New South Side charter school on hold due to FBI probe

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A new charter school won’t open as planned next month in a South Side building owned by a politically connected pastor’s church because of a federal investigation involving charter operator Concept Schools, a consultant for the project said Thursday.

“The project is on hold,” Hermene Hartman said, citing the “legal difficulties.”

But Concept officials said they “are moving forward with our plan to open a new school and exploring which location at this point makes the most sense for the coming school year.”

In January, Chicago Public Schools officials approved the proposed Concept school at 8522 S. Lafayette Ave. in Chatham.

According to plans submitted by Concept, more than $528,000 in CPS funding for the school was to go toward rent for the 2014-15 school year to the landlord, an arm of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church. The Rev. Charles Jenkins, Fellowship’s pastor, gave the invocation at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2011 swearing-in and served on Emanuel’s transition team.

Last month, the FBI and two other federal agencies raided Concept’s Des Plaines headquarters and 19 of its charter schools in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, including Concept’s Chicago Math and Science Academy in Rogers Park.

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), who had been a supporter of the proposed Concept school on South Lafayette, said Thursday he has withdrawn his backing for now “pending the outcome of the federal investigation.”

“There needs to be some clarification that they’re not investigating Concept itself, that it’s just a vendor, as I’ve been led to believe” by Jenkins, Brookins said.

He said 250 kids are signed up for the school.

FBI officials have said the investigation involves an unspecified “ongoing white-collar criminal matter.”

Chicago school officials have given permission for Concept to open another new school for the coming school year, on the Southwest Side, and are considering plans to increase enrollment at the Concept school in Rogers Park.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood said: “We continue to monitor the situation with Concept.”

Contributing: Lauren FitzPatrick

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