Bangor acts to stop charter schools, after failed bid to start 420-student ‘Queen City Academy’

Posted June 02, 2013, at 6:58 p.m.
Last modified June 03, 2013, at 6:09 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor city councilors will consider a citywide moratorium on charter schools, arguing that having one in the city would create unnecessary competition and put a financial strain on an already strong public school system.

The council will hold a first reading of the proposed moratorium during a special council meeting Monday night.

Earlier this year, an application to create a Queen City Academy charter school at the former site of the Bangor YMCA on Hammond Street was rejected by the Maine Charter School Commission because it didn’t adequately explain how the plan would be financed.

The application, authored by construction company owner Murat Kilic of Revere, Mass., stated that the school would have “high expectations … at the core of the education program. An extended learning program, tutoring opportunities, data-driven instructional programs, parent involvement and collaboration with the area universities and colleges will be important components of the school’s program. Moreover, [Queen City Academy] will implement a character education program, provide a career-oriented college preparation program and ensure strong student-teacher-parent alliance.”

The school projected it would serve 420 Bangor-area students in grades 6-12.

Kilic also serves as chairman of the board of trustees of the Pioneer Charter School of Science in Everett, Mass. He told the Portland Press Herald after the denial that he likely would reapply.

Gov. Paul LePage has been a strong proponent of charter schools, arguing that their presence would prompt public schools to improve performance to attract and retain students.

The Queen City charter school application trumpeted a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, offerings, including calculus courses. Bangor School Department Superintendent Betsy Webb said during a May Government Operations Committee meeting that she was perplexed by that claim, because Bangor’s public schools have their own STEM academy and have been offering higher-than-average calculus courses for decades, she said. Bangor schools also offer similar partnerships with higher education institutions and technical schools.

At this point, charter schools have had little effect on Bangor’s school system, but if a charter school were to set up shop in the city, it likely would pull public funds away from public schools, according to Webb.

Neither the city nor its school system were consulted during the Queen City school’s application process, according to counselors. The school’s application includes several letters of support, all but one of which originate from southern Maine or out of state, Webb pointed out.

Councilor Joe Baldacci raised concerns about the motivations behind the charter school, citing a story in which the Portland Press Herald linked the charter school effort to Turkish Imam Fethulla Gulen, who moved to the United States in 1999 after he was charged with trying to overthrow the Turkish government. He later was acquitted, but continues to live in Pennsylvania and has been behind some 120 charter schools across the country, according to investigations by national news outlets including “60 Minutes” and The New York Times.

Baldacci and other councilors urged caution and careful review before allowing a charter school in the city during the May 20 Government Operations Committee meeting.

“It’s going to impact people in this city,” Baldacci said. “When you start taking taxpayer money, then obviously we have the right to ask questions.”

Council Chairman Nelson Durgin and Councilor James Gallant said they were concerned that certain charter schools might start for “self-serving” business reasons, rather than in the interests of the community or its students.

“For me, a charter school makes the educational experience more about business and money than anything else,” Gallant said.

Councilors Patricia Blanchette, Pauline Civiello and David Nealley said they had mixed feelings on charter schools. Such schools are needed and useful in certain parts of the country, but they might not be filling a need or education gap in a community like Bangor and might hurt the finances and ability to educate of the public schools, councilors said.

The council also is likely to pass a resolution stating that the city recommends that no additional charter schools be approved before all laws relating to charter schools in Maine are reviewed. The resolution states that on average charter schools take $9,000 per child in state and local funding away from public schools, and taxpayers who fund the schools are denied from having input in how the schools are operated.

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