ANDERSONVILLE — Opponents of Passages Charter School's plan to add a high school worry that it could siphon students and resources away from area high schools already facing slashed budgets.
Passages Charter School in Andersonville wants to add a high school to the Edgewater area that would be called Asian Human Services College Preparatory and open in the 2014-2015 school year if approved by the Chicago Board of Education.
The charter school abruptly canceled a public meeting about its expansion plans on Tuesday due to what officials called "facilities issues," leaving would-be attendees, including teachers, community members and union organizers on the sidewalk outside the school without a formal forum to air their thoughts — but with plenty to vent.
Karen Dreyfus, an Edgewater resident and education liaison for Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), was one of the folks on the sidewalk. Dreyfus said she had come to the school on behalf of Edgewater residents who have been contacting Osterman's office to oppose "charters in our community."
She was also there at the request of administrators at Senn High School, who she said feared that a new charter high school would hurt the Edgewater school, which is dealing with about $690,000 in budget cuts.
"Senn is a rising star in our community, it's becoming a more vibrant neighborhood school," Dreyfus said. "We just want to really concentrate on creating a successful neighborhood high school option. We would like to see resources concentrated in our local neighborhood schools."
Rogers Park resident Carol Reicher said the proposed expansion would "decimate the local public high schools who are trying to get on their feet," amid budget cuts, including Roger Park's Sullivan High School (a school potentially facing nearly $1.5 million in cuts), Mather High School in West Ridge (a school facing about $863,000 in cuts) and Lincoln Square's Amundsen High School ( a school facing about $1.5 million in cuts).
Passages, however, saw its budget increased by about $302,000.
Chicago Public Schools issued a request for proposals for new charter schools in August, urging applicants to apply to open schools in areas suffering from school overcrowding, with a focus on the Southwest and Northwest sides. But critics of the Passages expansion plan say Edgewater hardly fits any of those criteria.
Michael J. Harrington, director of union operations in the office of the president for the Chicago Teachers Union, blasted Asian Human Services for the expansion plan.
"The statement that's happening here with well-meaning community organizations, supposedly, thinking of opening a charter school — it's a betrayal," said Harrington, who has a son at Senn and sits on its local school council. "It's a betrayal of the public, it's a betrayal of the taxpayers who pay for public schools, and also the sad part, it's the 'grass is green on the other side of the fence,' scam."
Passages Principal Nicole Feinberg declined to comment about the potential expansion. She referred questions to Asian Human Services and the American Quality School Corporation, and neither organization returned calls.
Some parents and students outside the school Tuesday, however, voiced support for the high school expansion.
Edgewater resident Missy Hill, mother of two children at the school, said the expansion would be "very convenient," for her and other parents.
Passages sixth-graders Joryel and Berri who both said "I can't say it," when asked for their last names, said the staff "care about the students a lot," and "protect us." Although they don't know many of the details of the controversy, they too support the expansion.
And Uptown resident Yeboah Sefah, who was picking up his two children at Passages, said: "This is a very good school."
"We need more in Chicago," Sefah said.