March 11, 2013

Portland charter school sues its founder

But an attorney for John Jaques says he plans to countersue the Baxter Academy on grounds of defamation.

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

PORTLAND – The board of Portland's first charter school is suing fired founder John Jaques, demanding that he turn over all school property that he still controls online.

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A screen shot of Baxter Academy's new website, www.baxter-academy.org.

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Jaques' attorney said Monday that he plans to sue the school.

"We are prepared to file a counter claim against the school for defamation," attorney Howard Reben said. The countersuit had not been filed as of 4 p.m. Monday.

Cumberland County Superior Court granted the school board a civil temporary restraining order late Friday.

"Jaques has not substantively responded to the school's demands that he return its property which is critical to its continued operation and hopes of welcoming its first students in September 2013," read the complaint filed by attorney Joshua Carver.

Reben said Jaques had already returned most of the material before the order was granted. 

After being fired last Thursday, Jaques retained control of the original website and Facebook accounts for the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science. He has said he held onto the sites and other online material stored in Google Docs because he was in an ongoing dispute with the board over compensation for his intellectual property associated with the school.

"They have all the student enrollment data, all school documents, all teacher applications and all school property. I have the Google web domain and the original Facebook page," Jaques said in an email Monday.

The school launched a new website, baxter-academy.org, over the weekend, and started a new Facebook page.

Board Vice Chairwoman Allison Crean Davis questioned whether Jaques had turned over all the material, and said going to court was the board's "only remaining option."

"He has those databases and that's confidential information," Crean Davis said Monday. "I think any parent would be a little alarmed that a disgruntled employee is holding personal family information."

Crean Davis said it appeared Jaques continued to use the school databases after he was fired. Some parents reported getting an email from him over the weekend describing his side of the dispute. She said she would consult with the board about whether to provide a copy of the email.

"He's using that (database) to contact people and scare them and say disparaging things about the board. So he's still waging a personal battle and using parents to do that," she said. "I just think it's not OK."

The two sides have been at odds for weeks since the board decided to fire Jaques, citing "a pattern of mismanagement."

Jaques, however, 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.

The board announced the $250,000 donation in the same email sent to parents that said they were looking for a new executive director. Donor Dan Amory, an attorney at Drummond Woodsum in Portland, confirmed last week that he told the board he would not give Baxter Academy any more money if Jaques remained as director.

Reben said the restraining order is a tactic in the ongoing dispute. Jaques has declined to say how much he wants in compensation for his intellectual property.

"They accused him of managing the school inappropriately," Reben said. "He didn't do any such thing and we feel that this is just an effort by the school to sort of raise the stakes."

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