PILSEN — As an ongoing feud between the United Neighborhood Organization and UNO Charter School Network wages on, Latino aldermen are urging one of the parties to pay up.
If the community group UNO files for bankruptcy, the UNO Charter School Network — a group of 16 schools that now operate independently from UNO — could be hurt by the move, Ald. Danny Solis (25th) said Tuesday night.
In a letter to UNO Charter School Network CEO Rich Rodriguez, members of the city's Latino Caucus said Tuesday that the 4,000 students who attend one of six UNO Charter School Network schools in four buildings owned by UNO would be the first to be affected. The letter is signed by Solis and fellow aldermen George Cardenas (12th), Joe Moreno (1st), Raymond Lopez (15th) and Gilbert Villegas (36th).
If UNO — the group that has now split from UNO Charter School Network — declares bankruptcy, the school buildings will no longer be in UNO's control and instead be in the hands of the bankruptcy trustee and the group's creditors, UNO CEO Rick Cerda wrote last week in a letter obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times. If UNO becomes insolvent, the school buildings would ultimately be sold, and the UNO Charter School Network-owned schools would be kicked out of the rented buildings in the process, Cerda wrote.
On Tuesday, the Latino Caucus members called on the UNO Charter School Network to pay $4 million to UNO in contractually obligated management fees and back rent, a move that would allow UNO to avoid bankruptcy, for now.
"We can't stand by as 4,000 students find themselves without a school in which to return to next fall," the aldermen continue.
The four buildings house the Roberto Clemente charter in Galewood, UNO Soccer Academy elementary and high schools in Gage Park and three UNO charter schools on one campus in Archer Heights.
UNO charter school leaders told the Sun-Times that the schools would remain open regardless of UNO's financial status because they hold 30-year leases, but the aldermen say that isn't true.
Although the six schools housed in UNO-owned buildings would be most affected by the bankruptcy filing, Solis Tuesday night that the feud has the potential to harm all 16 schools, including UCSN schools in Pilsen and Little Village.
"Hopefully, this new administration will not harm them in any way, but I think what is going on between the two organizations is potentially harmful to all of the [UNO charter] schools," Solis said Tuesday night, particularly if the issue advances to court. "The Latino Caucus [wants] this thing settled so that [the schools] are not hurt."
Solis co-founded UNO in the 1980s and helped lead the Hispanic community group until 1996, when he was appointed to the 25th Ward aldermanic seat. Solis said he was briefly involved with the organization again during a restructuring in 2013, when the community organization and the charter school network were forced to form separate boards after a series of Sun-Times investigative reports.
The Caucus is prepared to bring Rodriguez into a City Council hearing so he can explain to aldermen "why he hasn't paid the legal obligations for management fees and rents of the buildings," Solis said. The letter said the charter school leader "played a deliberate role in creating this situation," as he refused to negotiate with UNO over the course of a year.
"If the situation is not immediately resolved and you have not paid the $4 million that is contractually owed to UNO, we will bring you and UCSN before the appropriate City Council committee to answer questions from the Latino Caucus as well as parents and teachers of the schools that could be impacted by UNO's bankruptcy," the Aldermen wrote Tuesday. "Every step must be taken by UCSN to avoid closing these schools."
The UNO Charter School Network has CPS approval and funding to operate 16 schools. The network serves nearly 8,000 students.
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