April 10, 2013

Portland charter school, ousted founder settle legal dispute

The terms are confidential, but there still could be a state investigation of the Baxter Academy application.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Portland’s first charter school and its founder, who was fired by the board of directors, have settled their legal disputes, both parties announced Tuesday.

click image to enlarge

John Jaques, founder of the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science. was serving as the school's executive director when he was fired in March, Jaques initially refused to relinquish control of some school assets online, and the school sued him to get the material. He complied but then countersued, claiming defamation, and sought punitive damages.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

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“We have reached a settlement covering the outstanding issues,” said John Jaques, who founded the

Baxter Academy for Technology and Science. “While the specific terms of the agreement are confidential, it settles all disputes between us, including the claim that I had mismanaged Baxter.”

Baxter Academy just got approval Monday from the state Charter School Commission to go forward with plans to open in the fall.

The school and Jaques voluntarily dismissed the legal dispute with prejudice, which means both parties agree not to file any further claims associated with the dispute.

“It’s beneficial to have the issues settled in a way that we can all agree to,” board Chairwoman Kelli Pryor said in the joint statement. “Now, we look forward to working with the Maine Charter School Commission, our students and their families, and local partners as we plan for the opening of Baxter Academy this fall.”

The school plans to open with at least 140 ninth- and 10th-graders and add grades 11 and 12 over the next two years.

The board of directors fired Jaques, who was serving as executive director, in March, citing a pattern of financial mismanagement. Jaques initially refused to relinquish control of some school assets online, and the school sued him to get the material. He complied but then countersued, claiming defamation, and sought punitive damages.

Jaques said the board fired him because a donor insisted on it. The donor confirmed that he wouldn’t have made a $250,000 donation if Jaques had remained as executive director.

The board made the donation public in the same news release that announced a search for a new executive director. Board members have denied that the donation was tied to Jaques’ firing.

Although the two sides have settled, there may still be a state investigation into the application process for Baxter Academy and other charter schools.

The dispute between Baxter officials and Jaques prompted Portland Mayor Michael Brennan to ask the Maine Attorney General’s Office to investigate the allegations of financial mismanagement and determine whether the Charter School Commission properly reviewed the school’s finances. Attorney General Janet Mills declined, saying she lacked the authority.

At that point, Democratic legislative leaders asked the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee to initiate a formal review of Baxter Academy’s charter application and its financial viability. The committee will meet Friday to decide whether to initiate a review.

Such a review would be done by the Legislature’s investigative agency, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability.

Noel Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

ngallagher@pressherald.com
 

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