State overrides local school board, orders charter school opened in North Chicago

March 15, 2012

Illinois’s top school official has overruled the local school board in suburban North Chicago and ordered a charter school be opened there.

“State board staff have reviewed the D-187 School Board’s decision to deny the charter proposal and have determined that the decision was not in the best interests of the District and its students,” reads the order, which was signed Thursday by state superintendent Christopher Koch.

North Chicago’s school board voted the charter proposal down by a vote of 4-2 earlier this month.

Board president Kenneth Robinson told a newspaper reporter at the time he was concerned the charter school could force “drastic cuts” to the rest of the district, and that diverting money from district schools was not in the interest of all students.

North Chicago is in a unique situation; it’s one of two districts in Illinois being co-administered by the state due to longstanding academic and financial troubles. The arrangement gives the state superintendent the authority to overrule any decision made by the local District 187 school board.

A spokeswoman for the state said the charter school is only one of multiple efforts to transform the district.

The state superintendent’s order says any potential financial impact to the district will be offset by the “incalculable benefits of a new, high quality public school option for students.”

The elementary charter school will be located at the Great Lakes Naval Station. The state argues a charter school could attract Navy children back to the public schools, increasing revenue from the state and federal governments. Supporters also hope the charter school will spark competition, spurring improvements at North Chicago schools.

The charter school will be run by LEARN Charter Schools, which currently operates five charters in Chicago. Koch’s order notes that LEARN schools significantly outperformed North Chicago schools on last year’s ISAT exams.

The North Chicago charter will open in the fall and eventually serve 500 elementary students. It's the fourth charter school to be authorized in Chicago's suburbs.