Emanuel quashes zoning change for charter school
BY FRAN SPIELMAN AND LAUREN FITZPATRICK Staff Reporters April 25, 2013 6:02PM
Updated: May 29, 2013 7:09AM
Concept Charter School’s application for a zoning change to take over an industrial building in McKinley Park was supposed to be on the agenda at Tuesday’s Zoning Committee meeting.
Sources said the item was removed under pressure from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office.
The mayor is apparently concerned about the appearance and political timing of opening new charters at the same time that it’s closing 53 elementary schools and one high school program.
That’s apparently why the Chicago Board of Education rejected Concept’ application to open two charter schools, prompting the company to do an end-run at the state level that denied CPS its 15 percent funding share.
The mayor’s office insisted that Concept’s application for a zoning change was not “pulled” from the main agenda and would appear on an addendum due out Friday.
But, a mayoral spokesperson who asked to remain anonymous, offered no such guarantees about committee approval on Tuesday.
“In terms of it moving forward, I don’t have an answer . I can’t predict. We still have issues to work through with the operator. But, we look forward to working with them,” the spokesperson said.
Ald. George Cardenas (12th), whose ward includes the proposed McKinley Park charter, was hesitant to talk about the controversy for fear of alienating Emanuel.
“I don’t want to have conflict. It doesn’t help anybody,” he said. “I support the school and I’m going to find out what’s going on. I will work with the administration to assuage any concerns they would have.”
Cardenas said he supports the Concept charter because schools in his Southwest Ward are overcrowded and parents need to have choices for their children. Parental choice has long been Emanuel’s education mantra.
“The 12th Ward is overcrowded. There’s no money to build schools. It’s a good option for somebody else to bring in resources and open schools where there’s over-crowding,” the alderman said.
“Some charters are doing well,” Cardenas said. “We want that. We want the competition.”
Concept Schools currently operates the Chicago Math and Science Academy in Rogers Park. That school, which has a good rating according to CPS, opened in 2004.
The organization sought to have the zoning at 2245 W. Pershing changed so the vacant warehouse, a former industrial building could become Horizon Science Charter School Academy McKinley Park in September. Concept is also trying to open a second school in Lincoln Square to be called Horizon Science Charter School Belmont also set to open for the start of the next school year. They’re still looking for a building for that one; their original choice was too close to a neighborhood school the district seeks to close.
Salim Ucan, vice president of Concept Schools, said he’s frustrated at the delay, which has not been explained to him, especially since he has community support for the school.
“Unless we hear from the mayor’s office what their reasons are of making such a a move and asking the zoning committee to take us off the agenda. it will be all speculation,” Ucan said.
“We were on the agenda for the zoning committee meeting for April 30 and everything was going well,” he said. “Just yesterday, we found out that zoning committee took us off the agenda and we were told that they did so by the directions of the mayor’s office.
“What that means is since this is a significant construction project, if this is delayed for a month, it would significantly jeoparpdize out ability to open the school in McKinley Park.”
Beth Swanson, Emanuel’s deputy mayor for education, could not be reached for comment on the controversy. Contacted late Thursday, Zoning Committee Chairman Danny Solis (25th) further confused the issue by saying he was not certain Concept application would be placed on Tuesday’s agenda.
“My staff is reviewing it. We’ll see if they have everything in order,” said Solis, an Emanuel ally.
Dozens of aldermen have co-signed a resolution calling for a one-year moratorium on charter openings. They can’t understand how CPS could be embarking on the largest public school consolidation in the nation’s history at the same time that it’s continuing to open charter schools.
That’s apparently made the mayor gun-shy to do both at the same time.