Wednesday, May 22, 2013
PORTLAND - A $500,000 line of credit secured by an anonymous benefactor from Tennessee would fund the start-up costs of a charter school proposed in Portland.
Supporters of the Baxter Academy of Technology and Science say that loan should assure state officials that the school would be on sound financial footing when it opens in September.
Critics say the loan from SunTrust Bank of Knoxville, Tenn., obtained just two weeks ago, shows desperation and raises questions about the validity of the school's financial plan. They are urging a state board to reject the group's application for a charter school.
"They are frankly running around at this point, trying to put together a financial package to make it work," said Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, a critic of the proposed school, which he fears would siphon money from the city's school system, as well as its top students.
Baxter Academy, which would be run by the nonprofit Baxter Academies of Maine, describes itself as a "rigorous, college-preparatory high school."
The school would be in a building that housed a former call center on York Street. Its curriculum would focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It has applications from 40 students, and hopes to have 160 students by September.
Baxter Academies of Maine is one of four groups that are vying for state charters under a year-old law that allows charter schools in Maine for the first time.
Maine is the 41st state to allow charter schools, which are public schools that don't follow all of the regulations and restrictions on traditional public schools. If a public school student enrolls in a charter school, the state and local tax dollars from the student's home school district follow the student to the charter school.
Careful analysis of any business plan is critical because a school that runs out of money would be very disruptive for students, said William Shuttleworth, vice chairman of the Maine Charter School Commission, which is reviewing Baxter Academy's application.
When a charter school fails, he said, it's usually because the first contract with the authorizing agency wasn't well thought out, he said.
"My number one job, as commissioner, is to make sure we do the due diligence so every school we authorize is guaranteed for kids," he said.
A national survey of charter schools during 2010-2011 showed that 6.2 percent closed when their charters came up for renewal and 1.5 percent closed during their charter terms, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.
Friday is Maine's deadline for groups to apply for charters. Six groups have applied.
The charter commission has already ruled that two of the applicants -- both proposals for virtual schools -- are not ready for the upcoming academic year and should re-apply next year.
On Friday, the commission will decide whether to give a charter to the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, a magnet school that has operated since September on the campus of the Good Will-Hinckley Home for Boys in the central Maine town of Fairfield.
On Monday, the commission will decide whether to give a charter to Baxter Academy and the Cornville Regional Charter School, organized by parents who opposed the closure of Cornville's elementary school two years ago.
The commission has yet to schedule a meeting on a proposal for the Fiddlehead School of Arts and Sciences at an existing preschool in Gray. In its first year, the school would be for children from preschool through first grade.
The Baxter proposal faces an additional financial hurdle because it's the only proposal for which there is no existing school building.
In its initial application, Baxter proposed a $2.4 million budget to teach 160 students. Critics said the proposal was built on assumptions that seemed unlikely to materialize.
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