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Harpswell charter school gets initial state approval

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Harpswell charter school gets initial state approval

HARPSWELL — The Maine Charter School Commission accepted a 468-page application on Tuesday for a Harpswell school.

The commission also set an interview and public hearing on the application from Harpswell Coastal Academy for later this month. It could grant final approval to the school in early February.

HCA was the only charter school whose application was accepted by the panel this week. Four others, including two virtual schools, were rejected.

"The review committee felt (HCA's) was a complete application clearly demonstrating merit for each element of the approval criteria," commission Executive Director Bob Kautz said. "They were interested in the program they were presenting and their education vision."

The commission will hold an interview with the HCA board and a public hearing on Jan. 18 at 1 p.m. at Cundy’s Harbor Community Center on Cundy's Harbor Road.

The approval means the commission and the school will spend the next several weeks developing a contract that lays out how the school will operate and how the commission will oversee it.

Joe Grady, HCA board chairman, said his board will now seek to rally support from local advocates and prepare for the interview process.

He said Tuesday's news was unexpected.

"I didn't really realize this was part of the passage, so it was a surprise that there was a vote," Grady said. "... But I feel like a 7-0 vote to push this forward is a real validation of the work that we're doing. I feel like it's a little bit of evidence that we have a strong application ... it feels good to know the commission feels the same way."

John D’Anieri, HCA's consultant, told the Bangor Daily News "a lot of hard work" remains before the school can open in September, including finding a building, hiring staff and attracting students.

Grady indicated the board might have a site chosen for the school by the time of the public hearing. The former West Harpswell School, which was closed after the 2010-2011 school year, has been suggested as a possibility.

"We have all the information that we need," Grady said, "but as a group our process isn't complete."

The school will ultimately provide project-based learning for grades 6-12, Grady said in December. Initially, it will only serve grades 6 and 9.

HCA's catchment area will include Bath, Brunswick, Freeport, Harpswell, Lisbon, Pownal and Topsham, with an expected capacity of 280 students by the 2017-2018 school year, according to the charter application.

Paul Perzanoski, superintendent of the Brunswick School Department, said in December that his department is cautious of any charter school established nearby because it could have an impact on Brunswick's state funding.

Grady said he thinks students deserve a choice.

Kautz said HCA will have a final decision from the commission by Feb. 5. Part of that decision will be based on the interview and public hearing.

"The commission members will have a number of questions they will want to ask," Kautz said. "They will dig deeper into the application itself and have a clear understanding of what (the HCA board is) proposing. The commission will then listen to any input from the public hearing, and people will have five days after the public hearing to send in comments." 

Christopher Cousins of the Bangor Daily News contributed to this story. Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.