Cambridge Lakes Charter School

UNION FILES CHARGE AGAINST SCHOOL, March 27, 2008, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)

Illinois' largest teacher's union has filed a charge against the Cambridge Lakes Charter School for a Feb. 25 meeting at which the union claims the school violated teachers' right to organize.

The charge alleges charter-school officials "interfered with, restrained and coerced its employees in the exercise of rights guaranteed under the (Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act)" at the Feb. 25 staff-wide meeting.

The Illinois Education Association is seeking an injunction to stop Northern Kane Educational Corp., the firm that runs the charter school, from continuing the alleged anti-union activities.

Northern Kane Executive Director Larry Fuhrer would neither confirm nor deny the allegations on Wednesday.

"I have no comment on that," he said.

At the Feb. 25 meeting, teachers were asked if they had been involved in "recently publicized acts against the interests of Northern Kane Educational Corp.," the nonprofit organization that runs the school, according to a document handed to teachers at that meeting.

Just one day earlier, the Daily Herald reported that charter- school teachers were trying to form a union.

The document, obtained by the Daily Herald, asked teachers to repudiate union activities or confess and face undefined consequences.

The Illinois Education Association's March 14 charge aims to stop Northern Kane from using or retaining the documents, which employees were to sign and return at the Feb. 25 meeting.

At a recent Northern Kane board meeting, board President Jerry Conrad said the Feb. 25 document was not brought to the board before it was given to teachers.

Conrad, who is also the vice president of Cambridge Homes, said he would ask for a legal opinion on the document from Northern Kane's legal counsel.

If the Illinois Education Association is successful in getting an injunction against Northern Kane, the firm would be barred from anti-union activities until the merits of the complaint are decided.

The Illinois Education Association also seeks compensation for teachers who have "suffered any loss as a result of the employer's conduct."

Tom Wermers, a former teacher who worked to form a union, says his contract was not renewed for next year and that other teachers who were involved in union efforts faced a similar fate.

Fuhrer would not answer questions about Wermers' employment Wednesday.

"No comment on anything with Tom Wermers," he said.

The Illinois Education Association is trying to represent teachers at the Pingree Grove charter school and has obtained enough signatures to hold a union election, a union official said.

"I have no knowledge of any such thing," Fuhrer said, declining further comment.

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Two members of the board that governs the Cambridge Lakes Charter School resigned Wednesday, including the chairman and one of five founding members that form a majority on the board.

And the board has named as its new chairman the executive director of the nonprofit group that runs the school and that has filed objections against an effort to unionize teachers at the school.

The resignations of Chairman Jerry Conrad and Bill Doran leave in doubt the continued influence of Cambridge Homes and Community Unit District 300 over the direction of the Pingree Grove school.

Conrad is senior vice president of Cambridge Homes, the builder that developed the charter school and the surrounding subdivision…

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A year ago, teachers at Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Kane County formed a union. Their employer, the Northern Kane Educational Corporation, also argued that the NLRB should have jurisdiction in the case, using the same private employer argument. But the state IELRB ruled otherwise. In a decision issued in November 2008, the IELRB determined that Northern Kane should indeed be considered a public employer subject to the state public educational employer act.

The school’s administration appealed the decision to the appellate court, which is where the case remains.

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The standard subdivision amenities used to be Olympic-size swimming pools, golf courses and bike trails. But in a dramatic shift, a developer in Kane County proposes to lure home buyers with an $18 million charter school within easy walking distance.

On Monday, Community Unit School District 300, based in Carpentersville, will discuss what could be the first charter school in Illinois built by a developer. School board members will consider whether to give the developer more time to answer their financial concerns about the school or possibly pass on the proposal.

Cambridge Homes, based in Libertyville, wants to build a school for about 1,000 pupils in kindergarten through 8th grade in its new subdivision near Pingree Grove in the northern part of the county.

The developer said the public school is part of a quality-of-life package that home buyers want, and future residents said it's an undeniable draw. But the plan, which state officials said is the first of its kind in Illinois, has drawn fire from some board members, who fear the school could divert dollars from other campuses in the district.

That could create disparities within school districts where charter schools are built in wealthier subdivisions, said Denise Cardinal, spokeswoman for the National Education Association, a Washington-based union that represents 2.7 million education workers.

"That's one of the things we object to in charter schools, is charter schools that drain taxpayer dollars from [other] publicly funded schools," Cardinal said.

The idea may be new in Illinois, but developers across the country are offering to build schools themselves rather than pay impact fees to the districts. The fees help offset the effect of development, including paying for new schools.

In about a dozen communities in Florida, California and other fast-growing states, developers are including charter schools in subdivision proposals.

"It is pretty unique, although not unheard of," said Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a non-profit association that oversees the schools. "It does seem that it's a possible win-win situation for the school district and the developer."

In many of Chicago's suburbs, school districts cannot build schools fast enough to accommodate growth, said Richmond, formerly of the Renaissance 2010 project, Mayor Richard Daley's effort to turn around failing Chicago schools.

Driving the local proposal is the unrelenting pressure of suburban expansion in District 300, officials said.

Cambridge Homes views the charter school proposal as a solution that would enable families in its subdivision to send their children to a school within walking distance, said company Senior Vice President Jerry Conrad, who is part of the group overseeing the charter school…

Although Cambridge Homes' proposal is unique for a developer in Illinois, some Lake County residents opened a charter school in the Prairie Crossing subdivision in the late '90s. But unlike the Pingree Grove proposal, that school set up in an existing building, and the initial backing came from residents.

The Kane County charter school may be built for pupils in the Cambridge Lakes subdivision, but state law requires the district to allow any student to attend.

The developer plans to build about 2,650 homes that cost $180,000 for a townhouse to $300,000 for a single-family home.

The district's developer impact fees are not enough to cover the cost of building new schools, and waiting for voters to approve bonds would force newcomers to bus their children to schools several miles away, Conrad said.

Impact fees in the Pingree Grove area typically are $3,000 per house. But Cambridge Homes cut a deal to pay only $975 per house, Crates said.

The developer wouldn't put up money for the school but is serving as a kind of facilitator for the project. Cambridge Homes is working with Northern Kane Educational Corp., which would oversee construction of the school and manage its finances. American Quality Schools, which runs several charter schools in Chicago, would hire the teachers and develop a curriculum…

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