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Chicago Public Schools Thu Jul 23 2015

North Side NAC Members Call on Intrinsic to Withdraw Charter Proposal

The only new charter school proposed for anywhere on the North Side this year is facing strong opposition -- from the advisory group convened by CPS to review their proposal.

An outright majority of members of the North Side Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC), a CPS-convened citizen group, has signed on to a formal letter requesting that charter operator Intrinsic withdraw their proposal for a third high school. The letter -- the full text of which can be found here -- was delivered the morning of July 23.

Intrinsic already operates one high school on the Northwest Side at 4540 W. Belmont Ave. Last year, Intrinsic also received conditional approval for a second high school. The second school has been in the news because there is still no actual location for it -- and this is at the core of the problems identified with the Intrinsic #3 proposal.

Now, here's where the disclosures come in. I'm a member of the North Side NAC. I've signed onto the letter. Although I did not write the letter, I did make the initial suggestion that such a letter might be a good approach.

The overall NAC process deserves a first-person, inside account, because it shines a lot of light on the CPS approach to charter schools and the immense frustration of so many Chicagoans at that approach. At the same time the letter was delivered to Intrinsic, an estimated 1,000 people gathered at Kelly High School on the Southwest Side to voice opposition to two new proposed Noble charter high schools in that area. Those schools are undergoing the same review process through the Southwest Side NAC.

This year there are four NACs: North, West, Southwest, and Southeast, all of which are reviewing one or more charter proposals. The NAC is supposed to identify strengths and weaknesses within each proposal, conduct what's called a "capacity interview" with representatives from the charter proponents, have such feedback incorporated in changes to the proposals (whereby they would move "Tier 1 Proposals" to "Tier 2 Proposals", which is essentially like the final draft that triggers state-mandated review by the Board), and then, ultimately, issue a recommendation on the final proposals.

Of course, the Board can overrule the recommendation. For that matter, if the Board votes not to approve a charter, the Illinois State Charter School Commission can even overrule the Board. But CPS convenes the NACs anyway, and this year, they do not seem to be behaving as intended.

The main problem with the current Intrinsic proposal is really simple: It does not specify a location. Worse, since Intrinsic #2 still doesn't have a location, the NAC can have no confidence that the Tier 2 Proposal could specify a location.

The NAC is supposed to consider issues such as the enrollment plan, the capital budget, and the identified need for such a charter school. None of these questions can be evaluated without knowing where the school will be located. The Intrinsic #3 proposal doesn't even specify a neighborhood. It only says "north of Fullerton".

It's not just that there's no way to conduct a proper evaluation under the circumstances. At the second NAC meeting, members were handed a thick binder which contained, among other things, the full text of the state Charter Schools Law (105 ILCS 5/27A for the full statutory citation.) This means that we all had available, in writing, Section 27A-7(a), which reads in part:

(a) A proposal to establish a charter school shall be submitted to the local school board and the State Board for certification under Section 27A-6 of this Code in the form of a proposed contract entered into between the local school board and the governing body of a proposed charter school. The charter school proposal shall include:

(3) A description of and address for the physical plant in which the charter school will be located;

When this issue was raised with CPS directly, NAC members did receive a response dated June 23 which spoke to the logic of conditional approval until a facility is secured. But the statute predicts this; the issue is that not only has the facility not been identified, even the neighborhood has not been identified.

As of late May, Intrinsic had finally identified a location for Intrinsic #2 in Bowmanville. The community response was not especially enthusiastic. Weeks later, they quietly withdrew from consideration of that location, and no new possibilities have been identified.

The call for Intrinsic to withdraw its proposal, then, is rooted not just in NAC members having already substantially determined that the proposal is deficient -- and not just in terms of the location issue. It is also because the entire NAC process is itself an expense for CPS. Several consultants have been brought on to guide the process, and the NAC members have repeatedly been told that their votes on the final recommendation will not count unless they keep attending sessions which they feel are wastes of time. The main statement from the letter itself reads:

Given CPS's current financial crisis, we cannot support already scarce resources being poured into continuing expensive processes like NAC, nor into the establishment of new charters that are not needed.

The internal frustration had been bubbling even before CPS released tentative FY2016 school budgets last week. Two high schools near Intrinsic #1 were among those which experienced major cuts. According to a widely circulated spreadsheet, the budget at Schurz is slashed by $970,816, and the budget at Foreman is slashed by $962,311. Intrinsic #1, however, is receiving an additional $2,610,844 relative to FY2015, even though the projected enrollment increase is only 235. While there has been a lot of confusion and speculation about this document, most observers simply see a diversion of resources from local schools to charters, with no attendant explanation.

The North Side NAC is obviously not going to recommend approval of the Intrinsic proposal. Given the lack of a declared location, the strong community opposition, and the prevailing budget situation, it would be an even more egregious fiduciary failure than usual for the Board to approve the proposal.

The process will continue to move forward, though, unless Intrinsic voluntarily withdraws its proposal. Nevermind that the proposal is facially deficient: CPS will continue to assert that it is legally obligated to fully consider the proposal, even though legal requirements have not seemed to matter for approving previous proposals.

The children of Chicago deserve far better than this nonsense.

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Mark Luminez / August 3, 2015 4:41 AM

Listen, it's clear you are against the concept of charter schools and will not accept them.

But it is downright dense and dishonest to pretend that the latest budget allocation was at all mysterious or "a diversion of resources from local schools to charters."

Their attendance went up you dolt.

Something needs to be done about failing schools, terrible tenured teachers and out of control pensions,

Sorry you're on the losing side.

Te next budget allocation will feature even more cuts to neighborhood schools and more money diverted to charters.

Enjoy your death by a thousand cuts, moron.

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