First Chicago charter school closes, citing state budget impasse

SHARE First Chicago charter school closes, citing state budget impasse

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Galapagos Charter School, a small stand-alone elementary school in Humboldt Park, will not reopen its doors in September, saying it cannot afford to properly educate children under current Chicago Public School budget conditions.

The charter school serving about 236 children, 97 percent of them poor, becomes the first in Chicago to fall victim to a budget impasse in Springfield.

So Thursday was the last day of school ever for Galapagos, 3814 W. Iowa, CEO Michael Lane said, affecting families and about 30 permanent staffers.

All were warned more than a month ago of the possibility that the school might close so they could consider new options, Lane said. That’s when CPS warned of possible cuts of about 40 percent to per-pupil funding over last year’s allocation if the district couldn’t finagle financial help from the state to make a $676 million pension payment.

Galapagos leaders ran a number of scenarios and decided that even with 10 percent cuts, vital supports to students would have to go: extra tutoring, counselors and social workers.

Finally, he said, they couldn’t put off the decision any longer. Without any budget from CPS and without any certainty about what funding levels will look like, the school couldn’t continue.

“It was going to be more and more difficult for us to provide the kind of services we believed were necessary to support our scholars,” Lane said. “We would have gone very bare bone this year. Quite honestly if those cuts had remained, we were almost living from paycheck to paycheck. That’s no way to run a school.”

Galapagos’ operating charter had two more years on it. The school was on CPS’ academic warning list, having earned CPS’ second-to-lowest rating, but Lane said that had nothing to do with the decision.

“This is a reflection on our leaders, our political leaders and their inability to put forth a reasonable budget that provides services to the people of Illinois,” Lane said. “There are very few organizations, private or public, that could survive the possibility of a 37 percent cut across the board in their revenues.”

CPS blamed the governor.

“As long as Gov. (Bruce) Rauner continues to double down on an education funding system that punishes the poorest students in the state, it will create even deeper uncertainty about CPS’ fiscal future,” district spokeswoman Emily Bittner said. “This is why we are working so closely with parents and school communities to demand that the state fully and equitable fund education for all Illinois students.”

She added that Galapagos lost more than 25 percent of its students this year after being placed on the warning list, saying parents sought better options for their children.

Lane said the Illinois Network of Charter Schools was helping families figure out where to send their children in September. CPS said it’ll set up a transition team to figure out options, too, and is meeting with school officials this week.

INCS head Andrew Broy had warned of the possibility of a few dozen charters closing if CPS went through with a total $700 million in cuts to per-pupil funding to schools.

“We are getting closer to the July 15 first-quarter payment to charters. I am not going to name any schools, but if that payment is missed, I expect we will see quite a few additional charter schools consider closing,” he said, estimating that if CPS’ school cuts exceed 10 percent at least a dozen schools would shut down.

CPS won’t say when it will release budgets to principals. The district is considering applications from operators who’d like to open new charter schools in the fall of 2017 but extended a deadline for them until July so they could reconsider their proposals in light of scaled-back funding.

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