PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland charter school founder who was ousted Thursday as executive director has cut off the board’s access to its website, email and documents, according to the board’s vice chairman.
“He has locked us out,” Allison Crean Davis, vice chairman of Baxter Academy’s board of directors, told the BDN on Friday.
But John Jaques, the founder, says the issue at stake is who owns the intellectual property associated with the organization.
Jaques was Baxter Academy’s sole employee, according to Davis, and the organization’s website and Google Apps account — which includes Baxter’s email and documents — were registered in his name.
About a week ago, Jaques pulled the board’s access, according to Davis.
“We control the financial assets,” Davis said. “He does have in his possession … our Web domain, our Facebook page. He has documents that were [online] related to the school, parent databases, and so forth.”
“That’s all part of the intellectual property that’s tied into the domain — the baxteracademy.org domain,” Jaques said Friday. “We’ve been discussing for the last couple of weeks the intellectual rights and the possible resolutions.”
Jaques wouldn’t say what he intended to do with the documents, or whether he was interested in starting a competing charter school.
“Right now we’re focused on getting some closure to the situation at Baxter Academy,” he said.
The front page of baxteracademy.org, which previously displayed the school’s logo and updates on its certification progress, was replaced sometime late Thursday or early Friday with a statement from Jaques, who the school’s board accuses of financial mismanagement.
Jaques denies posting the statement to the website himself, calling it “unfortunate,” and by 11 a.m. Friday the site simply displayed a “not found” page.
“A number of people have access to the website and one of them posted my statement without my knowledge. I have taken the website offline temporarily until we can resolve the ownership issues,” Jaques said in a statement to the media.
The board had been considering firing Jaques for more than a month, according to Crean Davis, after it learned that the organization did not have the line of credit it needs in order to obtain a charter contract from the state. The board said it saw “a pattern of mismanagement” in a memo released Thursday.
In his Thursday statement, Jaques said the board operated unethically and accused the board of firing him after a potential donor promised $250,000 for doing so.
“The timing is certainly coordinated,” Davis said. “The very generous donation that we were able to secure did come from a source that previously supported the school and had previously worked with Mr. Jaques,” but had since pulled support.
The $250,000 donation is “certainly the most significant one” the school has received so far, Davis said.
Funding for Jaques’ salary as Baxter’s executive director, approximately $63,000 a year plus benefits, came from a relative, as well as some considerably smaller donations the school had received, according to Davis.
“A lot of the funding came from a family member of Mr. Jaques,” she said.
Now, the board is looking for new supporters and a new executive director, and has “some very successful and very well qualified people who were interested” in the position, Davis said.
The board started the process a couple of weeks ago and has already interviewed a handful of people.
And the organization will move forward, whether or not it gets its files back from Jaques.
“We hope that, as a professional, he will do as we have been trying to do” and work in the interests of the students, Davis said. “However, if he doesn’t then we’ll find an alternative.”
The Baxter Academy gained approval from the Maine Charter School Commission in July 2012 on the condition it open in September 2013. The school is now set to open Sept. 3, Davis said, and it has letters of intent from 158 students from throughout southern Maine with more on a waiting list.
Charter schools are public schools of choice that operate independently of local school districts. Maine became the 41st state to allow charter schools after the Republican-controlled 125th Legislature passed a law in 2011.
BDN reporter Matt Stone contributed to this report.