Harpswell Coastal Academy is on the verge of closing its doors after Maine Charter School Commission staff declined to support a proposal that would consolidate the institution’s two campuses, according to the school’s April 1 newsletter.

“This is terribly sad news for all of us,” read the message, signed by Board Chair Cynthia Shelmerdine and Head of School Scott Barksdale. “The Board and the community are fully committed to the school and have worked very hard to find a plan that we thought would sustain it. But without the commission’s approval, we cannot go forward.”

The Maine Charter School Commission staff, who advise the commission’s six voting members, cited the school’s low enrollment, unstable financial future and chronic absenteeism, as well as other issues, as reasons they would not support the consolidation effort, according to the newsletter.

At its April 12 meeting, the commission will vote on the academy’s plan to move its high school program, currently based in Brunswick, to its Harpswell campus. It will also vote on the financing necessary to complete the move.

If the commission rejects the proposals, as anticipated, the Harpswell Coastal Academy Board will vote the next day to cease operations at the end of the current school year, according to the newsletter.

Though school officials declined to comment this week, a March 12 letter from Barksdale to the school community blamed the institution’s financial struggles on low enrollment.


According to its charter contract with the state, Harpswell Coastal Academy’s enrollment must remain within 10% of its target of 210 students. It has failed to meet that mark for two straight years; current enrollment for grades 5-12 sits at 173, according to the school.

The April 1 announcement came as yet another shock to parents like Jamie Giles, who learned of the school’s troubles only weeks before the board seemingly resolved the problems by unanimously voting to consolidate last month.

“We were all blindsided,” Giles said of the school’s initial announcement that it was at risk of closing. “Although we knew that enrollment was important, it had never been stressed to us just how important those numbers were.”

While the Maine Charter School Commission’s 2021 Annual Monitoring Report on Harpswell Coastal Academy noted the school’s low enrollment, it specifically commended its “strong financial practices that support the sustainability of the school.”

Due to what Harpswell Coastal Academy staff described to Giles as an accounting error, the school only recently discovered its financial situation is dire.

Giles, who has three kids at the charter school, said she was angry that the institution hadn’t alerted parents sooner.


She said she worries that her kids will miss out on the opportunities offered by HCA, which is committed to hands-on, experiential learning.

“We’ll come together,” she remembers thinking. “We will rally. Let’s get this done and keep our beloved school open.”

After the board voted to consolidate rather than close on March 16, the school community started working to bring the proposal to life, according to Giles. Parents formed committees dedicated to community outreach, and school newsletters and social media posts encouraged families to help with enrollment drives.

That momentum died quickly with the news that commission staff would not support consolidation.

At the urging of school officials, parents like Giles have written the members of the commission to voice support for Harpswell Coastal Academy, but optimism remains low.

“I think that they’re so far detached from the work that’s going on (at HCA),” Giles said of the commission. “I would love it if they could actually come and see what’s being done at this school, but I don’t think they will. That part’s scary to me.”

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