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SW Side group still trying to get Noble to pull charter plan

Armed with a “no” vote from a neighborhood council Chicago Public Schools set up to vet new charter proposals, about 20 parents and activists from the Southwest Side sought to ask the Noble Network to withdraw its bid for a 17th campus in Brighton Park.

But with less than an hour to go until Noble’s scheduled board meeting, the activists learned the meeting had been canceled.

Elena Rios, a neighborhood advisory council member, said she voted Saturday against Noble’s expansion partly because the organization wouldn’t answer all the questions she and her colleagues had.

“They had an opportunity to go on ahead and give us information and evidence of the questions we had,” she said. “Noble failed to do that in a lot of areas,” including who’s behind the private money funding the new school.

Noble spokeswoman Constance Brewer said the charter chain postponed its quarterly board meeting until Sept. 21 a “few weeks ago,” citing Monday’s Jewish holiday Rosh Hashana. She could not say exactly when the decision was made.

Nor would she immediately say whether Noble might withdraw its proposal in light of Saturday’s vote.

Noble asked CPS to let one of the city’s oldest charter chains to build a brand new high school, the network’s 17th campus, at 47th and California, saying that hundreds of students leave the Southwest Side to attend other Noble schools elsewhere in the city. Some 270 students leave Brighton Park alone, Noble said in its proposal. Noble had proposed a second school for the Southwest Side but changed its mind.

Both sides claim community support, both gathered letters and petitions for their cause. And both have lined up elected officials, longtime Ald. Ed Burke for Noble, powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan against it.

CPS will hold a public hearing Sept. 30 on all new charter proposals and is expected to put its recommendations before the Board of Education in October.

But with budgets tied to the exact number of students enrolled at a school in a district that’s steadily losing students, the opposition against Noble has been the strongest out of all the charters vying to open next fall.

Joining the protest were some North Side parents who rallied over the summer against a separate Noble proposal to move its Noble Academy to Uptown and succeeded in getting it moved elsewhere.

“It was a very loud, very clear ‘no’ to Noble,” said Jeff Jenkins, a Local School Council member at Coonley Elementary School.

A similar coalition of teachers and principals, parents and elected officials also formed on the Southwest Side.

Rob Heise, treasurer for the union representing teachers at 32 charter campuses, none of them Noble schools, said that the expansion of charter schools on the Southwest Side over the past five years has dinged enrollment at all the schools there — including other charters.

“When UNO expanded, opening the Soccer Academy High school, we saw that it hurt our school, Garcia High School,” Heise said. “The unintended consequences of rapid expansion is that it hurts all of the schools, and Noble at some point has to make a decision. What are they most committed to? Private expansion or serving the students that they already have?”