Charter school commission delays vote on Portland technology school

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PORTLAND — A proposed charter school with a science- and technology-driven curriculum suffered an unexpected setback Monday when the state panel that approves new charter schools postponed a decision until later this month.

The Maine Charter School Commission discussed the application from the Baxter Academy of Technology and Science on Monday in Augusta. But the commission canceled a scheduled public comment session after deciding to postpone its vote until July 17 so school officials could provide additional information.

The decision was a surprise to Baxter Academy Executive Director John Jaques, who had expressed optimism about the vote on Friday.

“Nobody saw this coming,” Jaques said Monday afternoon.

The technology school’s chances seemed good, Jaques said, because the lead reviewer for its application, commission member Jana LaPoint, recommended its approval; the commission Friday approved the state’s first charter school, the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, to open this September in Hinckley; and the meeting room Monday was “overflowing” with Baxter Academy backers.

“We would have preferred to have the final decision to approve today,” Jaques said. “But we’re encouraged by the comments that we heard and the support from the review committee.”

Shortly after the commission’s decision Monday afternoon, Jaques said he was “not completely clear” about what information the panel wants him to release.

A news release from the commission said that their questions are about the school’s budget, which the academy has revised twice since filing its initial application in June, and other issues.

Jaques said he was waiting to receive a written request for the information from the commission, and will then work to comply.

“We think we’ll be able to get those pieces published and be able to answer any questions in the minds of the authorizers,” Jaques said. “We’re just inching closer and closer.”

In the meantime, the school is already enrolling students.

It had received 42 applicants as of last Friday, Jaques said. The academy is shooting for a maximum of 160 students – freshman or sophomores only – to start the school year in September.

The school has signed a lease for space at 54 York St, and has lined up most of the teaching staff, Jaques said.

He said Baxter Academy will wait to purchase equipment until after receiving the commission’s approval, an event he also expects to also jump-start enrollment.

“We did hear a lot of strong support for the need for a (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) high school in Portland,” he said.

The commission also denied the application of the Cornville Regional Charter School by a 3-3 vote on Monday. Five votes are needed to approve a charter school; the commission’s press release said that the school did not appear sufficiently innovative or different from the local public school to warrant approval.

Andrew Cullen can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ACullenFore.