March 9, 2013

Baxter Academy leadership dispute moves online

By Noel K. Gallagher
Staff Writer

This story was updated at 11:15 a.m. 3/9/13 to add comments from a group representing parents affiliated with the school.

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John Jaques, founder of the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, has been removed as executive director of the fledgling charter school by the school's board of directors.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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PDF: Screenshot of message on Baxter Academy website
A screenshot of the website as it appeared Thursday around 11 p.m.

PORTLAND — A dispute broke out Friday over control of the websites for Portland's first charter school, one day after its board of directors fired the school's founder and executive director, John Jaques.

Jaques kept control of the original website and Facebook pages of the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, refusing to turn over access, according to the board.

Both sites displayed Jaques' resignation statement for about 12 hours after he was fired Thursday afternoon, before they were disabled Friday.

The board launched a new Facebook site Friday afternoon, and a new website was in the works, a board member said.

"We're working on an alternate web presence," said Allison Crean Davis, vice chairwoman of Baxter Academy's board.

In firing Jaques, the board of directors said there was "a pattern of mismanagement."

But Jaques said he was fired because the father of a member of the school's advisory board promised to donate as much as $250,000 if Jaques was no longer in charge. He denied any financial mismanagement

On Friday, board Chairwoman Kelli Pryor sent an email to parents who have expressed interest in having their children attend the charter school, inviting them to a closed conference call with board members Friday night to talk about the controversy.

"We on the board all realize how horrific these past weeks have been for each of you," she wrote.

On Saturday, a group representing parents affiliated with the school said they were “grateful” to Jaques for starting the school, and to the board for making “difficult choices.”

“Change is hard but the vision is solid,” wrote Ruth Dean, chair of the Friends of Baxter Academy. “We want this wonderful school to open this fall as planned.”

Baxter Academy has been approved by the Maine Charter School Commission to open this fall, under a state law passed in 2011. As of the March 1 deadline for applications, about 160 students were interested in the school, which needs about 150 students to open.

The board of directors sent Jaques an email Thursday demanding access to the websites and all applications for teaching and staff positions, and control of all phone lines, email accounts and Google Docs, which the school was using for most of its data.

"It's unfortunate that he's trying to hold the school hostage, but that's what he's doing," Crean Davis said Friday morning.

Jaques locked the board out of the Google Docs weeks ago, she said. They included parents' contact information and other school-related information.

"We need access to those tools," Crean Davis said. "They are tools for the organization. They are not in an individual's possession."

Jaques put out a brief statement Friday saying someone else posted his resignation statement on the school's website.

"There is an ongoing dispute with the board of directors for Baxter Academy over the ownership rights to the intellectual property that I developed in support of the school," Jaques said. "A number of people have access to the website and one of them posted my statement without my knowledge. I have taken the website offline temporarily until we can resolve the ownership issues."

Pryor said in her email to parents that the board is trying to reach a settlement "for the good of the school."

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