CORNVILLE — They are regular people with regular jobs.

One is a house painter and home-school father. Two are schoolteachers. There are a self-employed snowplow driver, a wilderness huts and trails manager and a dental hygienist.

Together they are the board of directors of the new Cornville Regional Charter School, which is scheduled to open Oct. 1 with about 45 students in kindergarten through grade 6.

It will be the first elementary charter school in Maine.

“We’re parents. This is what we feel is best for our children,” said Sandra Belanger, the charter school board treasurer. “We’re passionate.”

Belanger, 35, is a third-grade teacher. Her husband, Justin Belanger, also 35, is a house painter with a degree in biology and philosophy. He is chairman of the Cornville charter school board.

Fellow board member Jean Walker, a special education teacher, agreed with Sandra Belanger.

“The other charter schools were these flashy (schools); not big-money schools, but they grab the headlines,” Walker said. “We are not at all about that. We have that desire and that vision to not quit.”

The other board members are Jason Cooke, 38, who works for Maine Huts and Trails; Sam Jencks, 57, a self-employed snowplow driver and property manager; and Jessica “Jake” Daigneault, a dental hygienist.

The group began meeting two years ago when Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54 voted to close Cornville Elementary School. The school’s 95 students in kindergarten through grade 6 later were scattered among other district schools.

The town took over the school in June 2010, and voters agreed to raise $25,000 to heat and maintain the building each year for the next two years. The school has a capacity of 120 students in seven classrooms.

There were fundraisers, bake sales and Zumba dancing classes to pay for keeping the old school, built in 1956, clean and open. Meanwhile, the board was composing a 650-page application to open a charter school that would teach everyday skills including cooking, knitting, gardening and woodworking, along with classroom lessons based on Maine’s Common Core of Learning.

On July 17, the state Charter School Commission approved the Cornville charter. A contract still needs to be signed and the school will have to wait 60 days under the state’s charter law to open, Justin Belanger said.

“I think it’s a culmination of all of our skills — plus, we’re the 41st state in the nation to do this,” Justin Belanger said. “We looked at other charter schools in other places that have worked, and we have borrowed from them — dozens of different schools.

“We asked parents what they wanted. We asked kids what they wanted. We asked teachers what was missing.”

Belanger said the board now will begin accepting applications for three multi-age classroom teachers, two education technicians, a special-education teacher, a teaching principal and an office secretary.

The Cornville Board of Selectmen has scheduled a special town meeting for 7 p.m. Thursday, July 26, at the Town Hall on West Ridge Road, at which voters will be asked to sell the school building to the charter board for $1 and to donate the reminder of the community library funds to the school.

Each student in the charter school will have a personal learning plan based on his or her own particular skills, according to Belanger. There will be a longer school day, a daily hands-on science and social studies curriculum and a full hour of play each day.

“We realized that the hands-on piece of education is missing,” Walker said. “There is very limited science instruction, very little hands-on instruction and very little student-driven education.”

Belanger said the board has heard from families of students from Athens, Canaan, Cornville, Fairfield, Madison and Skowhegan. Of the projected 45 students this fall, 40 are from Skowhegan-based SAD 54, four are from Madison-based SAD 59 and one is from the Fairfield-based SAD 49.

Transportation also is being arranged, with bus stops at Clough’s Corner on U.S. Route 201 in Madison, the municipal parking lot in Skowhegan and the Athens Corner Store.

Belanger said the Cornville charter school would use a traditional curriculum, with mathematics, reading, language, social studies, but also less traditional classroom instruction.

“We also have farmers and other people on our advisory board who want to come in and teach science through farming,” Belanger said. “We got lawyers and Ph.D.s and artists that want to help us with integrating art throughout the curriculum.”

Belanger said state general-purpose aid to education funding will follow students from their current school districts to the new charter school at no additional expense to families.

The average per-pupil rate for the current academic year is $6,254 for elementary students and $6,705 for secondary students, plus transportation and other considerations based on need, according to material provided by David Connerty-Marin at the Maine Department of Education. The highest per-pupil rate is $7,192 for elementary students and $7,588 for secondary students.

Sandra Belanger estimated that $362,633 would be channeled through SAD 54 to the charter school. The annual budget for the charter school is estimated to be $420,000. The difference will be made up with state money from students who would have attended the Madison and the Fairfield school districts, she said.

Justin Belanger will be the school’s executive director, receiving an annual stipend of $1,000.

Some educators, including Jeremy Lehan, an English teacher at Skowhegan Area High School and president of the local teachers’ union, fear that a charter school will force local school boards to raise taxes to provide the same level of service to the remaining schoolchildren.

SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry was not available for comment last week.

Lehan has said the withdrawal of students from Skowhegan-area schools also could lead to layoffs of current staff members.

Belanger countered, saying that under the charter school law, a maximum of 10 percent of current enrollment is allowed and would not have a major effect on class size or staffing. He said the district also gets to keep money raised from taxation as the “local share” from each of the communities to run the district.

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