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Council Shelves Attempt to Halt Charter School Approvals

By Ted Cox | January 16, 2014 12:15pm | Updated on January 16, 2014 3:30pm
 Ald. Nick Sposato, flanked by Ald. Scott Waguespack (l.) and Ald. John Arena (r.), tried to halt next week's Board of Education vote on new charter schools.
Ald. Nick Sposato, flanked by Ald. Scott Waguespack (l.) and Ald. John Arena (r.), tried to halt next week's Board of Education vote on new charter schools.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — A City Council attempt to head off a Board of Education vote on new charter schools was derailed this week after being sent to the place "where good legislation goes to die."

Ald. Nick Sposato (36th) submitted a resolution at Wednesday's City Council meeting, ahead of next week's Board of Education vote on whether to approve new charters. Sposato's resolution would have called on the board to suspend its vote while conducting a "comprehensive impact analysis" of the schools' effects on their designated neighborhoods. It also would have called on Chicago Public Schools to show charters perform better than conventional public schools, and would have set terms for involving the public in the process on charters.

The resolution was backed by the eight members of the Progressive Reform Caucus as well as four other aldermen and neighborhood groups on the Northwest Side, where many of the proposed new charters are targeted. Yet, it was sent with swift dispatch to the Rules Committee, typically where legislation uncomfortable to the mayoral administration is sent to languish, and certainly making it moot ahead of next Wednesday's Board of Education meeting, as the committee meets rarely if at all.

"They're just playing their games," Sposato said Thursday. "They know with the timing of it there's nothing to be done."

Juan Cruz, an organizer with the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, which backed the resolution, said parents intended to take the battle to the board meeting and present many of the same demands, led by Communities United for Quality Education.

"Obviously, it's gonna have an impact on the neighborhood schools," Cruz said. "A lot of the parents are saying that before CPS makes investments in any new schools it should use the resources to address these issues at existing neighborhood schools."

Cruz said parents were concerned additional resources would be diverted from neighborhood schools to charters, after existing schools had their budgets slashed last summer in the wake of 50 schools being closed.

"It doesn't make sense when they tell us they don't have resources for neighborhood schools," Cruz added.

Parent groups have charged that, if approved, the new charters would cost CPS more than $250 million over 10 years.

"I'm not a charter-school guy. I don't make any bones about that," Sposato said. "But if we solidified our community schools and everything, I guess I don't have a problem with it — as much of a problem as I have now. If you have solid community schools and you give them the resources they need to educate the kids, and if it's a fair and level game, then let's see what's involved and let's see who's doing better."

CPS responded that the Board of Education was simply following a state-mandated timeline for considering and approving new schools.

"Providing high-quality education options is a priority for CPS, which is why there are rigorous standards when approving any application for a charter school as well as renewing their contract," said CPS spokesman Joel Hood. "If CPS does not complete its review process and take its recommendations to the board within 75 days, charter applicants can appeal directly to the Illinois State Charter Commission, forfeiting CPS' authority to manage the new schools or hold them accountable."

CPS added there were four high schools within about a six-mile radius of the proposed Noble campus in Belmont Cragin at 95 percent of capacity or higher. This includes Prosser High School (126 percent of capacity), which is actually across the street from the proposed Noble campus. It also includes nearby Taft High School, which is at 146 percent of capacity.

Yet Sposato noted there are actually three high schools within just a mile and a half of the proposed site of the new Noble school — Foreman, Kelvyn Park and North-Grand — and, according to the latest CPS figures, Kelvyn Park, is under capacity. That would be an argument against adding another charter high school, he said.

"It's proof they're playing bull---- games," Sposato said. "They known damn well there's four within a mile-and-a-half radius."

The Chicago Teachers Union has argued the overwhelming popularity of existing neighborhood schools on the Northwest Side indicates CPS should invest in more of the same, not new charter schools.

"I keep hearing people want choice," Sposato said. "The choice people want in my community is they want the resources in their community school."

According to CPS, Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett offered to brief aldermen last week on the charter process, but four of the 12 who signed on to the resolution did not attend the briefing, nor did they send staff representatives.