AUGUSTA, Maine — Lee Academy has been placed on probation for two years by the Maine Principals’ Association for violations of that organization’s athletic recruitment policy involving inducements to student-athletes attending the school.
The probation became effective Oct. 9 in the aftermath of an investigation conducted in response to a complaint filed March 20 by fellow MPA member Dirigo High School of Dixfield.
The complaint was lodged not long after Dirigo played Lee Academy in the Class C boys basketball state championship game for the second straight year. Dirigo won the 2012 matchup 74-67 after Lee had defeated the Cougars 65-55 in the 2011 final.
MPA Executive Director Dick Durost acknowledged the investigation emphasized Lee Academy’s boys undergraduate basketball program, which has featured significant contributions from dormitory students in recent years, but he added that all athletic programs at the independent school were scrutinized during the investigation.
Durost would not elaborate on the nature of any specific inducements involved, though he did say, “Private and some public schools are expected to recruit students, but they are not expected to provide inducements for athletes to attend their schools.”
And while Durost said officials from both Lee Academy and Dirigo accepted the findings of a three-person hearing panel of MPA principals that investigated the complaint, Lee Academy Headmaster Bruce Lindberg maintained his school’s innocence.
“First of all, we don’t agree that we’ve done anything wrong,” Lindberg said. “We operate as a private school,and private schools have to function differently than a public school does.
“But we are going to respect the decision of the MPA committee; we’ll file the appropriate information, and we know we’re on probation.”
Dirigo Principal Michael Poulin, who wrote the letter of complaint on behalf of his school, was satisfied with the ruling.
“I’m happy with the results and pleased with the action taken by the MPA,” said Poulin. “I want to thank the MPA for how they handled the whole situation.”
After Dirigo filed its complaint, the MPA appointed an investigator — a principal from another MPA-member school — who met with officials from both schools and subsequently filed a report with the MPA’s Interscholastic Management Committee.
The two schools involved didn’t agree on the investigator’s findings, so a three-person hearing panel of principals, one selected by each school and a third chosen by the MPA central office, was created to further study the issue.
That panel issued its findings on Oct. 9, and they were subsequently approved by the Interscholastic Management Committee on Nov. 6.
The panel found Lee Academy to have violated Article II, Section 5-E of the MPA bylaws, titled “Inducements for Athletic Purposes”; as a result, Lee Academy was placed on probation for two calendar years effective Oct. 9.
Durost said schools rarely are placed on probation by the MPA, recalling no more than two previous occurrences during his 11½-year tenure as the organization’s executive director.
He added that there is no protocol etched in the MPA’s bylaws to address a school found in violation of its probationary status.
“If there was a next error, it would be looked at even more closely, with significant consequences,” Durost said. “Given how rarely it’s been done, probation from our standpoint is seen as a significant statement.”
As part of the probation, Lee Academy was tasked within 60 days of the panel’s findings to “develop and provide the MPA with written policies that will describe in detail the admissions process at Lee Academy including the roles and shared responsibilities of (if applicable) the headmaster, admissions director, guidance department and others.
“Further, Lee Academy will also develop within that same 60-day period written policies that will describe in detail the process and criteria for awarding financial aid to students admitted to Lee Academy, including the roles and shared responsibilities of the headmaster, admissions director, financial officer, guidance department and others.
“After each school year and no later than June 30, 2013, and June 30, 2014, the headmaster will provide the MPA with detailed information regarding tuition and room and board of all tuition students. Additionally, this information will also include a breakdown of participants in interscholastic athletics by sport for each student.
“The MPA executive director will provide periodic updates to the Interscholastic Management Committee as to the progress of these rulings.”
Lee Academy has not yet provided the MPA with the information due within 60 days of the investigative panel’s findings, but Lindberg said the school would comply with the deadline.
Lindberg said he hopes the case will have an enduring educational purpose of its own.
“The thing that pleases me most out of the whole situation is that the MPA now has a better understanding of the operation of independent schools, and they’ve developed a committee that will study the public versus private issue,” he said.
“And only good will come from that because all schools will have a better understanding of how independent schools work.”
Durost said the MPA for eight years has had an ad hoc committee that addresses issues related to private versus public schools. That group has met periodically since then, and there are plan for it to get together again for the current school year, though Durost said the meeting won’t be specifically about the Lee case.
Maine and 45 other states include private schools as members of their interscholastic associations, with only Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and the District of Columbia having separate public and nonpublic entities.
A private academy founded in 1845, Lee has contracts with local school boards to educate students from Lee, Springfield, Webster and Winn. The school also serves students from Greenbush, Kingman, Topsfield, Vanceboro and the Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine. Tuition, room and board is approximately $26,000 a year for seven-day boarding students.
Under Lindberg’s leadership, Lee Academy has been marketing American high school education to the Far East while expanding its enrollment of foreign-born students educated in Lee, a small northern Penobscot County town about 10 miles east of Lincoln and Interstate 95.
Lee Academy’s undergraduate enrollment was listed as 270 in the 2012 MPA tourney basketball program.