The building that was to house Concept Schools’ Horizon Science Academy-Clay Evans will not be ready for the first day of school, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said Thursday.
“Concept Schools, which our board had approved, has been unable to secure a safe and viable facility for the Clay Evans campus and so we will not be allowing the school to open for very obvious reasons — there’s no facility,” Byrd-Bennett said.
The decision — first reported by Early & Often — was made after Concept, whose Des Plaines headquarters were raided by the FBI in June, lost out on its first facility, a building owned by an arm of a church headed by the Rev. Charles Jenkins.
The second facility chosen for the school at 9130 S. Vincennes needs to be renovated and won’t be ready next month, Byrd-Bennett said. At this point, a lease for the former private school building has not yet been signed, said Jack Elsey, who heads the department that oversees charters for CPS.
Concept Schools officials, in an emailed statement, said they have gone to “great lengths to prepare this location for families in the Chatham community.”
“Though our original site plans changed, we quickly identified this location and moved forward with numerous structural, security and safety upgrades at the school to ensure a successful start to the school year,” the statement said. “We share the same disappointment our parents have expressed with the decision made by CPS. We are even more disappointed that this decision impacts students and families just days before the school year begins.”
The FBI investigation, which federal documents show is focused on many of the politically connected charter-school operator’s top administrators and companies with close ties to it, had nothing to do with the district’s decision to scratch the school, Byrd-Bennett said. Concept’s charter has not been revoked and the South Side school has simply been “delayed” for likely a year, she said. No other Concept campuses are affected by CPS’ decision to scratch the Clay Evans campus.
But local Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) said the federal investigation “clearly had to weigh into” it.
“It’s a combination of everything. The plug was pulled from Pastor Jenkins’ location because of the investigation and I don’t know that they ever had enough time to recover and find another location that would be suitable,” Brookins said.
Concept Vice President Salim Ucan said earlier this week that Jenkins’ location was scrapped because Concept couldn’t finish the renovations in time for school.
The second location, on Vincennes, generated controversy after the Sun-Times reported earlier this month that David Vitale, the president of the Chicago Board of Education, runs a bank that would have benefitted if Concept had opened the school in that building.
Vitale is chairman of Urban Partnership Bank, which has filed suit to foreclose on the building. The building’s owners owe Vitale’s bank $2 million, court records show.
A CPS spokesman has said Vitale was not involved in the selection of the property.
Meanwhile, CPS staffers will notify the parents of the more than 400 kids enrolled in the school about the scrapped plan and will help parents find other school options, Byrd-Bennett said.
Brookins said he has been assured that the displaced students will be offered the chance to return to their original public schools. If that’s not acceptable, CPS will work with families to find an acceptable alternative, he said. “There were concerns that Concept didn’t have their act together going forward. It’s best that CPS get out ahead of it if they weren’t going to be ready and assist those kids to get into a school of their choice so they can start on the first day of school and have no interruption, he said.
On Thursday afternoon, Moore said she had not yet heard from the district.
She said she spent the last year trying to find an alternative to the private school her 5-year-old daughter had been attending.
“I can’t afford the tuition any longer,” said Moore, 30. “To have this option taken away again, what am I to do?”
Avalon Collier, who was hoping to send her 8-year-old grandson to the Clay Evans campus, said she’ll try to get him enrolled into CICS Longwood, the charter school he attended last year, though the commute is inconvenient and that school has already started its year.
“It’s horrible,” the 65-year-old grandmother said when she learned the Concept School won’t open. “I’m going to call his school to see if they’ll take him back. If not, I won’t have another alternative but to put him back in the neighborhood school. I would hate to do that; he did so well in the other school.”
Concept, which also plans to open a new charter in Gage Park for the coming school year, operates three other charter schools in Chicago that serve about 1,275 students. As with other charter schools in Chicago, they are funded with CPS tax funds.