D300 hearing on online charter school leaves questions unanswered
By Emily McFarlan Miller email@example.com March 19, 2013 11:12PM
Updated: April 22, 2013 11:57AM
ALGONQUIN — Has Virtual Learning Solutions sought a legal opinion whether it could open a second charter school within Community Unit School District 300?
How much of the budget for the Illinois Virtual Charter School @ Fox River Valley would go directly to the for-profit firm K12, which would provide the school’s online curriculum?
What success do students have transitioning from the online program back into a brick-and-mortar classroom?
A long list of questions remained unanswered at the end of a three-hour public hearing Tuesday night about Virtual Learning Solutions’ application to open an online charter school in District 300.
And it was “disappointing,” said District 300 board President Anne Miller.
“As you can see, our staff put in a great deal of hard work to prepare for tonight’s meeting,” Miller said. “It’s a little disappointing the same wasn’t put in on your side.”
About two dozen residents turned out for the public hearing, at which District 300 board members and administrators grilled Virtual Learning Solutions board secretary Ted Dabrowski and Seth McKinzie of Virginia-based education giant K12.
The St. Charles-based nonprofit submitted an application last month to 18 area school districts to open the Illinois Virtual Charter School @ Fox River Valley. The online charter school would serve students from kindergarten to grade 12.
“A virtual school is not for everybody,” Dabrowski said. “That’s not the choice everybody wants, but some people may want it. Some people may need it.”
Those 18 districts represent a total 260,000 students, McKinzie said, and most inquiries about its products and services have come from Aurora (144), Naperville (143), DeKalb (110) and Plainfield (108). Another 62 inquiries have come from Carpentersville ZIP codes, he said, and 50 to 100 students from the Carpentersville-based district likely would attend the online charter school.
And while it’s “not a done deal yet,” Dabrowski said, “we’d like to work with K12 as the company that provides the curriculum.” Later, he admitted, K12 was the only curriculum provider he was aware of that the board of Virtual Learning Solutions had discussed using.
After those presenters said K12 also could hire teachers for the school, it sounded like “K12 is running the show,” said District 300 legal counsel Brian Crowley.
“We need to better understand how IVCS is really the entity running the show,” Crowley said.
That’s because Illinois Charter Schools Law prohibits for-profit entities from running charter schools. It also seems to suggest District 300 may not be able to approve more than one charter school.
Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove, which uses K12 for some online programs, opened in 2007.
Those presenters from Virtual Learning Solutions and K12 promised to return answers to the school board — on a tight deadline — by Friday. The school board has 30 days to make a decision on the charter school application.
At one point 2½ hours into the hearing, Luz Baez and Shelley Nacke simply read into the record their lists of questions to be answered later about English Language Learner and special education services, respectively. Nacke alone had 33 questions.
School boards in both Elgin School District U46 and Burlington Central Community Unit School District 301, among others, had questioned Virtual Learning Solutions and K12 officials Monday night at public hearings.
The U46 Charter Evaluation Committee also recommended that night the Elgin school board deny the online charter school application.
U46 and District 300 plan to decide on the Virtual Learning Solutions’ application on Monday, April 8.