AUGUSTA — The two groups seeking to start virtual charter schools have withdrawn their applications but plan to reapply for the next school year.

The Maine Charter School Commission, which is the primary authorizer for charter schools now that the state is allowing them, decided in June to postpone decisions on Maine Virtual Academy and Maine Connections Academy because of concerns about school governance and quality.

On Tuesday, the commission accepted a letter of withdrawal from Amy Carlisle, president of Maine Learning Innovations, the nonprofit group that wants to open Maine Virtual Academy. She said the group will apply this fall for 2013-14.

“We’re hopeful we can assist you in whatever way possible to get to know virtual schools better,” Carlisle told commissioners.

The group hoping to start Maine Connections Academy withdrew its application last week for the same reason, commission Chairwoman Jana Lapoint said.

Charter schools are free, publicly funded schools relieved of some of the regulations and restrictions placed on traditional public schools. They may offer innovative or alternative educational programs.

The Charter School Commission received six applications to open schools this fall — two are slated to open. The commission unanimously approved contracts last week for the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, which is on the campus of Good Will-Hinckley in Fairfield, and Cornville Regional Charter School.

Because Maine law requires a charter contract to be in place 60 days before classes start, the school year for MeANS and Cornville will begin on Oct. 1.

The last one pending is for Fiddlehead School of Arts and Sciences, an elementary school in Gray that would open next fall. Commissioners will interview the applicants and conduct a public hearing on Sept. 11.

One school, the Baxter Academy of Technology and Science high school in Portland, received conditional approval, and commissioners hope to negotiate and sign a contract for the school by January. The school would open in September 2013.

The commission is required by law to approve or deny applications within 90 days and to explain the reasons for denying an application. Applications for both virtual schools were submitted in late May.

The Charter School Commission will issue a second request for proposals on Aug. 31, and applications will be due Oct. 31.

Before then, commissioners will receive training about evaluating and monitoring virtual charter schools. The Maine Association for Charter Schools will organize the training with a grant from the National Governors Association.

The virtual charter schools were proposed by newly formed nonprofit organizations that would contract with for-profit education service providers — Virginia-based K12 Inc. for Maine Virtual Academy and Maryland-based Connections Education for Maine Connections Academy — to provide the curriculum and educational software, hire and train teachers and administer the schools.

Commissioners said they were not familiar enough with the workings of virtual schools and worried the nonprofit organizations would not have enough independence from or oversight of the national corporations. They also noted that K12 and Connections have produced poor results in some states.

Their decision not to consider the schools this year drew a rebuke from Gov. Paul LePage, who urged commissioners in a letter to resign if they were “not up to meeting the state’s expectations.”

Carlisle said Tuesday that she has a strong board and attorneys who are negotiating with K12 to make sure Maine Learning Innovations has sufficient control of the school’s finances and can dismiss K12 if the company is not performing.

“We have a lengthy list of sticking points in the contract where we’re very concerned about that,” she said. “It’s not something we enter into lightly at all.”

Also on Tuesday, the commissioners approved job descriptions for a director and administrative assistant who would help the commission perform its oversight duties. The commission has been working without a budget or staff, contributing to some of the delays in getting Maine’s first charter schools off the ground.

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