AUGUSTA — A state commission is accepting applications for Maine’s first charter schools.

The Maine Charter School Commission issued a request for proposals on Tuesday, setting up a busy summer for itself and the groups hoping to open schools in the coming year.

Potential operators must submit letters of intent to apply by Wednesday, May 16, and the full application is due by Friday, June 29. The commission must approve or deny applications within 90 days of receiving them, and a charter contract must be negotiated and settled at least 60 days before the school opens.

“We realize that we’re on a pretty tight schedule, and we’re looking to move forward with approving the applications as expediently as we can,” said Commission Chairman James Banks Sr.

The Charter School Commission will host an informational meeting for potential applicants at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Cross State Office Building.

The letters of intent will allow the commission to set up review committees and find outside experts to provide advice as soon as possible after applications come in, Banks said.

The outside experts will include educators, academics, business people and others knowledgeable about the specific areas charter school operators want to address in their educational programs.

“For instance, if somebody applies and they’re going to concentrate on special ed or special needs students, then we want somebody who has expertise in special ed to review that portion of the application,” Banks said.

The experts will offer advice, but commission members will make all decisions, Banks said.

The application released Tuesday requests detailed information about a proposed school’s curriculum, recruitment and enrollment procedures, staff policies, leadership, facilities, finances and more.

Applicants must outline their vision, demonstrate that they understand the population they intend to serve and explain how their program will benefit students and the community.

Charter School Commission members developed the request for proposals with help from Department of Education staff and based it partly on examples from other states, as provided by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

Charter schools are public schools that are freed from many of the requirements placed on traditional schools. Proponents say that allows them to innovate or fill gaps in educational offerings, whether through specialized programs or higher-quality instruction.

Critics say many charter schools produce poor results and they divert resources from school districts already facing tight budgets.

In central Maine, a group has said it plans to start a regional charter school at the former Cornville Elementary School, hoping to receive approval in the summer and start classes in the fall.

Glenn Cummings, president and executive director of the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences at Good Will-Hinckley, has previously told legislators that his school, which opened in September, plans to apply as an existing school that’s converting into a charter school.

Maine law requires that charter schools be operated by nonprofit, nonreligious groups. The schools have to enroll all students who wish to attend and cannot discriminate based on factors such as disabilities, English language proficiency or academic or athletic ability, unless a school is designed specifically for special-needs students.

Schools with more prospective students than spaces must choose students through a lottery.

The Charter School Commission can authorize up to 10 charter schools in the first decade.

Local school boards or collaborative groups of school boards also can authorize charter schools. Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said he is not aware of any other authorizer that has issued a request for proposals, which must be posted on the department’s website.

Once applications are submitted, the commission must hold a public hearing on each application in the area where the applicant proposes opening the school.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said in a statement Tuesday that the application announcement was an “an important step toward creating more educational options that work for our families and kids.”

“Maine’s new charter school law is one of the valuable tools available to us as we work to make sure our state’s education system meets the individual needs of each student,” Bowen said.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

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