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Concerns put city aid to trade school on hold

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A proposal for the City of Evanston to give a forgivable $25,000 to a private trade school is on hold after coming under fire from public school officials.

Last November the city's Economic Development Committee recommended that the City Council approve the loan to help the startup Career Institute LLC rehab vacant office space at 990 Grove St. for classrooms and offices.

Monday night Evanston Township High School Superintendent Eric Witherspoon and School Board President Gretchen Livingston criticized the proposed city aid to the private, for-profit school.

This afternoon, Paul Zalmezak of the city's economic development staff said the loan plan is on hold and won't be going before the City Council for approval unless the school's organizers can build support for it in the community.

At the school board meeting, Livingston said similar pharmacy technician programs are already available through the high school and through Oakton Community College.

And Witherspoon said that nationally private career schools have a poor track record.

In 2012, a federal study sharply criticized for-profit post-secondary schools for high tuition rates and poor records of placing students in jobs.

Oakton's pharmacy technician program, offered at its Des Plaines campus, reportedly costs students about $1,000, while Career Institute co-owner Shalom Klein told the EDC last fall its tuition would likely be between $8,000 and $9,000.

In an interview today, Klein said the cost for a program equivalent to Oakton's would actually be $2,000 to $3,000 and that the higher figure he mentioned last fall was for a more extensive training program.

Klein says that based on his connections with employers, he's convinced he can achieve far higher placement rates than OCC does for its program.

"We're talking with a number of companies around the Evanston area that have never employed anybody from Oakton and who don't believe their students have the needed skills," Klein said.

Klein said he was committed to a scholarship program for Evanston students that would be equivalent to the amount of aid he was seeking from the city.

"We were courted to Evanston" by city officials, Klein said. If the agreement doesn't come through, "we'll be very disappointed and disenchanted, but we're moving forward."

Zalmezak said the city was looking at the project as another tool for economic development helping fill long-vacant space in a downtown office building, but "the community spoke and we heard some strong opinions."

Zalmezak noted that some proprietary schools. like Pivot Point International, have had a long track record in Evanston and have developed a highly favorable reputaton.

"But Shalom is a new player, and will have to prove himself over time," Zalmezak added.

He said he believed the Career Institute project can move forward without the city's aid, but without the help it may end up locating in Skokie or Niles, where Klein has a longer track record of community involvement.

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