TOPSHAM — A proposed Topsham-area public charter school vying for the last open slot in the state would focus on arts and technology if its plan is approved by the Maine Charter School Commission.

The state’s 2011 charter school law capped the number of public charters at 10 until 2021, but the final remaining slot has yet to be filled. Sheffwood Academy is among four prospective schools that have told the commission they plan to file an application by the June 21 deadline.

Meleena Erikson, one of the four founding board members of Sheffwood Academy, said the board will have its application finished before the Friday deadline.

If the charter school commission allows the application to proceed, she expects a final decision in September.

Sheffwood Academy hopes to open in September 2020. The eventual grade 6-12 school looks to start with grades 6 and 9 and phase in more grade levels, eventually serving up to 700 students.

Erikson said the school doesn’t have a location yet, but it will be in the Topsham area.

“We believe based on our research that there is a market for it in this area,” she said. “Public charter schools are open to any student living in the state of Maine.”

She estimated there are between 12,000 and 15,000 students in the area and about 5,000 of them in middle and high schools, enough to draw a student body to Sheffwood Academy.

The school would focus on students interested in arts and technology, Erikson said.

“We see a real intersection between the two of them,” she said. “When I think about the kid who sits down after school every day and draws and draws, that’s their passion. What does that mean for a student? They may be a famous traditional artist but it may be that if we give them the technological skills to use a graphic design program, they could go into a career they love in a different way.”

“We know that not every student is college-bound,” Erikson said, “and we want to make sure that every student that comes through our doors leaves with not only a lifelong level of learning but is prepared for whatever is next, whether a four-year college, community college or work. … We don’t want them to leave with just a strong academic education, but also a good education in those practical skills that make a difference.”

Most people living in Maine don’t have a bachelor’s degree, she said. According to the 2013-17 census, 30 percent of Mainers over age 25 had at least a bachelor’s degree.

Erikson declined to say how much it would cost to get the school up and running.

“As a public charter school we will receive funding from the state,” she said. “We will also be actively pursuing grants to support some of the specialty programs but in the budget we have been developing and working from, we will be able to operate our school within the confines of the money provided by the state of Maine.”

Currently, there are nine charter schools operating in Maine, including the grade 6-12 Harpswell Coastal Academy with campuses in Harpswell and Brunswick.

About 2,200 of Maine’s 181,000 students attend charter schools. Total state funding for charter schools was $25.7 million in 2018-19.

Harpswell Coastal Academy was one of the first three charter schools approved by the charter school commission. Since it opened in 2013, it had grown to serve more than 200 students.

Three other public charter schools submitted letters of intent to apply for the final charter school slot. They include Ecology Learning Center, Inspire ME Academy and Umbrella Preschool. The full charter school proposals due Friday will be followed by interviews and public hearings by the Maine Charter School Commission.

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