If you can't beat 'em ...: School Board seeks pact with proposed Brunswick charter school
BRUNSWICK — In an attempt to provide an alternative to nearby charter schools, the School Board is in preliminary talks for a partnership with a proposed charter school at Brunswick Landing.
The board created an ad hoc committee April 10 to meet with John Stadler, a local entrepreneur who has proposed a charter school called Brunswick Landing International School, to open by fall 2014.
Board Chairman Jim Grant on Tuesday said an agreement with Stadler could be a win-win situation for both the public school system and BLIS.
While Brunswick faces a potential loss in funds when the nearby Harpswell Coastal Academy opens this fall, Grant said that will not be the case with BLIS.
"We're in a new world where we are competing with charter schools," Grant said. "This is part of the competing: looking for ways to partner with business partners to make sure we stay viable."
Stadler, who co-owns Tao Restaurant on Pleasant Street and founded one of the first charter schools approved in Massachusetts, said his plan for BLIS is to attract international and local students for International Baccalaureate courses that will make them strong candidates for college admissions.
The goal is to eventually have a facility with a student population of 1,500 and an early college program for students ages 16-20, Stadler said.
He said he also hopes to form a partnership with Southern Maine Community College.
But before any of that is possible, Stadler said, BLIS needs to work out an agreement with the Brunswick School Department for a pilot program that would be based out of Brunswick High School.
Ideally, Stadler said, the Brunswick School Department would become the authorizer of the BLIS charter agreement. The only other option is to seek for charter approval through the Maine Charter School Commission.
Grant said it's in Brunswick's best interest to work with BLIS.
"He could do this without us, which I think would be a detriment," Grant said.
Stadler said it would take three years for BLIS to become accredited by International Baccalaureate, a Switzerland-based educational foundation that provides diplomas and certificates for students in the 16-19 age group.
Four schools in Maine offer some form of IB program, including Gray-New Gloucester High School and Greely High School in Cumberland.
Even without the accreditation, Stadler said BLIS would be able to provide IB classes. He said IB carries a lot of weight with college admissions offices, and compared the coursework to what students could expect from the top private schools in the world.
"This is the kind of education we can deliver in Maine," Stadler said.
And like any charter school, BLIS would be free and open to all students in Maine.
Stadler said most of the revenue would come from the international student tuitions, and it would likely replace any of the money lost by the district as a result of the state's funding formula for charter schools.
The School Department is facing a projected cost of more than $195,000 in the fiscal 2014 budget because some local students are planning to attend Harpswell Coastal Academy in the fall.
"This is a huge potential money-maker," Stadler said, "and when you look at the financial opportunity here – if we can grow this the way we likely can – roughly half of those students will be tuition students from overseas."
Grant and Stadler said a potential partnership with BLIS could provide a great benefit to Brunswick's schools in the form of professional development for teachers at no extra cost and certification in international course work for students.
"If all the pieces fall into place, we can do a lot things without tax dollars and provide quite a service to the community," Grant said.
But before a charter school authorization or anything else happens, Stadler said BLIS must reach an agreement with the School Board. He said he will begin meeting with the board's ad hoc charter school committee in the next few weeks.
If everything goes as hoped, Stadler said BLIS wouldn't just provide the state with new educational opportunities, but economic ones, too.
"Brunswick is in a curious situation with the (former Navy air) base," Stadler said. "It's a very nice town with great facilities, but it lost about a quarter of its population when the base closed. It needs growth. It needs economic drivers. So this is a way to take the resources of this town and create jobs without any pollution. It's hard to complain about."