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Alfond attacks new Portland charter school for aligning with ‘extreme organization’

Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland.
Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland. Buy Photo
Posted July 27, 2013, at 5:42 a.m.
Last modified July 28, 2013, at 2:24 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, attacked a new charter school in his district Friday for aligning itself with what he called one of the most extreme political organizations in Maine.

Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, a new charter school set to open this fall in Portland, will host a policy luncheon next week that is sponsored by the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center. According to Amanda Clark, an education policy analyst for the MHPC, next Wednesday’s “Friedman Legacy Day” at the school is an annual event that nationally honors the late Milton Friedman, a Nobel-recognized economist known among other things for his support of open choice in public schools. The event will feature remarks by Clark, Baxter Academy Board Vice Chairwoman Allison Crean Davis and Carol Weston of Americans for Prosperity-Maine.

“Every year, the Maine Heritage Policy Center celebrates the legacy of Dr. Milton Friedman as a strong proponent of school choice and economic freedom,” said Clark on Friday. “Knowing that a new viable option is available for students in the local school system, we realized that people would probably be curious to learn a little more about charter schools in Maine.”

Alfond told the Bangor Daily News on Friday that he is troubled by Baxter Academy aligning itself with the conservative think tank, which formerly employed Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen and other past and current members of Gov. Paul LePage’s administration.

“Baxter is a new entity in the city of Portland and you would think that they would be strategic about who they’re partnering with,” said Alfond. “The Maine Heritage Policy Center is one of the most extreme organizations in the state of Maine. They do not look at collaborating or cooperating and working with public schools. It’s a very disappointing reality that Baxter is partnering with the Maine Heritage Policy Center.”

Alfond said the views of the center are not in line with those of most Portland-area residents.

“The agenda for the event is not even close to what the city of Portland and greater Portland wants to see in a new school, a school that has an opportunity to branch out and become a new community organization. … I’ve spent time with [ousted Baxter Executive Director] John Jaques and time with some of Baxter’s board members, trying to work through what I was hoping was going to be a very positive introduction to the city of Portland. Every step of the way, it seemed like controversy is following Baxter Academy and this lunch is another prime example of them taking a path of not understanding their host community and their host elected leaders.”

Jaques was the school’s primary founder and executive director before he was ousted in early March for what officials at the school called “ a pattern of mismanagement.

Carl Stasio, Baxter’s executive director, said Alfond’s claim that the school is aligning with the Maine Heritage Policy Center is inaccurate.

“We haven’t aligned ourselves with any political group,” said Stasio. “We have supporters from both ends and the middle of the political spectrum. … Having someone come and speak at your school certainly doesn’t mean there is some sort of partnership there. Charter schools are new in Maine and shouldn’t be drawn into these political battles.”

Baxter Academy, located at 54 York St., in Portland, is due to open this fall with more than 120 students from 30 communities in southern and central Maine. It is one of five charter schools that have been approved by the Maine Charter School Commission since a new law allowing charter schools in Maine took effect in 2011. Opponents of the charter school concept criticize them because they siphon money away from traditional public schools, though proponents favor them because they allow students and families to choose their preferred education model. More than 40 states allow charter schools. Alfond voted consistently against the charter school law two years ago during the 125th Legislature.

Clark said next Wednesday’s event, which begins at noon and will conclude with tours of the school, is free and open to the public. Anyone interested in attending should RSVP at the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s website. Clark said the event has attracted approximately 50 people in past years.

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