AUGUSTA — The Maine Charter School Commission won’t reconsider its rejection of a virtual charter school until May, if at all.
At the commission’s meeting Tuesday, only one member was present who would be allowed to recommend reconsideration of Maine Virtual Academy, and she said she needed more time to review the request for reconsideration and a response prepared by a commission subcommittee.
Maine Learning Innovations, the nonprofit organization that would contract with Virginia-based for-profit K12 Inc. to open Maine Virtual Academy, is arguing that the commission’s reasons for denying its application were based on misunderstandings, errors or omissions from the application and interview process.
The organization’s chairwoman, Amy Carlisle, sent the charter commission two letters outlining supplemental or corrected information to address the reasons for denial. Neither the information she provided nor a response prepared by a commission review team received consideration Tuesday, because of an unusual procedural situation.
When the commission voted on Maine Virtual Academy on March 3, four members voted in favor of the school and three against. The application was rejected because at the time, five votes were needed to clear the two-thirds threshold for approval.
Carlisle asked for reconsideration on March 5.
On Friday, however, Heidi Sampson resigned from the commission because of a health problem in her family. With six members remaining, the four votes that Maine Virtual Academy received in March now would be sufficient for approval.
The commission operates by Robert’s Rules of Order, which require that a motion to reconsider be made by a member who was on the prevailing side of the initial vote, meaning Shelley Reed or J. Michael Wilhelm, among the remaining commissioners.
Wilhelm was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, and Reed said she needed more time to look over the request and response materials, which she received shortly before the meeting.
“I would like to have the opportunity to really look closely at the information,” Reed said.
Commission Chairwoman Jana Lapoint said they should try to meet soon in case they do vote to approve Maine Virtual Academy, in order to leave the school as much time as possible to prepare for a fall opening. But the commissioners were not able to find a date for a special meeting that would work, so the matter will have to wait until the next regular meeting, on May 6.
Carlisle said she was disappointed that the commission did not make a decision Tuesday on the merits of their request. She said the delay should not be an obstacle if the school ultimately receives approval.
“It’s not ideal, but we certainly can ramp up what we need to on our end to make that work,” she said.
Commission members who voted against Maine Virtual Academy in March said some local board members did not seem actively involved and expressed concerns that the board could oversee the school adequately if the director of instruction and all of the teachers are K12 employees. They also noted that K12 had inconsistent results in other states and couldn’t provide the commission with SAT and ACT results for its students.
Maine Learning Innovations’ requests for reconsideration noted that board members had expressed willingness to hire teachers directly and to add an experienced school superintendent — Rich Abramson, former superintendent of Readfield-based Regional School Unit 38 — to the board.
They also argued that board members had dedicated more time to the school than commission members gave them credit for and that Maine Virtual Academy teachers will have the broad, collaborative, in-person professional development that the commission is seeking.
The review team’s response to the requests notes that Maine Learning Innovations has not actually amended its application to reflect changes to hiring or the board’s composition and concludes that on most of the points raised, the commission did not base its decision on inaccurate information.
The review team states, however, that some of the information presented might change commission members’ minds about the professional development opportunities for teachers, the board’s ability to oversee the school or other points.
Regarding another application the commission rejected in March, the commission did not take any further action on Lewiston-Auburn Academy Charter School, whose backers allegedly have ties to an imam involved in a political upheaval in Turkey.
In March, commission member Ande Smith said they should consider referring the applicants to the Attorney General’s Office for false statements. The application stated the school had the support of local officials who had not made any such endorsement.
On Tuesday, Smith said the commission does not need to do anything. The state attorney general’s office is aware of the matter and can take action on it without a referral from the commission, if it wants to.
The commission also set a timeline for review of applications to open a school in 2015. It advances the commission’s issuance of a request for proposals to July 14, from mid-August last year, and the final vote on pending applications to Jan. 20, 2015.
The accelerated schedule will allow for more time to negotiate and sign final charter contracts, enrollment of students and notification of affected public school districts.