Harpswell charter school moves toward lease of town building

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HARPSWELL — The state approved a charter school contract for Harpswell Coastal Academy on Tuesday, as the school moves toward a lease of the former West Harpswell School.

John D’Anieri, head of HCA, said the contract approved by the Maine Charter School Commission sets performance indicators the school must meet and allows the state to exercise oversight.

“One of the things that charters do is if you don’t meet your targets or don’t accomplish what you set out to do, you can be unchartered,” D’Anieri said Wednesday.

He said the two tenets of charter schools are innovation and accountability.

“One of the arguments for starting charter schools is, we are able to produce different results, better results for students whose needs aren’t currently being met,” D’Anieri said, “and if we don’t do that, why should we exist?”

On Monday morning, HCA signed a memorandum of understanding with the Board of Selectmen that will allow the school and town to work toward a three-year lease of the former West Harpswell School.

D’Anieri said the memorandum was a requirement of the state contract.

Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said the memorandum “touches on basic terms” that two sides will continue to negotiate.

“We are basically saying the academy will be responsible for operating costs the first year and say the town may make a contribution,” Eiane said on Monday. “We will primarily use the lease payment for undertaking repairs or modifications (required for the school’s operation.)”

D’Anieri said operation of the school would require no extra cost to the town.

“The lease is revenue-neutral to the town,” he said, “so the town is not spending town money to keep the school open.”

D’Anieri said HCA hopes to have the lease signed by June 1.

“It’s going to work out,” D’Anieri said. “Neither side is aware of any obstacles keeping a lease from getting signed.”

Eiane also said the lease discussions have been positive.

“We haven’t hit what I would call a major stumbling block at this point,” she said.

With less than four months to the beginning of next school year, D’Anieri said HCA is on target to reach its projected enrollment of 60 students from the school’s catchment area, which includes nearby communities like Brunswick, Topsham and Freeport.

“We’re at 55 committed students out of 60,” he said, “and we have another 10 on the waiting list, and we may hear from them any day.”

HCA has also signed agreements with four out of six full-time equivalent staffers, D’Anieri said.

In the coming weeks, he said, HCA will also raise funds for the school’s opening and develop special-education partnerships.

Meanwhile, nearby public school districts are trying to address revenue gaps happening as a result of the way charter school funding follows the student.

The Brunswick School Department is forecasting a loss of nearly $200,000 in revenue because it expects 18 current students to attend HCA in the fall. The revenue loss is one the contributing factors in the School Department’s proposed 6.66 percent budger increase for next year.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.