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Quest Charter Academy Receives Conditional 2-Year Renewal

The Peoria Public Schools board unanimously approved a conditional 2-year renewal for Quest Charter Academy.

The decision came after options to deny the charter renewal and renew it for a full five years both failed in a lengthy and sometimes confusing debate.

Board member Dan Walther, who voted not to renew the charter along with Dan Adler and Chase Klaus, criticized the four other board members who narrowly defeated that measure.

"This board becomes very much in danger of denying all the facts that are presented to them. We're going to be the equivalent of climate deniers," he said. "We've got all these facts in front of it that said climate does this, it affects it, but no, we're going to ignore the facts."

Superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat and her administrative team argued Quest failed to meet the lion's share of its academic goals, and violated state and federal special education laws.

"The district's review showed that Quest's performance during its current charter term has not been satisfactory," she said.

Forty-eight percent of Quest's staff is certified, far less than the 75 percent required in its previous rechartering agreement. The district sees about 25 percent student turnover on average every year, and only had 30.4 percent teacher retention this year, largely due to major reshuffling at the 5-8 middle school. That's compared to 77.5 retention at Peoria Public Schools and 85.7 percent average retention statewide over the same timespan.

Quest attorney Josh Herman claimed those were "stretch goals" based off of drafts from the Illinois State Board of Education, because there was "no cooperation" between Peoria Public Schools and Quest Charter Academy.

School district attorney Stanley Eisenhammer also claimed Quest hasn't had any certified special education personnel at the middle school for the past two years, and used a substitute without a teacher's license to head up special education classes at one point.

Board member Lynne Costic, who was in favor of a shorter renewal, wondered why the data wasn't brought to the school board's attention sooner.

"How come nobody even asked these questions beforehand, before we got to this point? So that there was a time for that they could remediate themselves," she said. "So I'm very, very concerned about things just now coming up at the time of rechartering."

Kherat said charter schools traditionally operate autonomously of the school district that authorizes its charter.

The comments echoed the concerns of Herman and others on both sides of the rechartering debate who said the communication between the Peoria Public Schools board and Quest officials is poor. The charter school has invited an elected school board member to join its appointed executive board.

Quest received $6.9 million under the state's new evidence-based school funding formula this school year.

It's now up to the board to hash out the conditions of its two-year renewal of the charter. Those votes will likely come next spring.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.