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Area school boards consider revised STEM agreement

To open John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School by August 2014 AurorUniversity is continuing constructiduring winter months. | Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times

To open the John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School by August 2014, Aurora University is continuing construction during winter months. | Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 20, 2014 6:39AM

AURORA — Three local school boards are considering a revised agreement to open a STEM partnership school at Aurora University later this year after Oswego School District 308 decided earlier this month not to send students to the school.

The John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, is slated to open in August.

Under the original agreement that school boards were considering, West Aurora, East Aurora, Indian Prairie 204 and Oswego 308 were to send 200 students in third to eighth grades to the school. The four districts were to shoulder $1.5 million of the costs and Aurora University was to pay about $796,000 in operating costs.

Oswego’s School Board voted 6-0 on Feb. 10 not to send 50 students to the school, citing concerns over the STEM school’s size and details that had yet to be worked out. Officials said they preferred to start their own STEM program that would benefit more Oswego students.

Now the remaining school boards are considering a revised agreement that would send 150 students from three districts to the STEM school.

The districts now would pay $1.1 million and Aurora University would pay $790,000. The slight drop for the university is due to a decrease in costs for reimbursing tuition for teachers, since fewer would be teaching at the STEM school.

There is no additional cost for the three school districts because of Oswego’s decision to leave the partnership, Aurora University spokesman Steve McFarland said on Tuesday.

The university is “not at this time actively considering a fourth district” to replace Oswego, McFarland added.

“We’re keeping the agreement as consistent as possible given the departure of Oswego,” he said.

The STEM school’s governing board — which will be made up of the superintendents and Aurora University’s president — could vote sometime in the future to add a fourth district, McFarland said.

State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) filed legislation earlier this month that would allow the STEM school to operate with two or more school districts. As of Tuesday, the bill had been assigned to the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, which Chapa LaVia chairs.

The departure of Oswego from the partnership wasn’t a surprise, officials have said. The revised agreement is dated Jan. 28 and Chapa LaVia’s bill was filed Feb. 3 — both of which occurred before the Oswego school board vote.

The East Aurora and West Aurora school boards are scheduled to speak about the new agreement on Tuesday night, but they are not voting on it yet.

The university is pursuing a “parallel path” to get the revised agreement approved by the three districts and the revised law approved in the legislature, McFarland said.

The university needs to move forward with the school district agreements now, he said, so that parents and students can be contacted about how to apply for entrance to the STEM school.

Chapa LaVia said Tuesday that she didn’t see “any bumps in the road” to getting the legislation passed.

“I don’t see it having any complications,” she said, adding that it was “shortsighted” to specify four districts in the original legislation, instead of setting the bar at two or more.

Aurora University President Rebecca Sherrick said Tuesday that the university’s “overwhelming preference” is to go forward with the three existing school districts for the first school year.

But Aurora University has consulted an attorney about other options if the law doesn’t pass, she said. Adding a fourth school district would be an option “if it became a question of not being able to open,” Sherrick added.

The state law that originally was passed to allow for the operation of the STEM school permits four districts with boundaries inside the same municipality to participate.

In addition to the four other districts, Batavia 101 and Kaneland 302 both have district boundaries within Aurora.

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