At least six schools intend to apply for the last four spots available for new charter schools in Maine.

The six schools, including a virtual school that has applied the last three years, sent letters of intent to the Maine Charter School Commission by Wednesday’s deadline.

There may still be more since the applications must be postmarked by Wednesday and may still be in transit, according to the commission’s executive director, Bob Kautz.

Maine charter schools are publicly funded but operate independently of public school districts. By law, the state has a cap of 10 charter schools until 2021.

Five charter schools are currently in operation: Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Fairfield; Cornville Regional Charter School; Baxter Academy of Technology and Science in Portland; Fiddlehead School for Arts & Sciences in Gray; and Harpswell Coastal Academy.

A sixth charter school, Maine Connections Academy, plans to open in the fall. It will be the state’s first virtual charter school, with students learning largely from home and getting lessons online.

The only repeat application is from another virtual charter school, Maine Virtual Academy, which was rejected earlier this year. School officials appealed the rejection, but the commission declined to consider it because the material was sent in after the deadline and because one commissioner felt it was inappropriate that academy officials directly contacted commissioners to appeal the rejection.

LIMITED INTERACTION

Students in virtual schools have limited face-to-face interaction with teachers and administrators. Supporters say the schools are good for students who don’t “fit” at traditional schools, from top athletes in intense training to students who have been bullied. Virtual charter schools also have drawn criticism, in part because local school boards outsource their management to for-profit companies that are beholden to shareholders.

Amy Carlisle, chairwoman of the board at Maine Virtual Academy, said the application would be adjusted to address the concerns raised by the commissioners in the last application process.

FACE-TO-FACE PrIOrITY

“It will certainly have some material changes,” she said, such as the need for students and teachers to have face-to-face opportunities, a top priority for the commission.

She said she was also aware that this time the academy is applying after a virtual charter school is already in operation, and that it will have to demonstrate a need for a second such school.

“We’ll need to focus on that,” she said. “I know they will be evaluating us in a slightly different lens.”

But many states have two virtual schools in operation, she said. “It’s not an uncommon model. Competition is a good thing.”

The other letters of intent to apply are from:

n All of ME Academy, a kindergarten through fifth-grade school based in either Lewiston or Auburn.

n Inspire ME Academy, a York County-based school for fourth- through eighth-graders.

n Compass Academy of Science & Exploration, for kindergarten through fifth grade in Kennebunk.

n The Maine International Charter School, a southern Maine-based high school with the International Baccalaureate program.

n Snow Pond Arts Academy, a high school in Sidney for performing and arts education.

Maine Connections Academy is still preparing in anticipation of opening in the fall. It recently selected a location in South Portland for offices for its instructors and staff, and selected a principal.

Maine Connections Academy will operate under Connections Academy, a for-profit company that now operates 25 virtual charter schools in more than 20 states.

The company is owned by Pearson PLC in London, a multinational corporation that formulates standardized tests and textbooks for many schools in the United States.

Officials at Maine Connections Academy fell nearly 50 percent short of the June 1 deadline to enroll at least 243 students in order to open in the fall.

The school got an extension to meet the enrollment figure by July 15.

If it doesn’t meet the enrollment figure, the school would need a waiver from the commission before it could open.

That may already be in the works, as the agenda for Tuesday’s state charter commission meeting includes an item to discuss an enrollment question from the school.

PRINCIPAL HIRED

Connections officials also announced that the school’s principal will be Karl J. Francis, a guidance counselor at Westbrook High School for the last nine years.

For the past year, he has been in what’s called a “building principal internship,” a training program required by the state for someone to become certified as a principal. Francis is also a state-certified teacher, and taught hospitality and tourism classes at the Lakes Region Vocational Center in Naples for five years.

Francis said that as part of his training, he worked closely with the principal as school officials dealt with the fallout of overturning the suspensions of about 30 student-athletes who attended an underage drinking party.

“It was an incredible opportunity,” he said of being there in the midst of the situation. “I learned a lot.”

Francis has a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Southern Maine and a Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Leadership, also from USM.

He received a bachelor’s degree of science in Recreation and Leisure Studies from the University of Georgia.