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Funding clarification aids Maine Ocean School

By Fran Gonzalez | Mar 30, 2021
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Duncan House at 5 Church St., Searsport, on the Penobscot Marine Museum campus, is home to administrative offices for Maine Ocean School, which opened Sept. 4, 2018, with 11 students.

Augusta — The Maine Legislature, the Department of Education and the Mills administration collaborated last month to correct a problem affecting funding for Maine Ocean School.

 

Charter vs. magnet

In defining the differences between charter and magnet schools, Jeremy R. Jones, executive director of the Maine Charter School Commission, said that in other parts of the country magnet programs are separate academic programs within a school or district, while charter schools are separate, independent schools with their own governing boards. “In Maine, however, magnet schools are created as separate entities through legislation, so they are almost like charter schools in that way.” According to Jones, charter schools are chartered, or "authorized,” by an entity identified in state law. In Maine, authorizing entities are the Maine Charter School Commission and school districts, though no district can open a charter school at this time, because of the 10-school limit passed by the last legislature. Charter schools are established as a new district or school and held accountable by nonprofit governing boards and the authorizing entity. Each individual magnet school is established by legislation and is held accountable as outlined in the law. In Maine, there are currently two magnet schools, Maine School of Science and Math in Limestone and Maine Ocean School in Searsport.

The Searsport school is a public magnet high school that focuses its curriculum on marine science, technology, transportation and engineering.

Rep. Scott Cuddy, D-Winterport, said the school contacted him about the funding issue and he and Sen. Chip Curry, D-Belfast, met with Maine Department of Education Feb. 17. At the meeting, Cuddy said they were able to clarify the statute and secure additional resources for the school.

“This felt really good,” Cuddy said in a conversation with The Republican Journal March 19.

As he explained it, charter schools get funded based on the Oct. 1 headcount of the previous year. The charter school law was changed in 2015 to "phase in" new schools, allowing funding to be based on the pupil count from Oct.1 of the current year.

“The issue had been that the DOE had not applied that change to Maine Ocean School because they are not a charter school,” Cuddy said. “Sen. Curry and I met with DOE and explained that the funding statute for Maine Ocean School meant any change to the Charter School formula similarly affected Maine Ocean School. DOE found that we were correct and changed MOS's funding for this year.”

Cuddy said the change has already taken place, with the school receiving allocations for additional students for this school year.

“This is a big win for the school. We were able to cut through the bureaucracy for the benefit of children in Waldo County and across the state who are interested in maritime education,” Cuddy said. “The Mills administration looked at the circumstances, reviewed their policy and came to the right conclusion. Moving forward, I’m dedicated to continuing to work with the department to ensure the school receives the funding it deserves.”

Curry said, "The Maine Ocean School, with its emphasis on hands-on learning focused on our ocean-based industries, fulfills a unique need in preparing our future maritime leaders.

"This innovative school based in Searsport is young but growing. I am proud to play a role in ensuring the school has the funding it needs to continue educating our future leaders."

Clarification of the statute, according to a March 9 press release from Maine House Democrats," will provide the school with greater financial stability through the remainder of this year, as well as an opportunity to increase the availability of programs to students in years to come."

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