March 8, 2013

Baxter Academy's top exec ousted by board

Mismanagement of the charter school is cited, but John Jaques says it’s a power play by a large donor

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

PORTLAND – The founder and executive director of Portland's first charter school was fired Thursday for what the board of the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science called "a pattern of mismanagement."

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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. Photographed on Thursday, March 7, 2013.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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But John 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 and sharply criticized the board of directors for saying he misled it about the availability of a $500,000 line of credit that was critical to the school's financial stability.

"It's obviously extremely troubling for them to be smearing me," Jaques said. "I did not mislead the charter commission. No one was being misled."

Baxter Academy has been approved by the Maine Charter School Commission to open this fall, under a state law passed in 2011. The law caps the number at 10 schools in 10 years. Two have opened.

As of the March 1 deadline for applications to Baxter Academy, about 160 students were interested, said Jana Lapoint, the commission's chairwoman. The school needs about 150 students to open.

Jaques, who has been the public face of the school, was not surprised by his firing. In recent weeks, attorneys for the board and Jaques were negotiating a deal for him to leave.

In an interview a few hours before he was fired, he questioned whether Baxter would be able to open without him.

"I don't see how it could happen, if the public knew the whole story. If the parents understood, they wouldn't choose (Baxter,)" Jaques said. "I couldn't live with myself if people weren't aware that this school is not the school they thought it was when they signed that letter of intent."

Jaques, who earned $64,000 a year as the sole paid employee of the school, said he wanted compensation for his intellectual property in creating the school.

He would not say how much he wanted the board to pay, but said he still hoped to "right this ship" and stay on as executive director.

When asked what would happen if he left, he said: "I hope the school is not a school of choice for very many people."

A few hours later, after he directed his attorney to end negotiations and after the Portland Press Herald contacted the state commission and Baxter Academy's board for comment, Jaques was fired in a three-sentence email.

Within an hour, the board emailed parents and issued a news release announcing the $250,000 donation and saying it will hire a new executive director.

Dan Amory, an attorney at Drummond Woodsum in Portland, confirmed Thursday that he told the board that he would not give Baxter Academy any more money if Jaques remained as director.

Amory and his family foundation, the Jebediah Foundation, have already donated a total of $40,000 to the school.

The new donation will comprise $50,000 from him and his wife, $100,000 from the foundation and another $100,000 to match funds raised by the school.

He said he had worked with Jaques, helping him with fundraising, and "really seen the guy in operation."

"And by the last part of (last) year, heading into late fall, I had lost confidence in him as a leader of Baxter," Amory said, declining to elaborate.

Jaques said he thinks the reason is more personal, noting that he questioned the role of Amory's son, Jon Amory, who serves on the school's advisory board and has run an after-school robotics class at the school building on York Street.

(Continued on page 2)

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