August 27, 2013

Portland charter school preparing for third city inspection

The Baxter Academy for Technology and Science must pass the inspection to get an occupancy permit to open next week.

By Noel K. Gallagher
Staff Writer

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Fixes made to the building at 54 York St. since the last inspection include extending the height of some walls to meet fire code, changing a product that was used to plug holes and hanging a fire door, according to the general contractor.

2013 Press Herald File Photo / Gordon Chibroski

"Things have been secretive and not straightforward, and not open," said Vedral, who served in the Legislature in the 1990s and was until recently a Planning Board member in Buxton. "When I asked specific questions about finances in particular, I got a glib answer."

He said officials offered to go through the school's financial books "line by line" in person.

"I don't just want you to bring me in," Vedral said he told them. "I want it to be public. I don't want to get the hard sell in person."

The school has been under scrutiny since March, when the board fired the school's founder and executive director. That led to new donor financing, legal disputes and calls for a state investigation.

Charter schools are a partisan issue in Maine, strongly backed by Gov. Paul LePage and conservative groups, and opposed by some legislators and others who want to protect funding for traditional public schools.

"I'm all for charter schools and competition," said Vedral, who served in the Legislature as a Republican and is now unenrolled. "The problem is, this hasn't turned out to be the proper way."

In his letter, Vedral cited the commission's contract with Baxter Academy, noting that it requires the school to complete all required renovations 30 days before the start of the school year and have a certificate of occupancy at least 15 days before opening. The same language is in contracts with all charter schools.

Charter commission Chairwoman Jana Lapoint has said the commission is waiving the deadlines for Baxter.

Kautz, the commission's executive director, said failing building inspections is "not surprising when you are renovating like that," noting how old Baxter Academy's building is. "We're not going to close them down if it's a day or two (delayed in opening)."

Kautz questioned the "relevance" of media attention on the building inspection and the commission's decision to waive the deadlines.

"I think we know what we're doing. I think we know how it works," he said. "We're not hiding anything."

LaBrie, the general contractor, said the fixes at 54 York St. since the last inspection included extending the height of some walls to meet fire code, changing a product that was used to plug holes, and hanging a fire door that had arrived late.

Also Monday, the school's directors approved a $250,000 line of credit agreement with Bangor Savings Bank.

Most of the school's private financial support so far has come from Portland lawyer Dan Amory and his family foundation, the Jebediah Fund, which donates to an array of educational and cultural organizations.

Amory has pledged $250,000 to Baxter Academy, with $100,000 requiring matching funds from the school by Aug. 31. That deadline was recently extended to Dec. 31, Pryor said Monday.

Pryor said Amory was "thrilled" with the fundraising so far -- $28,000 -- and made the offer to extend the deadline. Amory did not respond to an email request for comment Monday.

According to a fundraising letter, students have raised more than $8,000, and an online campaign raised just over $4,000. The school also held a fundraiser at DeLorme in Yarmouth.

In mid-June, Amory gave the school a $200,000 loan, secured by a property in Tennessee owned by the school, in addition to the donations.

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

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