March 25, 2013

Charter panel questions Baxter board in aftermath of firing

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

(Continued from page 1)

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(FILE) 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. Photographed on Thursday, March 7, 2013.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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He said the school has $6,500 in the bank, with a line of credit awaiting backing from the Finance Authority of Maine.

  • Student interest. Board members said they have 156 letters of interest, and another dozen students on a waiting list. The school needs 140 students to open and plans to notify students this week they have two weeks to sign letters of commitment.
     
  • Where prospective students live. The school is not allowed to draw off more than 10 percent of any public school’s existing class. Board member Len Cole said 21 students were from Portland, 11 from South Portland, nine each from Freeport and Westbrook, eight each from Lewiston-Auburn and Gorham, and five or fewer students from each of the other districts.
  • School districts are concerned about how many students might leave for Baxter, since the state subsidy will follow them. Portland has estimated that Baxter will cost the school district $500,000 but the figure was chosen before the actual number of students became known.

    Nine prospective students were in the audience Monday, including Alec Gagne of Westbrook, who said he didn't feel challenged at his school.

    "I want to take my learning as far as I can," Gagne said. "I need Baxter Academy to open."

    Several parents said they did not want the controversy over Jaques' firing to derail the entire school.

    "The change in management has been difficult, but we are still committed to the school," said Kelli Keliehor, who home-schools her 13-year-old daughter, Brianna.

    A smaller number of speakers spoke against approving it.

    Carl Hesslebart said he'd been a member of the school's original advisory board, but was removed when the board of directors replaced the entire advisory board without notification.

    "I'm a parent of an applicant to the school. We have believed in Baxter, we still believe in the need for Baxter. But right now, because of everything that has happened, we don't believe this is the school we were supporting," Hesselbart said. "What happened to us?"

    While the board was not asked to explain why Jaques was fired, Pryor said in her closing remarks that members "never would have wished" for the controversy.

    "We did what we felt we had to do for the kids," she said, "And we ask you to keep them in mind as you go forward."

    One speaker asked the commission to end the "emotional rollercoaster ride."

    "When you finally give Baxter its charter, it's over," said Thomas Beretich. "Politicians need to lay down their arms."

    At the end of the meeting, the commissioners told the Baxter board to provide the identities of all donors, an up-to-date three-year budget, the latest enrollment figures and details on how they will feed and transport students.

    Charter schools are allowed in Maine under a state law passed in 2011. The law caps the number at 10 schools in 10 years. Two have opened already.

    Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

    ngallagher@mainetoday.com

    Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:
    ngallagher@mainetoday.com

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