TOPSHAM — The future of a proposed charter school in Topsham depends on whether the state’s final charter school slot is still open next year.

Sheffwood Academy had hoped to open in September 2020 in the Topsham area. The proposed grades 6-12 school eventually would have served up to 700 students with a focus in arts and technology.

Earlier this month, the Maine Charter School Commission unanimously voted to deny Sheffwood’s application but voted unanimously to move forward with its review of the Ecology Learning Center application.

The only other school vying for the single charter school opening left in the state was the Montville-based Ecology Learning Center. The grades 9-12 school would serve about 100 students.

The state’s 2011 charter school law capped the number of public charters at 10 until 2021. New legislation enacted in June maintains the 10-school cap indefinitely.

With only one opening left, Sheffwood’s board is waiting for the Maine Charter School Commission to decide whether to approve the Ecology Learning Center’s bid to open. If the center fills the final charter school spot, Sheffwood won’t be able to reapply next year.

“Because it’s the last one, our hands are tied in terms of them making the decision,” said Meleena Erikson, one of the four founding board members of Sheffwood.

Bob Kautz, executive director of the charter school commission, said after the Aug. 6 vote that the commission rejected Sheffwood’s application because it didn’t meet the commission’s standards or only met them partially. Commissioners felt an entrepreneurial-based school is a good model, particularly in the area Sheffwood Academy planned to serve. However, the school’s application wasn’t as detailed or robust as the commission would like, he said.

“We had some really good feedback,” Erikson said of the commission’s review.

Some of the issues commissioners flagged, such as funding, Erikson said Sheffwood board members planned to tackle once they had approval. Some of the partners the school planned to work with wanted to see the school receive state approval before contributing money. However, the state wanted those same relationships ironed out ahead of time, Erikson said.

The commissioners were also looking for more details about student assessments, decisions the board had planned to make with input from staff once hired.

“We felt we had a good plan for success and they wanted to see more than just a plan. They wanted to see those things in place ahead of time,” Erikson said.

The commission’s final decision on the Ecology Learning Center is expected in September.

The 10-school cap is a bad move for Maine, Erikson argued. She said the Maine Charter School Commission is a strong governing body overseeing the public charter schools and has demonstrated it is looking at schools very critically and making sure new schools are fully prepared to open.

“It seems we’re in a position in this state to allow the commission to do its job,” she said.

According to a February article in the Portland Press Herald, about 2,200 of Maine’s roughly 181,000 students attend charter schools. Total state funding for charter schools is $25.7 million in 2018-19.


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