Portland charter school fires, sues founding director

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PORTLAND — After firing its founding director last week, the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science is suing the former executive.

Joshua Carver, attorney for the charter school set to open in September, said that the suit filed in Cumberland County Superior Court stems from John Jaques’ alleged failure to return documents critical to opening the school.

“After the board terminiated Mr. Jaques, they requested that he return all of the school’s property (in his possession) and he was not complying with their request, which left them no choice but to file the suit,” Carver said. “They need all of their property back to continue with the school.”

According to Allison Crean Davis, co-chairwoman of the Baxter board, Jaques was terminated on Thursday, March 7, because of a “pattern of mismanagement.”

“The real impetus for us stepping back and taking a hard assessment of his leadership was the discovery in late January that the funds we were told were in place to be able to start up the school were not in place,” Davis said.

She said the board became aware of the problem when they asked Jaques to draw down on a line of credit so the school could sign the lease for its 54 York St. building.

“We needed a significant chunk of change to do that and that was when we were told that the line of credit was not in place, so that put us in a bind,” she said. “We (also) needed that line of credit in order to sign the charter with the (state.)”

Jaques claimed in a statement posted on the school’s website last week that he was removed because a potential donor refused to give $250,000 to the school if he was in charge.

“I am deeply disappointed by the actions of the board,” he said. “I believe the board of directors acted inappropriately and unethically. … The board made a decision that it would rather support a large donor, who promised a lot of money if they would get rid of me.”

Davis said there is some truth to Jaques’ allegation, but that the promise of money came after the board realized Jaques had not put the necessary funds into place.

“When we realized there was virtually no money, we began to look fervently for other options,” she said. “That included working with another bank to get a line of credit as well as looking for other funders. One of the early funders of the school stated that he had been reluctant (to donate money) because he had concerns about Mr. Jaques’ ability to lead it to success. (But) he was willing to re-engage given new leadership being in place.”

In order for the board to move forward with opening the school, it needs all of the documents that were still in Jaques’ possession as of Tuesday morning. Carver said Jaques still controls access to a database of potential incoming students.

Davis said Monday that Jaques has turned over much of what the school needs and the board has created a new website and Facebook page to replace the ones Jaques created and allegedly took over after he was terminated.

She said the board has now signed the lease for the school building and has gained access to nearly 200 teacher applications, which were previously in Jaques possession.

Davis said that she doesn’t feel that the lawsuit or Jaques’ termination have derailed the school’s progress. She said the board is interviewing candidates for the director’s position and has started sifting through teacher applications.

“I think it temporarily put up a barrier for us,” Davis admitted. “We didn’t have access to any of our tools, but to the credit of this board and some of our really loyal volunteers, we were able to get over that barrier quickly. It certainly created a bump, but we are determined not to let a bump in the road derail our journey.”

Neither Jaques nor his attorney, Howard Reben, could be reached for comment.

Amber Cronin can be reached at acronin@theforecaster.net or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter @croninamber.