ANDERSONVILLE — Passages Charter School's proposal to open a high school was rejected earlier this year, but the school is trying again to expand and officials say they will have to start turning kids away without more cash from Chicago Public Schools.
Community groups in Andersonville and Uptown said they oppose Passages' plans under the same argument they used to blast the charter school's high school aspirations — that its expansion would siphon students and public funding from neighborhood schools.
The Andersonville charter school, 1643 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., has a CPS-designated cap of 410 funded students. Due to demand, there are 432 kids are enrolled at the elementary school, which wants to increase its funded enrollment cap by 50 students to get more CPS funds, principal Nicole Feinberg said.
Passages, a branch of social service agency Asian Human Services, is operated by charter company American Quality Schools, whose founder and CEO Michael Bakalis said, "these students are basically being educated for free."
"Which means we are diluting the resources for the other kids" at Passages, Bakalis said.
Bakalis said that without more funding, the school would have to turn away kids.
"This is an immigrant, refugee population that is very heavily in our school," Bakalis said, claiming that some of the area's most disadvantaged kids could be shown the door.
Feinberg said Passages isn't asking for "a huge expansion" and wants "simply to have the ability to serve our current population already and have a few additional spaces to spread across various grade levels."
She described the budget situation at Passages as "tight," though Passages' saw its budget this year increase by about $302,000 compared to the previous year, to about $3.6 million.
Community members have worried, particularly in the aftermath of a historic slate of school closings, about the proliferation of private schools in Chicago hurting neighborhood schools, many of which have suffered massive budget cuts under CPS' per-pupil funding policy.
Community group ONE Northside issued a statement Monday afternoon saying its education task force "is dismayed" to hear of Passages' plans to add students.
"Trumbull Elementary School, which was one of the closed schools, sits vacant half a mile away from Passages," said the statement. "If there was a need to have a another elementary school in the area, the Board of Education should reopen the shuttered school."
Former Trumbull parent, Andersonville resident James Morgan, agreed.
"First they closed my school," Morgan said. "Now, this proposed expansion continues to show that the current education policy in Chicago is being dictated by the mayor’s plan to undermine neighborhood schools while lining the pockets of [the] privately-run charter school industry."
"And we plan to continue to fight them," said Morgan, who sits on the local school council at Andersonville's Peirce Elementary School.
Passages resides within the borders of the West Andersonville Neighbors Together, a block club that is peeved at Passages for an alleged lack of community outreach. WANT said in a statement Monday that the school failed to contact them about plans to expand, and held a community meeting last Thursday on short notice "during the middle of the morning when many people were at work."
Passages' "approach to date has not given WANT much confidence in its representations," said the statement.
Feinberg countered that Passages has done enough to satisfy CPS' community outreach requirements. CPS did not immediately respond to questions about the charter plan.
A public hearing about the latest Passages proposal is scheduled Thursday at CPS' Downtown headquarters.
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