Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Thursday December 19th, 2013, 4:24pm

Report: Proposed CPS Charter Schools Could Cost Taxpayers $225 Million Over Next Decade

Proposals for 21 new privately run charter schools in Chicago could cost city taxpayers at least $225 million over the next decade, according to a financial analysis issued Wednesday by Communities United for Quality Education.

Next year alone, the proposed charters could come with $21 million in extra costs, according to the education coalition of parents and community members. The group argues that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has been less than transparent about the added expenses associated with the new schools as well as how the district plans to pay for them.

Among other concerns, the activists fear that traditional neighborhood schools would see their budgets slashed, again, in order to cover the added costs, including heating and air conditioning fees, principal salary payments and start-up expenses. The Chicago Board of Education is expected to take up CPS’ recommendations for the new charters at its January meeting.

“CPS is not properly funding schools that exist right now,” stressed Jennie Biggs of the Raise Your Hand education coalition and Bridgeport Alliance. “How will schools survive and thrive when there’s more schools but no extra resources? In financial terms, adding charters into our school system will be a destructive move.”

Back in August, CPS announced plans to alleviate overcrowding in schools on the Northwest and Southwest sides via the opening of new charter schools in those communities. The school district issued a request for proposals for new charters back in August, mere months after the board voted to close a record-breaking 50 “underutilized” neighborhood schools, primarily on the South and West sides. 

Last week, CPS released details about the applications from the nine charter operators looking to set up the 21 new campuses in upcoming years, with 13 of them planned to open in fall 2014 and the other eight by 2017. The new charters are being proposed for various neighborhoods, including Belmont Cragin, Chatham, McKinley Park/Bridgeport, Austin and South Shore.

The nine charter operators seeking approval for the 21 new campuses include Asian Human Services Passages; Be the Change; Chicago Education Partnership; Concept School – Horizon Science Academies; Connected Futures Academy; Curtis-Sharif STEM Academy; Great Lakes Academy; Intrinsic Schools; and the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which is hoping to open eight additional campuses by 2018.

The board has already signed off on 10 other charters that could open in 2014. So, all together, Chicago could possibly see at least 39 new charters open by 2018.

Meanwhile, district-run neighborhood schools saw their collective budgets slashed by more than $100 million this school year. The combined CPS savings from the recent round of school closings and budget cuts amounted to about $255 million, according to Communities United for Quality Education.

“CPS has said over and over that they’re in a tight budget, that they don’t have money, and that’s why they continue to cut our budgets,” Rubi Bautista, a Northwest Side parent from Dr. Jorge Prieto Math and Science Academy, said through an interpreter. “But when it comes to providing funding for charter schools, they continue to hand over the money they are taking away from our schools.”

Bautista noted that there are plans to build a Noble Charter high school in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood right across the street from Prosser Career Academy.

“In our neighborhood, some of our elementary schools are overcrowded, like the school that my daughter’s in, but bringing a high school into our community is not going to help,” she said. “There is not an overcrowding problem in our neighborhood high schools, and CPS should instead use the resources they’re going to put in this Noble school (on) our elementary schools.”

Those at Prieto have been calling on CPS to install mobile units at the school to help address overcrowding, “but we have been ignored,” Bautista added.

After opening the application process for new charters, CPS also formed Neighborhood Advisory Councils (NAC). The groups, comprised of community members, are tasked with gathering public input and making recommendations about the proposed new campuses. But one Northwest Side NAC member, as well as the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), has said the process has not been transparent.

Roosevelt High School teacher Timothy Meegan said Northwest Side NAC members had to sign a confidentiality agreement, and “conversations have been limited by a very narrow criteria, allowing for almost no qualitative analysis of the proposals.”

Among other concerns, Meegan noted that New Schools for Chicago, a charter proponent, bankrolled the Northwest Side NAC’s meals and meetings.

While releasing the charter cost analysis Wednesday, Communities United for Quality Education also called on the Chicago City Council’s new independent budget office, which aldermen approved earlier this month, to provide a financial review of the school district’s charter expansion proposal.  

Dwayne Truss, a West Side education organizer with Raise Your Hand, said charter operator Chicago Education Partnership is seeking approval to open a new campus in the Austin neighborhood, which saw four of its elementary schools shutter this year due to reported underutilization.

Chicago Education Partnership maintains that 12,000 students are leaving the Austin neighborhood to attend school, and those are the students the charter operator is looking to recruit, Truss explained.

“We say that’s baloney,” he said. “They’re going to be targeting the kids in our neighborhood schools.”

If district-run neighborhood schools lose students to the new charters, they would also see reduced funding due to CPS’ per-pupil budgeting formula.

“Right now, our schools are in a situation where they’ve got to choose between a teacher or toilet paper,” Truss added. “With the student-based budgeting, that’s what is happening with our neighborhood schools.”

Biggs also pointed out that CPS’ overall student enrollment is on the decline.

“Adding schools when student enrollment is dropping is not a practical option,” she said.

The district held a community hearing about the charter proposals Monday. Another public hearing about the charter proposals is scheduled for January 7 at CPS district headquarters, located at 125 S. Clark Street, from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

A CPS spokesman said the district had no comment regarding the group's charter costs projections.

For the the group's financial breakdown, education organizers explained that student enrollment details are included in just 11 out of the 21 charter applications. As such, the group used the average costs projected for the 11 charter campuses in order to estimate the expenses for the remaining 10 proposed sites. The overall cost projection is “extremely conservative,” the coalition’s analysis states. Find the coalition's methodology here.

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