PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Portland Mayor Michael Brennan wants Maine's attorney general's office to look into allegations of financial mismanagement at the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science.
Baxter Academy has preliminary approval to open as a charter school in the 2013-2014 school year. But the mayor believes there are too many questions about the school's finances, and about how much due diligence Maine's Charter School commission did when it issued the school a charter earlier this year.
Mayor Brennan has opposed charter schools for years, and fought hard to prevent Baxter Academy from getting its charter. But his letter to Attorney General Janet Mills comes as the school has been in upheaval. Executive Director John Jaques was fired recently. Baxter Academy's board cited financial mismanagement as the reason. Jaques said it was because a wealthy donor wouldn't give unless Jaques was ousted.
Brennan says the financial questions are reason enough for the attorney general's office to investigate, since public dollars will be going to this institution should it open this fall. Brennan has asked Portland's Superintendent of Schools not to hand over taxpayer dollars to Baxter Academy until his questions are answered, and he wants the AG to suspend negotiations with Baxter while she looks into:
-- Whether the Baxter Academy's finances were mismanaged.
-- Whether the Maine Charter School Commission did its due diligence in reviewing Baxter's financial situation.
-- Whether commission members advised the school appropriately while its application was under review.
Brennan said, "I questioned as I have always questioned the Charter Commission's decision to give a charter to Baxter School. I don't think it was the right decision. I don't think it was based on facts. And the very problems that I had identified with the Charter Commission have now shown themselves to be true with Baxter Academy." Brennan had questioned the Academy's finances and whether a single donor could have undue influence over the way public dollars are spent at the school.
Charter School Commission Chair Jana Lapoint said the mayor's accusations are misplaced. She said, "Obviously, there was no one acting improperly on this commission."
Lapoint said the commission has followed every procedure it was supposed to, and that every member of the commission is allowed to ask a school for specific information when the school is under review. She said the Charter School Commission had the information it needed to issue a preliminary charter to the Baxter Academy. But because of these allegations against Jaques and his counter-allegations, the commission has scheduled a public meeting for Monday morning at 9 a.m. at the Department of Education in Augusta to get more information from Baxter Academy about what is going on. The charter is not final.
We have been unable to reach anyone with Baxter Academy.