Bangor council extends charter school ban another 180 days, OKs downtown apartment development

Posted Dec. 09, 2013, at 9:47 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor City Council banned charter schools from setting up in the city for another 180 days during a meeting Monday night.

The council voted unanimously to extend the city’s moratorium barring charter schools, which it first adopted in June after a group’s failed attempt to establish a 420-student charter school in the city. The group behind the plan was backed by Fethullah Gulen, an Turkish imam living in Pennsylvania who has been linked to about 120 charter schools in 26 states, according to national news outlets.

If a charter school bid were successful in Bangor, each student to attend that school would take about $9,000 in funding from the Bangor School Department, city officials have said. Councilors have expressed concerns that such a loss in funding and students would hurt the effectiveness of Bangor public schools, which perform well, and lead to an increase in local taxes to make up for the lost funding.

Baldacci also said he has concerns about the fact that charter schools use public funds without allowing for public oversight of the schools.

“The current law provides no local involvement or decision making, but all of the money will come out of local school budgets,” Baldacci said.

Next month, the city is scheduled to meet with Acting Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education James Rier in January to air its concerns. That meeting had been pushed back several times because of the departure of former Commissioner Stephen Bowen.

“We can use these 180 days to our advantage to get some of these issues straightened out,” Councilor Pat Blanchette said.

Also during Monday night’s meeting, councilors approved a deal that will allow Bangor Housing Development Corp. to develop a long-underused portion of the former Freese’s Department Store building downtown.

The development agreement, pending approval from the city’s Planning Board, will involve the city giving Bangor Housing 15,200 square feet of space on the first three stories of the building near the intersection of Maine and Water streets.

Bangor Housing plans to rehabilitate a long-underused portion of one of Bangor’s most iconic downtown buildings, investing $1 million to develop the remaining vacant space in the building. The project will create 10 new apartment units on the second and third floors and open the first floor along Main Street, next door to the museum, as commercial space.

In order to move the project forward, the city will hand over the space for $1 on the condition that Bangor Housing make the investment to put the space back into use and return it to the tax rolls.

Just like the previous owner, Bangor Housing Development Corp. will pay taxes on the property, likely at a higher rate than the previous owners because the $1 million development investment will increase the property’s assessed value.

In other business, the council voted to allow Bangor police Officer Dan Scripture to take ownership of Endumin, a bomb-sniffing canine who recently retired from duty after five years protecting passengers and crews at Bangor International Airport. The dog had been property of the Transportation and Security Administration. Scripture has handled Endumin for the dog’s entire five-year career, which is ending because of health issues.

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