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For new schools in Bedford Park, UNO would seek annexation into city

The United Neighborhood Organizatiwants buy this lBedford Park get it annexed by city Chicago build two charter schools there .

The United Neighborhood Organization wants to buy this land in Bedford Park, get it annexed by the city of Chicago and build two charter schools there . | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 26, 2013 6:04AM

T he United Neighborhood Organization, which operates 13 charter schools in Chicago, wants to build two new schools in Bedford Park, records show.

But it isn’t looking to extend its growing network of charter schools beyond the city’s borders. Instead, the influential group has approached Bedford Park
officials with plans to get property in the southwest suburb annexed into the city of Chicago’s 13th Ward. That’s the power base of UNO’s angel in the Illinois Legislature — House Speaker and state Democratic Party leader Michael Madigan, who helped UNO get a $98 million state school-construction grant four years ago.

To build even more schools, UNO officials say they need more money. State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), who last month proposed giving another $35.2 million to UNO, says that effort is stalled.

The Chicago Sun-Times reporled earlier this month that UNO funneled millions of dollars from the 2009 grant to contractors owned by siblings of the organization’s political allies and of a top executive of the group, Miguel d’Escoto, who resigned his $200,000-a-year post after the story appeared. The story also prompted state officials to review the grant spending.

“I would certainly want to understand the results of the investigation before we would give any more money to them,” says Steans, who introduced legislation Jan. 2 onto which a provision was added to give UNO the additional taxpayer funding for new charter schools.

She says she doesn’t know who added that provision.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown says he doesn’t know the speaker’s position on giving more money to UNO. “In terms of additional schools, that’s under review,” Brown says.

Juan Rangel, UNO’s chief executive, has told Bedford Park officials the group wants to buy 30 acres of vacant industrial property at 6401 W. 65th St.

Rangel says new schools there would address a “tremendous need.”

The 13rd Ward sits just across 65th Street from where the new schools would rise. Madigan and Marty Quinn, who won election as 13th Ward alderman with the speaker’s backing, have been involved in the discussions about the UNO plan, according to Bedford Park Village President David Brady.

“The speaker has asked what our interests were, but he’s never pushed the idea or anything like that,” Brady says. “We’ve gotten no pressure from a Chicago official or the speaker in any way.”

Other bidders for the property — listed for sale for $8 million — have emerged, according to Brady. But he says a deal for the charter schools “could potentially help the village, under the right terms.”

He says Bedford Park and the school districts that get tax revenue from the site would need to be reimbursed for taxes that would be lost if the the city of Chicago annexed the site.

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