Harpswell Coastal Academy Senior Carli Clark spends many school days making food as part of an internship at a local restaurant, Brunswick's New Beet Market. Credit: Courtesy of Brett Plymale / Maine Public

The Maine Charter School Commission has approved a consolidation plan for a Harpswell school that administrators said will allow it to stay open.

The Harpswell Coastal Academy had asked the commission to approve a proposal for the school to consolidate its two campuses to just one. Schools officials said that will make it financially sustainable, and said that without the change, the school would have to close.

As part of the plan, the school would purchase and install three yurts on its Harpswell campus, which would house students and be used as classroom space for the near future. School officials touted that the plan would allow the school to re-engage with its place-based, expeditionary learning model. And several students and alumni pushed for the proposal in recent months, saying that the bonds that they had formed with staff helped them to stay in class and graduate.

But charter commission staff initially recommended against the plan, noting that the school has a risky financial outlook and has continually failed to meet enrollment targets. And at a meeting on Tuesday, commission member Victoria Kornfield largely agreed with that recommendation, saying that she still had concerns about finances, the security of the yurts and worries about past performance.

“[T]he plans are wonderful. But past performance says that they’re not going to be able to do everything that they say they are,” Kornfield said. “They’re well-meaning. I understand that. They want their school to be good. But there is nothing in the past that tells us it is going to happen.”

Yet Kornfield proved to be the lone dissenting vote on the commission, which ultimately approved the plan in a 4-1 vote. Commission member Shelley Reed said that while the school had substantial work ahead, there are signs that the entire school community is working together toward goals.

“I feel like, finally, you’re all pushing the rock up the hill. And it’s my hope that the rock doesn’t roll back on you,” she said.

Members said they were also impressed that the school had raised $160,000 in just a few months. Harpswell Coastal Academy Board Chair Cynthia Shelmerdine said that has helped to reinforce the importance of the school to the community.

“I think that’s been, beyond the dollars, has some effect on our ability to maintain a closer relationship with the businesses and families,” she said.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.