Selected readings on US charter schools
The charter school in Portland gets a temporary occupancy permit and plans to open its doors to students on Sept. 4.
Baxter Academy for Technology and Science received a temporary occupancy permit, with some small items still outstanding – a bike rack needs to be installed, fixes to the building’s sign – that will need to be fixed in the upcoming weeks, according to Planning Director Jeff Levine. None of the items is considered a safety issue that would prevent the city from issuing the permit.
Baxter, Portland’s first charter school, is scheduled to open its doors for the first time to 135 ninth- and 10th-grade students on Sept. 4.
“We’re absolutely delighted,” said Baxter Executive Director Carl Stasio. “We’re very excited now about putting this behind us.”
The city issued the permit after two inspections on Wednesday, one for the building and one for site improvements outside. The site improvements included new sidewalks, striping nearby intersections, curb cuts for handicapped access and new landscaping.
Two previous inspections of the building at 54 York St. found fire code and electrical violations.
Stasio said teachers are now setting up their rooms, and cleaning crews are going through the building to prepare for opening day. Ikea furniture will be delivered early next week, he said. The students will spend their first day of school on a field trip to Fort Williams – and put together the furniture as a class project on the second day of school.
“We’re thrilled,” said Baxter board chairwoman Kelli Pryor, adding that teachers have been in the building doing professional development work in recent days.
Baxter Academy is leasing the building from Rufus Deering Co. The project contractor is Dan LaBrie, a senior vice president of Rufus Deering.
The city waived several of the usual requirements for striping and sidewalks along the entire block because of the nature of the site. The “block,” which mostly houses the Rufus Deering lumber yard, is larger than a typical city block, and is an odd oblong shape because of the angle of York Street.
The new sidewalk runs along a portion of Maple Street, where parents will pick up and drop off children. Previously, the brick sidewalk on Maple Street ended about halfway down the block toward Commercial Street.
Developers are regularly required to make street and sidewalk improvements near their property.
The state commission approved Baxter’s charter in May, and charter commission members and school officials have said in recent weeks that the relatively late approval put the school at a disadvantage for meeting certain deadlines.
Baxter’s charter states that the school must complete all required renovations 30 days before the start of the school year and have a certificate of occupancy at least 15 days before opening. The same language is in contracts with all charter schools.
The commission waived those deadlines for Baxter.
The school has been under scrutiny since March, when the board fired the school’s founder and executive director. That led to new donor financing, legal disputes and calls for a state investigation.
Charter schools are a partisan issue in Maine, strongly backed by Gov. Paul LePage and conservative groups, and opposed by some legislators and others who want to protect funding for traditional public schools.
In Maine, charter schools get per-pupil state funds, which follow students from the school districts where they live.
Maine has a 10-school cap on charters. Two have opened and three more are scheduled to open this school year.
Source: Portland Press Herald – Noel K. Gallagher