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MPA Sanctions Lee Academy for Recruitment Violations
12/07/2012   Reported By: Jay Field

One of Maine's 10 "town academies" has been put on probation for athletic recruitment violations. Lee Academy's principal says the independent school - which also accepts public school students - hasn't done anything wrong. But the Maine Principals Association sanctioned the school after an investigation sparked by a public school's complaint last spring. Jay Field has more.

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MPA Sanctions Lee Academy for Recruitment Violatio
Originally Aired: 12/7/2012 5:30 PM
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The dispute began shortly after the Dirigo High School boys varsity basketball team defeated Lee in the 2012 Class C state finals. The same two teams had faced off a year earlier, with Lee winning.

Lee is one of 10 town academies - private independent schools that take public funds because they enroll some students from communities that don't have public high schools. Lee has also enrolled numerous dormitory students in recent years, who've ended up contributing to the school's basketball program. Mike Poulin, the principal at Dirigo High, located in Dixfield, says that's raised questions.

"A school that doesn't have the ability to recruit students to come to a school - you know, a public school - has to look at that and wonder, 'Are all these kids coming to school? And do they just happen to be great basketball players?" Poulin says. "Or are they coming to the school because they're being recruited to come there to play basketball?'"

Dirigo believed the latter was the case and wrote a letter of complaint to the Maine Principals Association, which governs interscholastic athletics. The MPA opened an investigation. It hired a principal from a third school to conduct the probe.

But neither Lee nor Dirigo High agreed with the initial findings. So a panel of three administrators - one chosen by each school, and a neutral party - took the case from there. In early October, it found that Lee Academy had violated MPA bylaws and put the school on probation.

"We don't recruit," says Bruce Lindberg, Lee's principal.  Lindberg says his school is private and is being unfairly punished for doing something that private educational institutions do.

"Students contact us about attending Lee Academy. We have them fill out an application. We have them fill out financial aid paperwork," Lindberg says. "In the belief of this committee, who are all public school administrators, they think that we gain an unfair advantage by awarding financial aid to some students who happen to play sports."

But Dirigo's Poulin says that as a school that accepts some public tuition dollars - and has chosen to be a member of the MPA - Lee ought to be required to follow the organization's bylaws, which prohibit schools from offering special support to athletes.

"I understand public schools are different from private schools and private schools certainly have to do different things to survive," Poulin says.  "We have to play those schools on the athletic fields. And when they enjoy an advantage we don't have, it makes it pretty difficult sometimes."

Lee's probation lasts for two years. The school also has 60 days to provide the MPA written reports on its admissions and financial aid policies. 

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