Charter commission to consider L-A school application

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AUGUSTA — The Maine Charter Commission will vote Wednesday on whether to allow an application for a Lewiston-Auburn charter school to go forward.

The proposed Acadia Academy would be partnered with the Margaret Murphy Center in Auburn.

The academy proposes to open next fall at a site to be selected. It would have 94 pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and grade one students, and eventually would serve children up to grade five.

A review team is recommending the commission vote to not consider Acadia Academy, because it is not confident that the applicant has met the requirements to create a successful, sustainable, high-quality public charter school.

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And while John F. Murphy Homes is designated as an educational service provider for the proposed academy, no contract detailing the relationship was included in the application. That, the team said, did not allow it to determine the effectiveness of the relationship.

Maine Charter School Commission Executive Director Bob Kautz said Tuesday that the report does not mean the commission will “rubber stamp” that finding. The commission can overrule the report, he said.

Reports on two other applications call for the proposed Inspire ME Academy in York County not to be considered and for Maine Virtual Academy, an online grades seven through 12 school, to go to a public hearing.

The Acadia Academy application is from Michelle Hathaway of Margaret Murphy’s special education program for pre-kindergarten to grade six students in Auburn.

The team that analyzed Hathaway’s application was made up of Charter School Commission members Yichi Farnham, Laurie Pendleton and Shelly Reed. The team found three strengths and 17 concerns in the education plan.

Strengths included that the proposed school recognizes the needs of students from poor families, in special education and English language learners. Another strength is that the program indicates a desire to educate the “whole child” academically, behaviorally, emotionally and physically.

Among the 17 concerns are that the program appears to target special ed students, “which raises questions about the program’s ability to serve all students,” the report said. The proposed school’s relationship with the Margaret Murphy Center would lead to a high special ed population and the school “would not be able to provide the least-restrictive environment for special ed students.”

Other concerns are that staffing may not meet the needs of students, the application lacked clear discipline policy, it failed to outline procedures taken with student behavior and did not discuss how the school would collect data to improve school culture and increase parent involvement.

Another concern was that Acadia Academy would be “entwined” with Margaret Murphy and John Murphy Homes, and would be “dependent on them for leadership, staff, professional development, legal and financial expertise. Thus, there is not an independent support system in place for their vision and mission.”

Public hearings are set for Oct. 27-31 for charter school proposals that the commission votes to continue. A final vote is set for Nov. 13.

There is no tuition charged to students and parents at public charter schools, which were approved by Gov. Paul LePage’s administration. Charter schools use state and local taxpayer money, which means less money for public schools.

Lewiston School Superintendent Bill Webster said last month that approval of the Murphy charter school “could potentially be financially devastating to Lewiston schools” unless the state changes how it funds charter schools.

Maine has six charter schools in Cornville, Hinckley, Portland, Gray, Harpswell and online. State law allows 10, Kautz said.

The commission is scheduled to meet from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 15, in the Cross State Office Building, Room 103B.

For more information: http://www.maine.gov/csc/meetings/2014-meetings/10152014businessagenda.html.

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