PORTLAND, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage took aim at what he called Mayor Michael Brennan’s “campaign” against a proposed charter school in Maine’s largest city, saying in a letter to the Portland mayor that he is “appalled by your constant attacks upon students who simply want to better learn technology and science.”
Brennan, who has long opposed the proposed Baxter Academy for Technology and Science and charter schools in general, wrote to the state attorney general’s office last week seeking an investigation into allegations of financial mismanagement at the startup school. The mayor said in his request that he planned to ask Portland Public Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk to withhold tuition payments to the academy until the attorney general makes a decision on the case.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Janet Mills responded to Brennan and declined to look into the school, saying the Maine Commission on Charter Schools has the authority to ensure the academy’s finances are sound. On Thursday, the governor followed up with a tersely worded letter of his own to the mayor, urging Brennan to “seek competent legal advice” before withholding tuition payments.
LePage wrote that Brennan’s letter to the attorney general was “requesting her to conduct a host of inappropriate and unlawful activities designed to harass and intimidate a proposed charter school.”
“Mr. Mayor, it is a stunningly cynical and shortsighted activity to try to stop students who are so interested in learning math and science from getting the education they crave and employers are requesting,” the governor wrote, in part.
Brennan did not immediately respond to a phone call Thursday evening, but in past interviews has argued that students seeking specialized education tracks can do so without leaving the Portland Public Schools, which include the expeditionary learning-based Casco Bay High School and the Portland Arts & Technology High School.
Baxter Academy found itself in the news earlier this month when founding Executive Director John Jaques was abruptly dismissed after what the school’s board of directors called “a pattern of mismanagement,” including allegations that he never set up a line of credit the organization needed to draw upon to prepare its York Street facility in recent months.
But Jaques responded by accusing the board of firing him to appease a large donor who didn’t like him, and kept board members locked out of the academy’s original website and Facebook page, triggering a legal battle between the school and its former director over the ownership of the intellectual property.
That controversy provided Brennan, who had clashed with Jaques publicly about the impact Baxter Academy would have in the city, an opening to further question the academy’s stability in the form of his March 22 investigation request.
The mayor has maintained that charter schools will siphon badly needed government subsidies away from existing public schools.
In the aftermath of his letter to the attorney general, Baxter Academy board chairwoman Kelli Pryor extended an olive branch to the mayor, inviting Brennan to meet with current school leadership.
“We are here to serve students, and in doing so, will serve the future of the city,” Pryor wrote in a March 23 letter to Brennan. “Let’s work together. We want Baxter Academy to participate in the community.”
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.