April 14, 2013

Districts pinched by charter schools

Public school superintendents struggle to calculate and accommodate the cost of charter schools on their budgets.

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

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The highest concentration of potential Baxter Academy students comes from towns in the following school districts. (A complete list is available at the Maine Charter School Commission website.)

Portland, 18

RSU 5 (Freeport, Pownal, Durham), 17

South Portland, 10

Westbrook, 10

RSU 21 (Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Arundel), 9

RSU 61 (Bridgton, Casco, Naples, Sebago), 9

RSU 51 (Cumberland, North Yarmouth), 7

RSU 6 (Buxton, Hollis, Limington, Standish, and Frye Island), 7

RSU 14 (Windham, Raymond), 6

Gorham, 6

Source: Baxter Academy

Dolloff said his district set aside $50,000 to offset charter school costs. If all nine students go, that figure will be too low.

"It's tough to predict the actual costs," Dolloff said. "We were really shooting in the dark."

Like other superintendents, he said there's no way to actually lower their costs; they just have to absorb the blow, whatever it turns out to be.

That's one reason he likes the idea of spreading out the costs among all school districts.

"That makes much more sense," Dolloff said. "Everybody paying a little is more palatable."

Dolloff also warned that charter school funding could get out of control when virtual charter schools are approved, something he thinks is likely. So far, no virtual charter schools have been approved by the state.

"Every community has dozens of home-schooled students," Dolloff said. "Can you imagine three dozen home-schoolers electing to take virtual classes?"

For Baxter, this week's firm enrollment figures are an important benchmark. The school must have at least 140 students to open; any fewer would be considered a "material change" to its proposal and it would have to go back to the Charter Commission for a new look at its contract and budget.

Even if the school reaches 140 this week, the figures are likely to change further since students can continue to enroll -- or choose not to attend -- right up until September, said Crean Davis, the Baxter board vice president.

Once Baxter officials have a list of student names, they will send those names to the sending school district and request the students' files. The files will indicate whether the student has any special needs and help both the sending district and Baxter plan accordingly. Baxter Academy, for example, has not yet hired any teachers.

"There may be specific needs students, like English language learners, that we would have to address with special hires," said Crean Davis.

In Westbrook, where 10 students are expected to go to Baxter, Superintendent Marc Gousse said he sees the charter school as just another opportunity for students.

"In a district our size, we certainly don't want to see any student go," said Gousse, who oversees the 2,500-student district. "But every parent has to do what they think is best for their child."

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


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