Hispanic Caucus takes UNO’s side in feud with charter schools network

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The City Council’s Hispanic caucus wants to make sure the protracted UNO battle doesn’t harm students. | File Photo

Members of the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus have sided with the scandal-plagued United Neighborhood Organization in its bitter feud with the 8,000-student charter-school chain it created and manages.

Leaders of UNO say the separately incorporated UNO Charter School Network owes nearly $3 million in management fees for running 16 publicly funded charter schools in Chicago, raising the specter of school closings.

RELATED: THE WATCHDOGS: Feud threatens UNO schools

The rift also threatens the “parent organization’s ability to perform all of its community services,” according to the resolution signed by Hispanic aldermen at Wednesday’s council meeting.

The aldermen urged the Chicago Board of Education to force the two groups to “maintain the current management structure of the UNO Charter Schools Network.”

But leaders of the charter network say UNO has not explained how it’s spending the management fees and has done such a bad job they plan to manage the schools themselves starting in June.

“The poor quality in services provided by UNO has not done justice to the families and communities we serve,” the charter network’s board said in a statement. UNO “has a great legacy, but that does not negate the fact that over the past few years, UNO has done an unacceptable job under the terms of the management agreement.”

Ald. Danny Solis (25th), chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, could not be reached Thursday. He once was UNO’s leader and his sister works for the group.

Also joining in the resolution was Ald. George Cardenas (12th), whose ex-wife works for UNO.

Founded as a community organization, UNO began operating charter schools in 1998 with taxpayer support. Under a longstanding management deal, the charter network pays 10 percent of its budget to the UNO community group.

For years, both organizations were led by longtime UNO leader Juan Rangel, who was co-chairman of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first campaign for mayor in 2011.

But separate boards were appointed and Rangel was forced out after a 2013 Chicago Sun-Times investigation that revealed UNO used a $98 million state school construction grant to hire companies owned by two brothers of Rangel’s top aide.

Before state officials suspended the grant, funds from Illinois taxpayers paid for four school building that are owned by UNO but leased by the charter chain under long-term deals.

CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said CPS views the quarrel as a “dispute between two private organizations” and is “committed to ensuring these schools will be open and continue to serve our students this fall.”

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