CPS students scramble for new school after Concept charter opening delayed

August 22, 2014

(WBEZ/Odette Yousef)
Concept Schools also operates the Chicago Math and Science Academy in Rogers Park.

With just one week before the first day of school, Chicago Public Schools officials are scrambling to find hundreds of students a new school.

A new campus of Horizon Math and Science Academy located in Chatham will no longer open as planned.

The group that planned to open the school — Concept Schools — is currently under FBI investigation. They operate four other schools in Chicago, and several more in Indiana and Ohio.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett insists the delayed opening has nothing to do with the federal investigation.

“I know as much as you guys in terms of the FBI probe,” Byrd-Bennett said in a conference call with reporters. “This is purely the fact that the facility is not ready. If that facility were ready for this school to open, I would open it tomorrow.”

The building where Concept planned to open, 9130 S. Vincennes, was also the source of controversy. A Chicago Sun-Times report earlier this month found that the property is currently in foreclosure and the owners currently owe $2 million to Urban Partnership Bank, which is chaired by Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale.

That location was the second one proposed since the Board of Education approved the school. The first was at 8522 S. Lafayette, a property owned by Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, whose pastor, Rev. Charles Jenkins, has close ties to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Despite the questions around Concept Schools’ operations, Byrd-Bennett said CPS is not revoking the group’s charter. She characterized the delayed opening for this particular campus as “unusual” and said there’s no need to change how they approve and open new schools.

When asked if there were any contingency plans for other Concept schools, should the federal investigation prompt further legal action, Byrd- Bennett said there were not.

Full audio of the call with Byrd-Bennett

CPS officials could not immediately say what would happen to the $4 million dollars budgeted to Concept for the Chatham campus.

According to budget documents, the Horizon school was projected to serve 432 students. It is not clear if all of those open seats were filled with registered students. CPS officials are making calls to families today to help their children find another school option.

Becky Vevea is a producer and reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @WBEZeducation.