Portland charter school on track after enrollment limit is eased

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AUGUSTA — A proposal to create an enrollment window for students interested in charter schools has been scrapped.

The rules governing the way charter schools are run are making their way through the Legislature’s education committee.

A proposal by the state Department of Education in November would have limited enrollment in charter schools to three weeks in January, something charter school advocates called unworkable.

But now that enrollment window has been removed from the rules, replaced with a provision that would allow charter schools to determine their own enrollment windows, or have a rolling enrollment.

“This is good news,” said John Jaques, the director of Baxter Academy, a science and math charter school proposed for Portland.

As part of the new charter school law, a DOE committee was charged with coming up with rules for the 10 non-district charter schools that will be allowed under the law. School districts can also start charter schools within their district that do not count toward the 10-school statewide limit.

After those rules are approved by the legislative committee, they must be approved by the full Legislature. Only then can Baxter Academy and any other proposed charter school submit an application to the charter school commission.

“We’re in a holding pattern, waiting for the charter-authorizing commission to do their work and waiting for the Legislature to finalize the rules,” Jaques said Tuesday.

Assuming things do not change dramatically from what the DOE has proposed, he said, Baxter Academy is on schedule to open in September.

“We’re planning on having rolling enrollment,” Jaques said.

He said he receives daily emails and phone calls from parents and students interested in attending the new school, but that the school cannot accept applications, hire teachers or sign a lease for a space until the charter is approved by the state commission.

The school does have a tentative agreement with Rufus Deering Lumber for a building at 54 York St., but will not sign an official lease until the charter is approved.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.