board members in support, the approval largely came on a belief of parental options.
  Noland, who also supported EMSA in 2014, said she was “lucky” because she has the means to make a choice for her kids as she sends one child to a U-46 school and another to a private school. She said U-46 is “a huge bureaucracy that is difficult to be innovative in our district. We have a one size fits all. It’s hard to get a departure passed through the teacher’s union contract, and I look at this as a possibility especially since it was so homegrown. It’s not an outside company trying to leach money off of our students. It is a group of individuals wanting to be innovative and wanting to provide something that we are not doing.”
  On the decision to send one child to private school, Noland said: “My child was not being taught and was falling behind, and I was being told ‘no, I’m sorry. You’re going to have to put your child in that classroom next year with that teacher who does not have good scores and a school that does not have good scores.’”
  Ward said: “I support school choice as a matter of course; anything that gives parents more choice in where to send their student. I don’t think that students should be trapped in their school by their zip code, and if we really want to give kids a hand up out of poverty this is the way to do it.”
  EMSA, which according to its proposal would have educated students at over $2,000 less than what U-46 spends per child, was seeking $2 million to follow 200 students in the first year and $4.5 million at full capacity of 450 students.
  Ward noted the apparent hypocrisy of the board’s majority which has largely ignored the ever growing cost of U-46 and said the board approves approximately $6 million in bills every meeting and also nixed a bus outsourcing plan that could have saved taxpayers millions. She also noted the expansion of operations for full day kindergarten district-wide with an initial cost of $22 million and an “addition of give or take 55 FTE’s (full time employees).”
  “Those objecting to EMSA on the basis of cost cheered when full day kindergarten was implemented, and protested loudly when bus outsourcing was considered,” Ward said. “So, it seems that those who object to EMSA on the basis of cost are being a bit disingenuous. Why do they want students trapped in their zip codes? Why do they want children trapped in poverty? This is a way for funding to follow the student, and give parents more control over where their children go to school. This is not U-46’s money. This is taxpayer money funding education and following the student.”
  Costello said: “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.”

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