The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Charter school appeal decision looms for U-46
By Seth Hancock
“We are disappointed to have to take this route,” Kerry Kelly, president of the Elgin Math and Science Academy (EMSA) board told the Illinois State Charter School Commission (ISCSC) at its public hearing on its charter appeal on Thursday, Sept. 7.
Members of the public had a chance to address the commission, 37 of 50 speakers supporting the charter school, and further evidence came out that suggested that the School District U-46 administration did not “negotiate in good faith” a contract with EMSA after being granted initial approval “pending a mutually agreed upon contract” in April by the Board of Education. In June, the board voted against the contract leaving EMSA needing to submit an appeal to the ISCSC.
At the public hearing, the ISCSC officials said a meeting will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 3 at Gail Borden Library when a final decision will be made. The public will have a chance to address the commission prior to the decision from 3 to 6 p.m., and the public can email the commission at firstname.lastname@example.org through 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 14 with the subject line Appeal SCSC 18-001.
In April, the board voted 6-1 on a resolution “granting approval to the charter school proposal based upon a mutually agreed upon contract,” but in June the board reversed its decision by a 4-3 vote by denying the contract, ending negotiations and also rewriting the original resolution.
Kelly wrote in the appeal that EMSA and U-46 had “reached an agreement” on June 21 before the June 26 denial.
Board members Phil Costello, Veronica Noland and Jeanette Ward supported EMSA both in April and June. Donna Smith, the board’s president, voted against EMSA both times while Traci Ellis and Sue Kerr approved the proposal in April but flip-flopped in June while Melissa Owens opposed EMSA in June but was not on the board in April when former board member Cody Holt cast the sixth vote in favor of the charter.
At the public hearing, Ward said: “It is quite obvious that those opposed to EMSA in the administration and on the board deliberately used a delay tactic.”
Ward noted the timeline of events. In April, the board elections took place which unseated Holt, a vocal proponent of school choice, prior to the initial vote. The board could have approved the EMSA proposal without any conditions in April, but Ward suggested the conditions were made in order to issue the final verdict once the new board was seated, Owens having campaigned against school choice.
Apparently, U-46 CEO Tony Sanders even attempted to control who Kelly, a private citizen, could speak to during the negotiations.
“My first indication that negotiations were perhaps a less than good faith effort was when Ms. Kelly informed me that our CEO had instructed her not to discuss negotiations with the board,” Ward said. “At that point, I asked to be able to observe negotiations, to which the board did not agree. Instead, a series of board meetings totaling six hours or more were held in which the details being negotiated were discussed publicly. At the last of these meetings, I was under the impression that a mutual agreement had been reached.”
The Examiner asked Kelly if that occurred and she said “that is my recollection.” Sanders was also asked if that occurred, and if so why, but he did not respond.
The U-46 administration’s recommendation to the board in April was to deny the resolution, and although the board decided otherwise Sanders chose to continue recommending denial the night before the June vote and after, as Kelly wrote, both sides had “reached an agreement.”
Noland told the ISCSC “I believe the district did not negotiate in good faith,” and Costello addressed a possible other concern that the board’s agenda is not controlled by the board but rather the administration.
“In April, the board directed district officials to work out a solution to execute the charter,” Costello said. “Apparently, that directive was taken more as a worst case scenario since there was never any indication that the district saw the EMSA charter as being good for U-46 students. Frankly, I am not aware of a single concession made on the district’s part to favorably resolve the contract so that we could move forward.”
Costello added: “In June, the board was given three typical contract options; approval, keep negotiating, or denial–yet shockingly, ‘continue negotiating’ was deemed to be the last resort by the people who set the agenda, of which I was not involved. If the district is now advocating non-negotiable deadlines, it will be interesting to see how that approach may impact future contract negotiations.”
Owens indicated at the Monday, Sept. 11 board meeting that agendas are made by the administration instead of the board when discussing a separate topic. She said: “We receive the full agenda Friday morning or Thursday evening…. Usually most of us work through the weekend to try to go through all of the documentation.”
In April, Kerr sounded in support of EMSA saying: “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.”
Kerr has made an about-face and was apparently fine with Sanders ignoring the April resolution. She said: “Administration has been criticized for presenting a slanted point of view with regards to EMSA. I believe it is administration’s job to present the board with their concerns, particularly with regard to the quality of education students might be receiving in a charter school.”