PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday January 22nd, 2014, 7:07pm

Chicago Board Of Ed OK's New Charters; Might Join Forces With CTU Against IL Charter Commission

At its monthly meeting Wednesday, the Chicago Board of Education approved seven new charter schools scheduled to open over the next two years. Also on Wednesday, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale said they might "join hands" to push back against the Illinois State Charter School Commission.

At its monthly meeting Wednesday, the Chicago Board of Education approved seven new charter schools scheduled to open over the next two years.

The board rejected applications for 11 other campuses that were also under consideration, including five from Connected Futures, four from Curtis-Sharif STEM Academy, one from Be the Change and one from Asian Human Services Passages.

Out of the seven campuses that got the green-light, five were approved with various types of contingencies.

Wednesday's vote to approve the new charters comes just eight months after the board voted to close a record-breaking 50 "underutilized" neighborhood schools.

"The board of education is going to impose charters on the city even after they’ve said many of those areas don’t need new schools, they're underutilized, we have to do budget cuts, we have to close schools," Jackson Potter, staff coordinator with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), told reporters before the meeting. "And yet, here they are again putting new charters online that are going to leave all children behind by diminishing the limited resources of our city. It’s really an outrage."

But Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network Of Charter Schools, argued that opening new charters is appropriate because the city needs more high-quality schools.

"The school-closing decision by CPS had nothing to do with charter growth, it had all to do with enrollment declines over the previous two years," Broy added. “I think CPS is trying to add high-quality public schools of choice, and they are doing that through this vote today.”

One of two campuses that was approved without any conditions is the Great Lakes Academy, which is scheduled to open in 2014. It will serve students K-8 at a location to be determined in the South Shore community. The other campus that was approved without any changes is the more controversial ITW David Speer Academy high school proposed by Noble Street. The school, set to open in 2014, will be located in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood at 5321 W. Grand Ave., which is right across the street from Prosser Career Academy.

The five campuses that were approved with conditions include two from Concept Schools, set to open in 2014; Noble Street's "Exeter" school, which will open in 2014; Chicago Education Partnership's school, scheduled for a 2015 opening; and one Intrinsic Schools site that will also open in 2015. Click through for more details about the seven charters' locations and enrollment plans.

The seven approvals were among a total of 22 new charter proposals originally submitted to CPS as part of the 2013 New School RFP process, which began in August. Under state law, CPS and other school districts in Illinois are required to consider charter applications annually. This year, the district specifically said it wanted applications for new charters to help alleviate overcrowding at existing neighborhood schools in certain so-called "priority communities," such as Ashburn, Belmont Cragin, Chicago Lawn, Little Village, McKinley Park and Sauganash.

Some attendees at the board of ed meeting, however, questioned why CPS wants to open any new charters at a time when 47 percent of the district's charter and contract schools are currently under-enrolled, according to an analysis of 2013-2014 CPS data by the Raise Your Hand education coalition. That comes out to be 50 schools that together have almost 11,000 empty seats. Raise Your Hand's analysis also found that CPS had an overall decline in enrollment by 3,000 students this year.

CTU President Karen Lewis, who highlighted the recent analysis during her remarks to the board, also took the opportunity to discuss the "seedy underbelly of the charter movement."

"The insider deals, the lack of transparency and the lack of accountability, which means more than test scores ... That's a double standard. And that behavior that would get an administrator fired in CPS will actually get you a bonus in charter schools at the largess of the taxpayer," Lewis stressed.

Meanwhile, charter operators that saw their applications rejected by the board Wednesday can actually appeal the denials to the Illinois State Charter School commission, an independent charter authority set up by the state legislature in 2011. The commission has already overturned CPS’ denials for two charter Concept Schools last year, which are the only appeals the charter authorizer has granted thus far. (Read more about the state charter school commission and the push by some lawmakers to abolish the authority here.)

During the meeting, board member Mahalia Hines expressed worry over the possibility of having the denials overruled. Lewis later responded to Hines' concern, saying she would happily work with the board to advocate for revoking the charter commission's authorizing power. It's an issue, Lewis said, where she and the board "can walk hand-in-hand to Springfield."

"Let's join hands," Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale responded.

A slew of elected officials also attended the meeting to weigh in on the proposed charters. Alds. Bob Fiortetti (2nd), Scott Waguespack (32nd),   Nicholas Sposato (36th), and John Arena (45th) spoke in opposition of the new schools, while Alds. Howard Brookins (21st) and Emma Mitts (37th) offered their support.

Fioretti specifically urged the board to table the approval of any new charters for one year and use that delay to study the academic performance of charter schools and to conduct a financial analysis of the proposed schools, among other requests.

As far as one of the schools that won conditional approval, CPS wants Chicago Education Partnership, which does not yet operate any charter schools, to submit more details involving its curriculum and other academic information before gaining full approval. The charter operator, which wants to open an elementary school in Austin in partnership with the By The Hand Club For Kids, has to submit that information as part of CPS' 2014 New Schools RFP, which doesn't come out until later this year.

Chicago Education Partnership Executive Director Mike Rogers told reporters that CPS' conditions disrupt the school's timeline for construction. The charter operator is constructing a new building to serve K-6 students at 400 N. Leamington Ave., and it's also remodeling By The Hand's existing building at 415 N. Laramie Ave., which will accommodate 7th and 8th graders.

"Obviously we've got a large team of people who have put in a substantial amount of work, and so our first desire is to be approved without conditions or contingencies, and so that's been our hope all along," Rogers told reporters after learning of the conditional approval. "I look forward to hearing from CPS more about the contingencies and what it is that they're interested in seeing that they don't currently see."

Dwayne Truss, a West Side activist with Raise Your Hand, would rather not have Chicago Education Partnership open in Austin, which saw four neighborhood elementary schools close last year. Due to CPS' per-pupil budgeting formula, Truss is worried traditional Austin schools could see some of their resources drained if they lose students to the new charter in the future.

"You're going to continue to hurt poor families when you continue to go ahead and open up charters in our community, which you devastated," Truss told the board members. He added that non-indigenous charter school operators benefit "off the backs of poor and black and brown children."

The seven new schools approved Wednesday also come on top of nine additional charters the board has already authorized to open next fall. But Jack Elsey, CPS' chief innovation and incubation officer, noted during Wednesday's board meeting that it's "highly unlikely" that all nine will open by that time.

Out of the schools that were approved, Chicago Board of Education member Carlos Azcoitia voted against four of the proposals: Great Lakes Academy, Chicago Education Partnership, Concept Chicago Lawn and Noble Exeter. Board member Andrea Zopp also voted against Noble Exeter. The rest were approved unanimously.

After the meeting, Azcoitia told reporters that he voted 'no' on the four campuses, because he wanted to "target the priority areas" and "overcrowding."  He said he did vote for one of Concept's proposals for Chatham that is not in a priority community because "it's an economic development area."

In addition to Concept's Chatham campus, two of the other approved charters -- Great Lakes Academy and Chicago Education Partnership -- are not located in priority communities. District officials stressed that locations for the campuses are preliminary and could change as the new schools process moves forward.

While they may not be in a priortiy community, the three schools have "deep community support" and have "invested a tremendous amount of time and energy in building that support," Zopp said.

Overall, however, she said that the board's vote was a "difficult" one.

"I think we have some real challenges," Zopp said immediately before the vote. "It is hard to balance what we've done already this year with opening schools that are in communities where we've said we have too many seats. I struggle with that significantly. For the schools where we have overcrowding, I believe high-quality charter options to ease those issues are appropriate and we should support that."

Also at Wednesday's meeting, the board signed off on a new policy under which all students will receive daily physical education in elementary and high schools.

Under current state law, physical education is required for all students grades K-12, but CPS has successfully sought a physical education waiver for students in 11th and 12th grades since 1997. The district's current waiver, however, expires in June 2014 and CPS decided not to pursue an additional one. As part of the new policy, grades K-8 will receive physical education 30 minutes each school day or 150 minutes a week. Grades 9-12 will also see daily physical education added to their schedules. Under the policy, all schools have to submit a three-year physical education plan identifying annual progress by July 1. Tax-increment financing surplus funds will help pay for some of the new physical education teachers.

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