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Third Charter School Wins Approval in Maine
11/16/2012   Reported By: Jay Field

Maine's third charter school has won final approval from the state. Baxter Academy for Technology and Science will open next fall in Portland. The state Charter School Commission, meantime, has five new proposals to consider in the coming months. Jay Field has more.

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The next round of applications, filed at the end of October, include proposals for new charters in Harpswell, Bangor, Scarborough and Kennebunk. An application has also been submitted for a K-12 online school called Maine Virtual Academy.

Two virtual schools sought approval in the first round of proposals. But the commission demurred, deciding it needed more time to study whether online schools could provide high quality education. Bob Kautz, head of the commission, says the panel faces a busy winter.

"Those applications are getting prepared to be going to review teams with the idea that decisions would be made on them by Feb. 1," Kautz says. "If all of these five were to be approved there would be nine, and that would then leave only one more slot, so to speak, for another charter school under the current law."

Maine education officials have hinted that Gov. Paul LePage might be inclined to support raising the cap on charters, if lawmakers were to revisit the issue. But such a change seems highly unlikely in a Legislature now controlled by Democrats, including a Senate led by a new president, Justin Alfond, who's a staunch charter school opponent.

Of the three charters already approved, Baxter Academy will be the first to focus exclusively on science, technology and math. John Jaques is the school's executive director. The school doesn't open for eight months, but Jaques says he and the staff already have a lot on their plate.

"We're working on fundraising. We're still working on curriculum development. And we're also looking at reviewing applications for the teaching positions," Jacques says.

The school is also offering afterschool enrichment classes right now, as a sort of preview for students thinking of applying for next fall. Among the courses being offered: astrophotography and Chinese cooking, culture and language.



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