2013-01-04 / Front Page

Charter school review is set

Harpswell Coastal Academy hopes to open in the fall
BY DARCIE MOORE Times Record Staff

HARPSWELL

The application for a new charter school in Harpswell goes to the Maine Charter School Commission for review Tuesday.

Harpswell Coastal Academy plans to open in September as a grade 6-12 school, but with an initial enrollment of 40 to 80 students in grades 6 and 9. It is one of five charter school applications the commission will review Tuesday.

The school’s catchment area includes students residing within School Administrative District 75, Brunswick and Regional School Units 1 and 5, according to the 468- page application. Proponents are considering three locations, including the former West Harpswell School.

Charter schools are public schools of choice students can decide to attend as an alternative to traditional public schools. Charter schools are funded with state dollars but operate independently of local school boards.

Gov. Paul LePage signed the inaugural charter school bill into law on June 29, 2011, making Maine the 41st state to allow public charter schools. The law took effect Sept. 28, 2011. Maine’s first two charter schools, in Fairfield and Cornville, opened last October.

Last week, more than 50 students submitted applications to The Baxter Academy for Technology and Science — the state’s newest charter school — in the first two days applications were available.

The state charter school panel will hold a morning workshop on the Harpswell application that begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Cross State Office Building in Augusta. During the commis- sion’s 1 p.m. business meeting in the same room, the commission will then vote on whether applications are worthy of an interview and public hearing.

Bob Kautz, executive director for the Maine Charter School Commission, said every application is read by three commission members who submit a report to the full board.

The decision the commission will make during the business meeting is not to deny or approve applications, Kautz said, but to decide if they are strong enough to move forward.

If not deemed worthy, “then that would be the end of it for the applicant,” he said.

Should the Harpswell Coastal Academy application pass muster, an interview and public hearing would take place Jan. 18 at Cundy’s Harbor Community Center.

During the interview, the applicant makes a presentation then the commission asks questions. Kautz explained this process could take a few hours.

“It’s a pretty rigorous process, but it’s intended to be,” Kautz said.

“We’re all going through it for the first time so we’ll see how it goes,” said Joe Grady, chairman of the Harpswell Coastal Academy Board of Directors. “I think we put a really strong application together, in not only curriculum but in structures.”

“Our goal is to use the natural resources base of Harpswell and the coastal ecosystem to engage kids in the community and in the areas of the working waterfront fields and forests of Harpswell and the host of community members here that can engage kids and work with kids on real-world projects.

“Part of our goal is to really convince kids when they leave high school that they can live in Maine. They can look at fields, forests, fisheries and say, ‘I want to be here. I can have a family here and keep learning.’ ”

Tuesday’s meetings will be in Room 104 of the Cross State Office Building.

dmoore@timesrecord.com

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