SAD 75, Harpswell charter school near special ed pact

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HARPSWELL — The charter school that plans to open this fall may contract with School Administrative District 75 for special education services.

Harpswell Coastal Academy is also working on a transportation agreement with SAD 75, and is closing in on a lease of a former town school.

SAD 75 Superintendent Brad Smith on Wednesday said the district’s Board of Directors will consider signing a contract at its June 27 meeting to provide various special education services to Harpswell Coastal Academy.

“It is important to note that HCA, as a state-approved charter school, remains responsible for providing special education services to identified students,” Smith said. “… The proposed contract simply allows HCA to purchase some of those services through our district on a fee basis.”

Smith said some of the services could include social work support, administrative consultation, occupational therapy, behavioral consultation, physical therapy and speech and language services.

“The conversations between officials from HCA and SAD 75 have been productive, cooperative and focused on student learning,” Smith said. “The responsibility for providing free appropriate public education for students with disabilities is complex and significant. If the contract is approved by both parties, we will look forward to providing those agreed upon services to (HCA).”

Smith previously expressed concerns about HCA’s responsibility to provide special education services during the charter school’s public hearing in February. But HCA’s headmaster, John D’Anieri, has repeatedly stated that it’s his job to make sure the school follows through.

“We report to the state Department of Education Office of Special Services, so all of the same requirements and laws that pertain to public schools pertain to us as well,” D’Anieri said.

D’Anieri said the potential agreement has been discussed for about a year, and more seriously since HCA’s charter was approved in February.

“School districts have built up these capacities and the more we can share certain costs, the better we can serve as many kids as well as possible,” he said.

In the meantime, HCA has also been preparing to sign a lease with the town of Harpswell for use of the former West Harpswell School.

“We are getting very close and I’m confident we’ll have a lease agreement in place no later than July 1,” D’Anieri said.

The headmaster previously said a lease was expected to be signed by the beginning of June, but various details, including how much maintenance the building requires and who will cover the costs, have delayed the deal.

“We’re just waiting for the process to play out,” D’Anieri said.

To meet deadlines set by the Maine Charter School Commission, HCA signed a memorandum of agreement with the town for the lease in May

D’Anieri said HCA is also working on a transportation agreement with SAD 75 that would have charter school students riding district school buses.

“The numbers have been crunched and it’s waiting on approval,” he said.

In other matters, HCA has still not reached its $135,000 fundraising goal, but with more than 80 percent raised, D’Anieri said he’s confident the goal will be met by the beginning of the school year.

The headmaster said the fund has already been used and will continue to be used for HCA’s start-up costs.

Another fundraising campaign will begin after HCA opens, D’Anieri said, with the purpose of raising funds for a permanent building for the school. 

“We will need that space by year four,” he said.

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