Tuesday, December 10, 2013
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.
A screen shot of Baxter Academy's new website, www.baxter-academy.org.
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."
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 application deadline, about 160 students were interested in attending the school, which needs about 150 students to open. The board plans to meet with interested families Saturday, Crean Davis said.
Under state law, the school must meet a strict timetable and the dispute could prove a distraction, according to the lawsuit.
The school must notify students by April 1 of their right to enroll, and the students then have 14 days to send in a commitment letter. Baxter officials said they wanted to have teachers in place before that 14-day enrollment window, "or Baxter will be at a significant disadvantage in achieving its enrollment goals," according to their suit.
Crean Davis said the board was feeling "very positive" after relaunching the Facebook page and getting a new website running.
"We're 'making it work,' doing a bit of an end-around, putting up these alternate sources as the original web resources remain in his hands," she wrote in an email to the Portland Press Herald.
But the civil lawsuit paints a different picture, describing the material Jaques controls as "critical to (the school's) operation."
"Baxter Academy cannot continue its day-to-day operations -- nor can it proceed with its plans to enroll an entering class for September 2013 and hire teachers and staff for the coming school year -- unless Jaques immediately relinquishes control of such property to the school," reads the complaint written by Baxter attorney Carver.
By retaining control of the website and Facebook sites, Jaques has "already begun using such tools to damage Baxter Academy ... The harm done by Jaques' actions will be immediate and irreparable, is already occurring and is ongoing."
Getting the information back is not a minor issue, even though the board has found a way to reconnect with the families, Crean Davis said.
"It's all part of getting the doors to this school opened, which (Jaques) claimed to be so passionate about and now it seems like he is intent on tearing down," she said.
Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at: