Maine’s new charter schools will not share in the $12.6 million in cuts that hit public schools when the governor issued his curtailment of spending order late last month.

The Maine School Management Association — an organization representing Maine school boards — said the funding cuts are unfair to more than 50 public school districts that will lose $100,000 to $400,000 from current year programs.

Deputy Education Commissioner Jim Rier confirmed at an Appropriations Committee meeting Friday that charter schools will be exempt from curtailment cuts.

The announcement came as the state moves to assess the next round of new charter school applications — including one in Harpswell that could cut into local school funding that’s already shrinking.

Brunswick schools stand to take the biggest hit as a percentage of what was originally appropriated — a $235,565 curtailment that is 0.8 percent of original funding. Other local districts will experience these curtailments:

— RSU 1 (Arrowsic, Bath, West Bath, Woolwich, Phippsburg): $165,311, 0.7 percent;

— RSU 2 (Hallowell, Farmingdale, Dresden, Richmond, Monmouth): $138,853, 0.6 percent;

— RSU 5 (Freeport, Pownal, Durham): $138,193, 0.6 percent;

— RSU 12 (Palermo, Windsor, Somerville, Whitefield, Chelsea, Alna, Wiscasset, Westport Island): $146,729, 0.6 percent;

— SAD 75 (Topsham, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Harpswell): $147,483, 0.5 percent; and

— Lisbon School Department: $65,335, 0.5 percent.

Rier said because only two charter schools with a combined enrollment of 85 are currently up and running, it’s a small amount of money to be exempted from curtailment.

Also exempt are the 5,000 tuition students who attend private academies in the state. That tuition is paid by public school districts and is $9,000 per year — about the same amount school districts lose for each student who signs up for a charter school.

Rier said the curtailment cuts, if applied to charters and private academies, would be $50 to $60 per student.

Maine School Management Association President Kristin Malin, of Georgetown, said the unequal treatment is unfair to public schools.

“The state says charter schools are public schools, but they don’t live by the same rules. This is just the latest example of that,” Malin said. “When every public school district in the state has to cut back under the curtailment order, charter schools have been automatically exempt. How is that fair?” Malin said.

While there are only two charter schools operating in Maine, two others have been approved for a September opening and five have applied to open in the fall — including the one in Harpswell.

Should the Harpswell Coastal Academy application pass muster, an interview and public hearing would take place Jan. 18 at Cundy’s Harbor Community Center.

Harpswell Coastal Academy plans to open in September as a grade 6-12 school, with an initial enrollment of 40 to 80 students in grades 6 and 9 only.

The school’s catchment area includes students residing within School Administrative District 75, Brunswick and Regional School Units 1 and 5, according to the 468-page application. Proponents are considering three locations, including the former West Harpswell School.

Gov. Paul LePage signed the inaugural charter school bill into law on June 29, 2011, making Maine the 41st state to allow public charter schools. The law took effect Sept. 28, 2011. Maine’s first two charter schools, in Fairfield and Cornville, opened last October.

Last week, more than 50 students submitted applications to The Baxter Academy for Technology and Science — the state’s newest charter school — in the first two days applications were available.

“We’re all going through it for the first time so we’ll see how it goes,” said Joe Grady, chairman of the Harpswell Coastal Academy Board of Directors. “I think we put a really strong application together, in not only curriculum but in structures.

“Part of our goal is to really convince kids when they leave high school that they can live in Maine. They can look at fields, forests, fisheries and say, ‘I want to be here. I can have a family here and keep learning.’”

The Maine Charter School Commission is meeting today to determine whether the Harpswell application and four others should move forward.

The meeting is in Room 104 of the Cross Office Building in Augusta, with a work session scheduled from 9 to noon and votes on the charter applicants scheduled 1 to 3 p.m.

¦ GOV. PAUL LEPAGE is preparing legislation that would eliminate the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Maine, an initiative sure to cause significant debate among incoming lawmakers who already face a weighty agenda and difficult funding issues. See story, page A2.



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