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Education Tue Aug 19 2014
Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale. Photo Credit: Chandler West, Sun-Times
Last week, news broke that David Vitale, the president of the Chicago Board of Education, could profit pending the Board's approval of a new South Side charter school. Vitale is chairman of Urban Partnership Bank, which has filed suit to foreclose the same building in which the proposed school, Horizon Science Academy-Clay Evans, plans to open this fall. HSA-Clay Evans was proposed by Concept Schools, a charter school management company whose Des Plaines offices, as well as a number of their schools, were recently subject to an FBI raid.
While approved by the Board of Education, charter schools operate independently from the board and from each other. In 2011 and 2013, The Charter School Quality Law and an additional bill, HB5825, created the Illinois Charter Commission and allotted them with "override powers" and autonomy from the Board of Education. Even if the Board denies an application for a new school, it can be appealed through the Illinois Charter Commission.
Such was the case in March 2013, when the Commission granted appeals that authorized two new K-12 Concept Schools. Now Concept, who manages 30 publicly funded schools across 7 Midwest States, is planning to open HSA-Clay Evans for 450 K-8 students in a few weeks. The school plans to add one grade each year to eventually be a K-12, STEM-focused college prep school serving 750 students.
Over $528,000 in public funding was set aside to pay rent to the landlord, an arm of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in the Chatham neighborhood on the South Side. The pastor, Rev. Charles Jenkins, gave the invocation at Mayor Rahm Emanuel's swearing-in service and served on his transition team in 2011. When the news broke that the FBI raided Concept's headquarters along with a number of their schools, the deal with Fellowship Missionary Baptist fell through.
According to federal documents acquired by the Sun-Times, the June 4th raid of the Des Plaines office focused on the "politically connected charter-school operator's top administrators and companies with close ties to Concept." The focus of the current investigation is related to Concept's linkage to the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania but has developed relationships with a number of local politicians, including Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Jackson Potter of the Chicago Teacher's Union passed along the union's "list of controversies" related to Concept. The document included accounts of everything from racist school policies ("Concept Schools' Lorain Horizon Science Academy issued a dress code which banned "Afro puffs and small twisted braids"), to allegations of "tithing" (in which H1B visa holders may be required to "tithe" a portion of their salary to affiliated social organizations).
The latest is that the newly proposed location for HSA-Clay Evans could directly benefit David Vitale -- the president of the handpicked Board of Education.
In a press release issued last Monday, CTU President Karen Lewis said, "Concern is growing over the corruption and financial malfeasance of Concept charters...Meanwhile, the Board has not only failed to intervene, but has actively supported the proliferation of schools managed by Concept, which evidence now shows is clearly to the benefit of its members."
Work on the property -- which is the former site of Evangelical Christian School -- is in motion and, pending the Board's approval on August 27, plans call for the school to open in September. Around 250 students are already registered to attend.