State process could delay opening of Portland charter school

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PORTLAND — The executive director of a proposed charter school said further delays on the state level could derail plans to open the school in September.

John Jaques, executive director of Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, said the state Charter School Commission has yet to accept applications from prospective charter schools. He said if Baxter Academy does not receive state approval by May the opening may be pushed back from September 2012 to September 2013.

“We’re a little concerned it’s taking so long,” Jaques said.

The state’s new charter school law, approved last year by the Legislature, allows for the creation of 10 non-district charter schools statewide. School districts also can start their own charter schools that do not count toward the 10-school statewide limit.

The Charter School Commission is considered an “authorizer” under the law and will decide which 10 schools open during the first 10 years of the law.

By law, charter schools must be free to attend, nonreligious and are subject to the same academic standards as traditional schools. Schools can, however, have a specific academic focus.

The Charter School Commission will hold a series of public input sessions about regional education needs before it will accept applications from proposed schools. The first session will be held Thursday, March 1, from 6:30-8 p.m. in the Deering High School cafeteria, 370 Stevens Ave. Additional sessions are scheduled for March 8 in Bangor and March 15 in Augusta.

Matthew Stone, spokesman for the Maine Department of Education, said the commission will issue a request for charter school proposals after the sessions are complete.

“The commission wants to get a sense of what the needs are out there before they issue the request for proposals,” he said. “They think the best people to say what those needs are are the parents of students attending school.”

Jaques said he plans to attend the Portland session, but will also hold Baxter Academy parent information meetings in March and April to explain the school’s focus on science, technology, engineering and math. The school will use a standards-based curriculum.

Jaques said the non-residential school plans to accept 80 freshmen and 80 sophomores next year, followed by an additional 80 freshmen the following two year for a total of 320 students. A blind lottery will be used if applications exceed available openings. Most students are likely to come from within a 20-mile radius of the school at 54 York St., he said.

While Jaques said he hears regularly from parents and teachers interested in the charter school, there is still plenty of work to be done, including finalizing the draft of the charter required in the application process. He said he has been operating under the assumption that charter schools would be ready to open in September as laid out in the law.

“It would make it difficult for us to open if we don’t get approval by May,” he said.

Despite the delays, Jaques said he is hopeful Baxter Academy receives approval to open because the only other math and science school is in Limestone, a location that requires students from southern Maine to live away from their families.

“We’re hopeful our charter will be approved and give families in southern Maine an opportunity for a specialized school,” he said.

People who cannot attend the public sessions are invited to submit input via email to scsc@gmail.com.

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or ggraham@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.

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