April 5, 2013

On-campus living may not stay free for charter school's students

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD -- Students who wish to live on the campus of the state's first charter school may have to pay for room and board beginning next year.

click image to enlarge

Zach Brady, 17, a junior at Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, lounges on the couch in the common area at the Hall Cottage student dorm on the Goodwil-Hinckley campus in Fairfield on Thursday. The Maine School of Natural Sciences is planning to start a room and board fee for some students that live on campus.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Beginning in the 2013-2014 school year, the Good Will-Hinckley organization, which provides housing to students at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, is enacting a sliding fee scale for boarding costs, which are currently free to all students and are paid for in part by the school and in part by the state.

Legislative bills that could potentially take funding away from charter schools and a bill that would end or reduce state funds for boarding at the Good Will-Hinckley campus played a role in the decision, said school spokeswoman Rebecca Pollard.

"State funding might not go away or it might be less. We just don't know," she said.

Glenn Cummings, the school's executive director, said the change will not affect all students who wish to live at the school.

"The most important message is that we will not let a student not attend the school because of money. We will make it happen, whether we use state funds, money from our private foundation or if we have to raise it through scholarships," he said.

The boarding fees would be administered on a sliding fee scale that works similarly to financial aid packages at colleges. To help with the process, the school will use a tuition management company to assess the needs of students, said Pollard.

"We will take that information and look at it in combination with what we receive from the state to come up with a package for individual families," she said.

The top priority is to make sure that low-income students from around the state can still attend the school, said Pollard. The cost for day students will remain free.

"Everything will be based on need. We don't want the school to be inaccessible to any potential students," she said.

The cost to board a student for one year is between $12,000 and $16,000, said Pollard. That includes housing, food and 24-hour staffing for residential cottages.

The school currently boards 27 of its 44 students. They plan to enroll about 75 students in the coming school year and board 37, said Pollard. She said it is too soon to tell how much students might have to pay for residential fees.

"It's still up in the air. The number depends on the need of all the students, and the money we have available from the state," she said.

Students who have been accepted have already been notified that they will potentially have to pay fees should they choose to live on campus.

"It's the best decision we can make in order to ensure that we are good stewards of the public's money and of our own privately raised dollars," said Pollard.

The school, which re-opened in October as a charter school, was also the state's first high school to focus on natural sciences. It originally opened with just 19 students in 2011 on the Good Will-Hinckley campus, the site of a farm and former school for young people that operated from the 1890s through 2009. The residential housing option is available through the school's parent organization, Good Will-Hinckley, which also oversees the L.C. Bates Museum and the Glenn Stratton Learning Center on the campus.

Carol Ingalls, of Fairfield, is a parent who plans to send her daughter, Kara Brown, to the charter school next year. She said that because they live close by her daughter will not live at the school.

She said she likes the hands-on learning approach of the charter school and that the school doesn't cost anything more than a traditional public school.

"If I had to pay, I wouldn't be able to send her there," Ingalls said.

Rachel Ohm -- 612-2368
rohm@mainetoday.com

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