August 1, 2013

LePage 'offended' by charter school criticisms

At a Heritage Policy Center luncheon, he blasts Sen. Justin Alfond's family background and criticism of the school for hosting the conservative group.

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

PORTLAND — Gov. Paul LePage struck back at critics of Portland's charter school Wednesday, saying he was "offended" that they criticized the public school for hosting an event by the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center.

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Gov. Paul LePage shares a light moment with Allison Crean Davis, vice chairwoman of the Baxter Academy board, and others during the Maine Heritage Policy Center luncheon at the charter school in Portland on Wednesday.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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Charlotte Iserbyt of Dresden and Steve Schran of New Gloucester protested outside the Maine Heritage Policy Center luncheon at Baxter Academy in Portland on Wedmnesday, July 31, 2013.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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Read Gov. LePage's letter to Sen. Alfond

"I was shocked this week by Sen. (Justin) Alfond," LePage told about 75 people at the annual Friedman Legacy Day Celebration, at the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, which will open this fall at 54 York St.

"(Alfond) offended me deeply when he attacked Baxter Academy simply because he's had it easy. He had the best education money can buy," said LePage, referring to Alfond's private school education.

Alfond went to Dexter public schools through 10th grade and attended private schools in Massachusetts for his last two years of high school, when his family moved.

LePage, who was not on the list of scheduled speakers, made an unexpected appearance at Wednesday's luncheon.

Alfond and other Democratic state legislators criticized Baxter's leaders this week for hosting the luncheon with the conservative advocacy group, saying it politicizes the school and inflames an already volatile debate over charter schools in Maine.

Charter schools receive public funding but are formed and operated by parents, teachers and community leaders, and are exempt from many of the rules and regulations that apply to public school districts. They have become a partisan issue in Maine, strongly backed by LePage and conservative groups, and opposed by some legislators and others who want to protect funding for traditional public schools.

Alfond called LePage's criticism an ongoing pattern.

"When someone disagrees with his policies or politics, the governor's response is not one that further advances the conversation but instead he personally attacks -- often with attacks that are not based in reality," he said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.

He said the issue remains about public schools and political groups.

"Baxter Academy is a public charter school," he said in the statement. "As a public school, it is inappropriate and frankly a disservice to their students for the school to choose a partnership, financial or otherwise, with a fringe political group. Students at Baxter want a school focused on a STEM education, not a political training camp for the Maine Heritage Policy Center."

During the luncheon, Baxter Academy's board Vice Chairwoman Allison Crean Davis told the audience that the school must raise funds for capital projects because charter schools cannot get state money for them.

In some states, grant money is available for startup costs. In Maine, charter schools get per-pupil state funds, which follow students from the school districts where they live.

The governor sent Alfond a letter Wednesday that was more sharply worded than his remarks at the event. It homes in on Alfond's personal finances and education.

"Attacking a public charter school that provides choice for Maine students reeks of hypocrisy," LePage wrote. "You were fortunate enough to choose from any number of private high schools, and you had the unlimited financial resources necessary to attend Noble and Greenough, an elitist private school in Massachusetts. ... The students who choose to attend Baxter cannot afford the world-class education you received at a very expensive boarding school."

Alfond is a grandson of the late Harold Alfond, who founded the Dexter Shoe Co. and used his fortune to create the Harold Alfond Foundation, which continues to primarily support athletic and educational efforts in Maine.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Allison Crean Davis, vice chairwoman of the Baxter Academy board, speaks during the Maine Heritage Policy Center luncheon in Portland on Wednesday, July 31, 2013.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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Kelli Pryor, chairwoman of Baxter Academy board, at Wednesday's Maine Heritage Policy Center luncheon at the Portland charter school.


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