CORNVILLE — After two years of preparation, the directors of the proposed Cornville Regional Charter School say they are ready for fall classes with a minimum of 40 students in kindergarten through grade eight.

All they need now, board chairman Justin Belanger said, is the charter application from the state Charter School Commission, which authorizes the formation of charter schools.

“If the state is ready, we’ll be ready,” Belanger said during a recent meeting of the board at the former Cornville Elementary School, where, if approved, the new school would hold classes.

“It’s not easy to start something; to be the first one, but we’re definitely in good shape,” Belanger said.

The commission will send requests for applications to groups that want to start charter schools.

Belanger said he expects to know this summer whether the Cornville application is approved. The group would then start hiring.

Gov. Paul LePage signed legislation in June, making Maine the 41st state to allow public charter schools. The schools are public ones that students may choose as an alternative to traditional schools.

Maine’s first charter schools will open, at the earliest, on July 1.

The legislation allows no more than 10 public charter schools in the first decade and would limit the number of students who can attend them in the first three years in order to protect smaller public schools.

The Cornville board has printed pamphlets with its mission statement and an outline of proposed school programs, schedules and curriculum. A letter of intent for parents who may be interested in enrolling students in the school is also included.

Belanger said there has been interest expressed in the school from nearby towns, including Athens, where parents fear their small school could eventually be closed by Madison-based School Administrative District 59.

A draft of the Cornville charter states that many families in the community and surrounding towns believe in teaching their children close to home. The Cornville school was closed by Skowhegan-based SAD 54 in 2010.

The school housed about 90 students in kindergarten through grade 6. They were sent to other schools in the district, and the town now owns the school.

The board’s draft charter includes details on how the school would be governed, what private fundraising would be initiated, student discipline, program description, staff policy and parental involvement.

“The word regional is very important,” Board Treasurer Sandra Belanger, Belanger’s wife, said. “We’re not trying to be part of MSAD 54. We’d rather reach out to these other places with people who have a similar mindset — rural education — farming, forestry, environment and community, being connected to where our food comes from and where our food grows.”

The Cornville charter school board proposes a curriculum that would include traditional math and literacy but also practical skills such as cooking, gardening, knitting, maple sugar and cider production, quilting and woodworking. Some classes would be multi-age groups based on ability.

Belanger said the board has established a federal employer identification number and a bank account and soon will be applying for tax-exempt designation.

He said student transportation and food services are being addressed and that the school’s teaching staff and operations would be funded the same way other schools are funded.

Public school funding from the state will follow the child from the school district where the student resides to the public charter school the student attends, according to the law.

Jeremy Lehan, an English teacher at Skowhegan Area High School and president of the local teachers’ union, said that while he understands the passion of Cornville parents, a charter school would force local school boards to raise taxes to provide the same level of service to the remaining school children.

“If a large number of students were to attend a charter school, the district would forfeit a significant amount of state subsidy,” he said. “I worry that such a dramatic reduction in funds would lead to cuts — programs and jobs — that will negatively affect the vast majority of students, those who will remain in the public schools.”

Cornville board members see it another way.

“It’s parent and student choice where their money goes,” Belanger said. “And you can only take 10 percent of the enrollment from each grade level within each district — that’s in the law.”

Board member Sam Jencks said claiming a charter school will cripple the district is a scare tactic.

“I don’t think 10 percent is going to break the camel’s back,” he said.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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