WHEATON – A state commission’s recent decision to grant individual appeal hearings for all 18 school districts affected by a proposed virtual charter school was in response to a misunderstanding, said the commission’s chairman.
Representatives from the 18 school districts that stand to lose tax dollars with the proposed Illinois Virtual Charter School at the Fox River Valley attended an Illinois Charter School Commission meeting in Chicago on May 15 to oppose an apparent recommendation from commissioners that would have lumped the districts into a group appeal hearing.
The districts’ reaction to the apparent recommendation surprised Chairman Greg Richmond, who said that the districts seemed to be reacting to a decision that was not yet made.
“There was some uncertainty by the districts on what we were proposing,” Richmond said. “I think some people thought some of the decisions were already made.”
Commissioners met last week to outline the structure and timeline of the appeal process nearly a month after all 18 districts, including Wheaton Warrenville Community Unit School District 200, rejected the proposed charter school.
The school is proposed by the nonprofit Virtual Learning Solutions. Local districts’ funds – estimated at up to $8,000 a student – would be siphoned off for each pupil who leaves their brick-and-mortar buildings to attend the virtual school.
The nonprofit finished filing its appeals May 14 that included a request for a consolidated hearing.
District representatives spoke during the meeting to protest an apparent written recommendation made by Richmond that supported a consolidated hearing. In it, Richmond states that a consolidated appeal is appropriate partly because 18 individual hearings would be duplicative and strain public resources.
But he later told Shaw Media, which owns the Wheaton Leader and West Chicago Press, that the document contained the standard heading that lists his name used on all of the commission’s meeting items. The template likely caused confusion, he said.
In reality, the commission was meeting to consider a proposal made by the commission’s executive director, Richmond said.
The commission consequently decided against the recommendation after public comment. Instead of a group hearing, the commission will conduct 18 hearings scheduled for June 19, 20, 21 and 24. The districts also will have time beforehand to respond to Virtual Learning’s formal appeal.
“The commission listened to the public comment at our meeting and adopted a plan that treats all parties fairly and individually,” Richmond said.
District 200 Superintendent Brian Harris said he was happy with the decision to hold individual appeal hearings since the proposed virtual charter school would affect 18 school districts that are not identical to each other.
“We were adamant that we wanted our own time in front of the commission to plead our case why this school is in no way appropriate for our community,” Harris said.
Suburban Life Media reporter Mary Beth Versaci contributed to this article.