WBEZ News

City To Sell School Building, Then Pay Rent

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Sarah Karp

A Chicago Public Schools building currently occupied by a for-profit alternative school is being sold to a politically connected pastor. The sale means taxpayers will be paying up to $150,000 per year in rent -- money that otherwise could be spent on education.

Excel Academy of South Shore will remain in the building at 7530 South Shore Dr., which CPS has allowed it to use virtually for free.

Once the sale is finalized, it will be CPS, not the for-profit school, that pays rent to the new owner.

Kirk Dorn, a spokesman for the charter that runs Excel Academy, said he has no idea why CPS would sell a building and then give them money for rent.

CPS gives all privately-run public schools located in non-CPS school buildings extra money so they can pay their rent and other facility costs. This year, that payment is $750 more per student than the standard pupil amount. The school’s enrollment is currently about 200 students, meaning CPS would give it at least an extra $150,000 a year.

CPS officials said they sold the building because it needed an estimated $3 million of repairs. City officials did not respond for comment. 

At one time, the building housed Powell Elementary School, but in 2010 CPS constructed a new Powell Elementary School across the street. 

In 2012, Camelot LLC reached an agreement with CPS for use of the building and later opened Excel Academy.

This spring, CPS transferred the building to the city. On Thursday, the city’s Planning Commission passed two resolutions recommending the sale of the building to the Illinois Faith Based Association. 

The association is run by Walter Turner III, pastor of New Spiritual Light Missionary Church located next door. 

Turner is an ally of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He has stood with Emanuel at several press conferences, including when Emanuel was fighting to lengthen the school day. He also has a contract with CPS to run a program for students during spring and summer breaks. 

Turner has promised Camelot it can stay in the building, but added he also wants to buy the building so he can run community programs there. 

“It allows me to expand what we are doing in the community, to be able to do a major piece on economic development and community based programs,” he said.

Turner said he eventually wants to offer health care services in the building. 

Turner said he is still in negotiations about how much he will pay for the building and declined to go into details about the deal. However, he said he is not worried about the repairs needed for the building. 

Sarah Karp is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @sskedreporter or @wbezeducation.