January 2, 2013

More than 30 apply to new Portland charter school

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — More than 30 students applied for admission to Portland's new charter school in the first 24 hours that applications were available.

click image to enlarge

Framed by a TV camera, John Jacques, executive director of the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, listens in on a press conference Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2012 at the school's 54 York Street location, to announce that they are now accepting application.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Kellie Keliehor, with her 7-year-old daughter Chloe, listens to her other daughter Brianna, 13, speak at a press conference Wednesday for the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, a new charter school in Portland.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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The Baxter Academy for Technology and Science hope to have 12 full-time teachers and 160 students in the fall, split between ninth and 10th grades. Online applications became available Jan. 1.

"It's a new era in education," said Executive Director John Jaques during a press conference Wednesday at the school's now-vacant space at 54 York St.

The leased two-story space will be renovated in the spring to create classrooms and other space for the new school. On Wednesday, architectural plans showing the layout leaned against a wall in the building looking over Commercial Street to Casco Bay.

Jaques said the school is now offering some after-school programs. No teachers have been hired for the fall yet, he said.

Jaques said he has raised $100,000 through fundraising, and has a $500,000 line of credit. He expects $1.5 million in state funding, which will follow the students who come to Baxter from public school districts.

Under Maine's charter school law, as many as 10 charter schools will be allowed to open in the state over the next decade. Maine became the 41st state to allow charter schools when the law passed in 2011. Several of Maine's charter schools are already open.

A charter school is a public school that receives public funding but is formed and operated by parents, teachers and community leaders. They are largely exempt from the rules and regulations of public school districts.

Supporters say charter schools are a good fit for certain students because they can offer a tailored curriculum that public schools can't.

Opponents say many charter schools fail because of faulty business plans, and can hurt public schools by siphoning off students and public funding.

Portland school officials estimate that the district will lose as much as $10,000 in state funding for every public school student who goes to Baxter instead of a city school.

To counter the lost funding, Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, has said he will propose changing state law to fund charter schools in the budget, instead of diverting money from public school districts.

Portland Mayor Mike Brennan, who opposes charter schools, said he supports Alfond's proposal because of the financial hit to Portland as students go to Baxter.

School board member Kelli Pryor said the school, in addition to emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math, would offer Mandarin language and Chinese culture classes. That, she said, would give students "a global reach."

Kelli Keliehor, who has been home-schooling her 13-year-old daughter, Brianna, said she expects many of the students at Baxter to be home-schoolers.

"Our children are bored out of their minds in public schools," Keliehor said. Although home-schooling has been working well for Brianna, it's a lot of work and paying for tutors can add up, she said.

"(Baxter) is going to save me a ton of time and a ton of money," she said.

Brianna said she is looking forward to going to the charter school.

"It's not the normal route, but it's the route that works for me," she said. "You shouldn't have to have humdrum. You're supposed to be excited."

Jaques said Baxter will follow Portland's school calendar for its academic year and school breaks. The school plans to bring in a new ninth-grade class in each of the next two years, to eventually create a four-grade high school.

"We are going to increase opportunity and increase expectations for our students," Jaques said. "We will all benefit from this."

Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

ngallagher@pressherald.com

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