Accelify Blog

Charter Schools to CPS: We Need More Space (IL)

March 30, 2011

A month after Chicago Public Schools approved two new charters and several new campuses for charter schools, the charter community was back before the school board Wednesday asking for space.

Charter advocates said CPS owns more than 100 school buildings that are underused and house low-performing schools. New and expanding charter schools should have access to those sites, they said.

"There’s no legal obligation that (charter) schools are entitled to a building, but if they’re going to approve schools and then allow them to enroll students, they need to have a facilities plan to address student needs," said Andrew Broy, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools’ president.

As CPS conducts a survey of its facilities to assess space needs, charters are asking that more buildings be identified for charter campuses. They say unless that’s done, charter schools set to add grades in the 2011-12 school year won’t be able to do so, and new charter campuses will be delayed. But for charter critics, this is yet another sign that charter schools are taking away resources from neighborhood schools.

Charter supporters say that of the 91 charter schools in CPS, at least 10 have building issues, including a space crunch at Penn Elementary on the West Side that has sent the school and a charter group to an independent mediator.

The KIPP Ascend Charter School had occupied fewer than half of the classrooms available this year at Penn, 1616 S. Avers Ave., but with enrollment increasing, CPS had suggested Penn give the charter four of its classrooms next year.

"They came in two years ago and they took the third floor, and we were sharing gym, the auditorium and lunchroom," said Penn teacher Cielo Munoz. "Last year, they asked for four more rooms, and this year we had some cl assrooms with 40 students in one class. Now they want four more rooms for September. We feel like they’re trying to take over our school."

But KIPP, a middle school for fifth- through eighth-graders, says they’ve been forced to change locations three times in six years. The group won approval in 2008 to expand into the elementary grades; it started four classes of kindergarten this year and was hoping to add first grade next year.

Currently, many CPS charters don’t pay rent, Broy said, but they are charged for utilities, maintenance and janitorial services. He’s asking CPS to go back to its previous system of letting interested charters know what locations are available within CPS facilities before they even submit an application.

"It’s hurting both charters and traditional public schools because no one knows what to expect year to year," Broy said. "It’s what we’re seeing now with the Penn-KIPP dispute. Both schools want to grow at that location, and CPS has put them in a situation that’s not tenable."

In other board news Wednesday, the Montessori School of Englewood Charter was approved, and the board voted to allow four charter schools to establish attendance boundaries. The boundaries would operate like CPS’ magnet school boundaries, allowing students living close to a charter school first dibs through a lottery, said Jimm Dispensa, CPS’ director of school demographics. The school system currently has nine other charter schools that have boundaries.

Adding attendance boundaries to charters helps those in neighborhoods with at-risk students to get more students from the immediate community.