Charter Plan Denied Airing at Ill. Public Hearing

Published January 1, 1998

When the petitioners for the Liberty Hall Charter School went into a November 24 public hearing on their proposal for a charter school in Libertyville, Illinois, they expected to explain their plan to the public and then respond to questions. But the Libertyville Elementary School Board had a different agenda and denied the petitioners the agreed-upon opportunity to present their proposal at the public hearing. Instead, they were permitted only to respond to questions from the board and the public.

“The parents in the audience really felt betrayed because they came to hear what the charter school was all about,” said Barbara Shafer, one of the school’s founders. “Instead, they heard questions from the board like ‘Do you consider a ‘C’ a good grade?'”

Shafer said she was disappointed with the school board’s action since, in a letter to District 70 Superintendent Mark Friedman, she had outlined the founders’ expectations for presenting their case at the 45-minute public hearing: a brief overview by the petitioners, leaving at least half of the time for questions. Although Friedman had stressed to Shafer that the meeting “is truly a public hearing,” he waited until the start of the meeting to announce that the point of a public hearing was for the board to ask questions on the proposal.

On appeal, board president Stacey Stutzman denied the petitioners the time necessary to present the explanatory overview they had prepared for the hearing. When asked about how the public would learn about the proposal if it was not presented to them, Friedman responded, “They’ll catch on, hopefully.”

A group called APPLE–Active Participation Promotes Libertyville Education–is proposing the year-round charter school, which would teach the Core Knowledge curriculum developed by educator E.D. Hirsch and concentrate on the core subjects of math, science, English, and social studies. The 292-page proposal from founders Shafer, Diane Grocki, and Tomi Schoeneman took more than 18 months and 1,400 hours of volunteer work to complete, with early drafts reviewed by more than 30 teachers, parents, special education experts, and administrators.

Although Illinois’ 1996 charter school law allows for the creation of 30 charter schools outside of Chicago, school officials appeared surprised when they received the Liberty Hall Charter School proposal in early October. Board president Stutzman told the Daily Herald that she believes the District is already meeting students’ needs.

“This is not something we ever thought we would be confronted with,” she said.

A vote on the proposal is expected on December 15.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].