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Charter school hearings on tap next week

Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, March 14, 2013 4:38 p.m. CDT

A company that filed charter school applications to 18 districts in the Fox Valley will be the subject of public hearings Monday and Tuesday.

Virtual Learning Solutions is seeking to create the Illinois Virtual Charter School @ Fox River Valley, which would open in fall. The company contracts with K12 Inc., a for-profit company, to provide the online instruction.

Charter schools are publicly funded elementary or secondary schools not governed by some rules, regulations and statutes that apply to other public schools. The Kaneland School District 302 hearing is scheduled at 7 p.m. Monday, March 18 at Harter Middle School, 1601 Esker Drive, Sugar Grove;  and St. Charles District 303, 7 p.m. also Monday, at the administration building, 201 South 7th St. Batavia District 101's hearing is at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 19 at the Rosalie Jones Administration Center, 335 W. Wilson St.

Geneva School District 304 held its hearing Monday, but company representatives were not in attendance. When an organization applies to become a charter school, the local district can either accept the charter or hold a hearing within 45 days of the request. A district has 30 days after the hearing to vote on the charter application.

At issue for the local public schools is that money is diverted from the district to the charter for each student that attends the charter, officials said. According to state law, funding cannot be less than 75 percent or more than 125 percent of the school district’s per-capita student tuition, multiplied by the number of district students who enroll in the school.

“The issue to us isn’t the money as much as it is getting a quality education for students,” District 304 Superintendent Kent Mutchler said. “And secondly, it is the money. They would get local property tax dollars, as well, and if there are special-needs kids, [they get funds] from the federal government.”

Mutchler said the district needs clarification on local funding issues.

“The money is diverted … out of our allocation from the state of Illinois, based on enrollment,” District 302 Superintendent Jeff Schuler said. “I hope this [funding issue] will become a little bit clearer.”

According to its application, the charter school is structured to serve students who are at-risk academically and “advanced learners” who may “enroll in ILVCS@FRV due to the slow pace of their brick and mortar classrooms.”

The online virtual classroom also would serve special needs students and those with specialized interests – such as athletes or musicians – who need flexibility in their curriculum, according to the application.

K12 spokesman Jeff Kwitowski said the company serves more than 100,000 students in 30 states. Charter schools teach at a cost that is 30 to 40 percent less than traditional schools, Kwitowski said.

“It’s no different than if a student moved from one district to another,” Kwitowski said. “The state no longer pays that district for a student who’s not there.”

According to the application, the 18 school districts are asked to issue the charter jointly as a single, shared charter school. It also advises that any denial will be appealed to the State Charter School Commission.

The Illinois State Board of Education also reviews new or renewed charter applications to certify the charter school, spokeswoman Mary Fergus said.

Because the company representatives missed their District 304 hearing this week, they will give a presentation at 7 p.m. Monday, April 8, at Williamsburg Elementary School, 1812 Williamsburg Ave. – the same day the board is scheduled to vote on it.

Randall Greenway, vice president of school development for K-12, said Wednesday that Geneva was the only district of the 18 that did not notify them of the hearing.

But Mutchler and board president Mark Grosso said it was up to the applicants to be in touch.

"I don't like the way these folks are spinning it – it is incumbent upon them to come to the meeting," Grosso said. "We never got an email or a phone call from them. These are people who purport to run things on the Internet … all their correspondence to us has been by U.S. mail – snail mail."

Grosso said the applicants could have gone to the district's website or signed up for Google alerts to be kept apprised of the district's scheduling.

Mutchler said when he spoke with Greenway, the company's representative, Greenway said the superintendent could have called or sent an email.

"I said, 'You could have done the same for us,'" Mutchler said. "All their letters were a lot of legalese – we have to do this within this amount of time. In none of those letters does it say, 'Please contact us, so we can give a presentation.'"

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