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Baxter Academy's Online Presence in Dispute after Founder Ousted
03/08/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

The fallout from yesterday's tumultuous developments at Baxter Academy continues. The decision by the charter school's board of directors to oust Executive Director and founder John Jaques has effectively led to a stand-off. As the organization's founder, Jaques maintains ownership of the domain name and all the intellectual property associated with it, even though he's no longer part of the school. The board of directors wants him to reliniquish ownership, and they're accusing him of effectively "hijacking" the school's online presence. Tom Porter has more.

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Baxter Academy's Online Presence in Dispute after Listen
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"Well, that's one way of putting it - absolutely. He's retaining control of something that we need to operate the school, so you can say it however you want - it's not a very professional decision in my estimation," says Allison Crean Davis, vice chair of the board of directors at Baxter Academy for Science and Technology, which is expected to be Portland's first charter school when it opens in the fall.

Crean Davis says Jaques ignored a noon deadline to hand over the domain to the board. While the next legal step in the process is unclear at this point, she says the board is close to offering the director position to a new candidate.

Meanwhile the Academy's Web site remains offline, and Crean Davis says without owning the domain it's going to be much harder to move forward, although school is doing what it can. "We're creating alternatives as we speak. We have a new Facebook page that I have literally just logged on to," she says. "And I understand a new Web space is being created as well. Hopefully I'll have an address for that shortly."

"It's an issue of ownership of the intellectual property rights. There were many, many pieces of this that were put together well before I became executive director of the school," says John Jaques. Jaques says he wants a quick resolution to the dispute - although not one that involves him giving up the intellectual property to the Baxter Academy domain without financial compensation.

"We are still continuing to talk," he says. "My attorney has been in contact with their attorney today, so I'm hoping that on Monday we'll be able to finalize something here. When you have lawyers involved, things don't exactly move quickly."

The board announced it had ousted Jaques on Thursday, citing charges of financial mismanagement. In a statement, the board said Jaques had failed to put the "proper finances" into place for the school's doors to open in the fall.

Jaques denies this, and claims his firing was a precondition of a $250,000 gift from a major donor who wanted Jaques out - a donation, which, according to the board, has secured a $500,000 line of credit from a local bank.

The board denies being pressured by the donor - Portland attorney Daniel Amory - and says it would have removed Jaques anyway.

All this has left some of Baxter's prospective parents a little bemused. "I was completely shocked," says Meg Kursturin, of Gorham. Kursturin has a 14-year daughter who's one of the 160 kids due to go to Baxter Academy later this year.

"It came as a complete surprise to me that there were any issues that were going on," she says. "As far as I was aware as a parent, Mr. Jaques was really spearheading this great idea for a STEM charter school in Portland, and had been its biggest proponent and really was advocating its success.

Kursturin says she hasn't reconsidered her decision to send her daughter to Baxter, but is "keeping her options open." She wants to hear more from the board before making her mind up.

Scott Schnapp is executive director of the Maine Association of Nonprofits. He says it's up to the board now to restore confidence in the organization. "I think stakteholders expect the board to clearly explain why they made the decisions that they did," he says.

Two years ago, Maine became the 41st state to legalize charter schools, which are publicly-financed but run independently of the public school system. The aim, say advocates, is to offer more flexibility to students. But critics say they take money away from public schools, and operate without the oversight of a school board.



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