SAD 17 grudgingly pays bill for Maine’s charter schools

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PARIS — The SAD 17 board of directors reluctantly agreed Monday night to pay a second-quarter bill of $25,471 for 13 students attending charter schools.

“It isn’t without some protest, but we are legally obligated to pay it,” board member and Finance Committeeman Joe Vaillancourt said.

The board budgeted for one student enrolled in a charter school last year and, until this fall, had no way of knowing how many SAD 17 students would enroll in charter schools.

In October, the majority of SAD 17 directors voted to pay $21,370 of an anticipated $86,000 or more bill to the Maine Connections Academy. It covered 11 high school students and one middle school students. Five of them were previously home schooled.

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Since then another student has enrolled in the Baxter Academy of Technology and Science in Portland. The district owes an estimated $8,202 for that student.

Superintendent Rick Colpitts recommended Monday night that the board authorize an additional $25,471 from contingency to cover the second-quarter tuition for Maine Connections and the first- and second-quarter tuition for the Baxter Academy student.

Districts are obligated by law to pay the bill.

Next year, the state will reimburse the district 46 percent of its costs for local students enrolled in charter schools this year.

School board members have expressed concern about the escalating costs and the uncertainty in budgeting for it each year.

“We’ve got no other choice as a result of misguided legislation,” board Chairman Ron Kugell said.

“It can become devastating,” he said. “We’re either going to take thousands of dollars out of our budget and take away from our programs or we’ll have to go to taxpayers and ask them for more money, and that’s not right.”

In 2011, Gov. Paul R. LePage signed legislation making Maine the 41st state to allow charter schools and establishing the seven-member commission that can authorize up to 10 public charter schools through June 30, 2022. Local school boards can authorize public charter schools.

Critics of the legislation, which has been challenged by a number of groups, including the Maine Superintendents Association, say it is unfair to put school districts in financial straights when they have no say over how many students they’ll have to pay for.

There are six charter schools, including Cornville Regional Charter School, the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Hinckley, Baxter Academy for Technology and Science in Portland, Fiddlehead School of Arts and Science in Gray, Harpswell Coastal Academy and Maine Connections Academy, an online school.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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