March 11, 2013

Charter school board sues founder over paperwork

School says John Jaques contacted parents post-firing

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND -- The board of Portland's first charter school has sued founder John Jaques in Cumberland County Superior Court, demanding that he turn over all school property, from paperwork to control of school materials stored online.

Jacques' attorney said Monday that they planned to sue the school.

"We are prepared to file a counterclaim against the school for defamation," attorney Howard Reben said. The counterclaim had not been filed as of 4 p.m. Monday.

The court granted the board a civil temporary restraining order late Friday.

"Jaques has not substantively responded to the school's demands that he return its property which is critical to its continued operation and hopes of welcoming its first students in September 2013," read the complaint filed by attorney Joshua Carver.

Reben said Jaques already had returned most of the material before the order was granted.

After being fired Thursday, Jaques retained control of the original website and Facebook accounts for the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science. He has said he held on to the sites and other online material stored in Google Docs because he was in an ongoing dispute with the board about compensation for his intellectual property associated with the school.

"They have all the student enrollment data, all school documents, all teacher applications and all school property. I have the Google Web domain and the original Facebook page," Jaques said in an email Monday.

The school launched a new website, baxter-academy.org, over the weekend, and started a new Facebook page.

Board Vice Chairwoman Allison Crean Davis questioned Jaques' claim that he had turned over all the material, and she said going to court was the board's "only remaining option."

"He has those databases, and that's confidential information," Crean Davis said Monday. "I think any parent would be a little alarmed that a disgruntled employee is holding personal family information."

Crean Davis said it appeared Jaques continued to use the school databases after he was fired. Some parents reported getting an email from him over the weekend, describing his side of the dispute. She said she would consult with the board about whether to provide a copy of the email.

"He's using that (database) to contact people and scare them and say disparaging things about the board. So he's still waging a personal battle and using parents to do that," she said. " I just think it's not OK."

The two sides have been at odds for weeks since the board decided to remove Jaques.

The board of directors cited "a pattern of mismanagement" in firing Jaques.

Jaques, however, said he was fired because the father of a member of the school's advisory board had promised to donate as much as $250,000 if Jaques were no longer in charge. He denied any financial mismanagement.

The board announced the $250,000 donation in the same email sent to parents that said they were looking for a new executive director. Donor Dan Amory, an attorney at Drummond Woodsum in Portland, confirmed last week he had told the board he would not give Baxter Academy any more money if Jaques remained as director.

Reben said the restraining order is a tactic in the ongoing dispute. Jaques has declined to say how much he wants in compensation for his intellectual property.

"They accused him of managing the school inappropriately," Reben said. "He didn't do any such thing, and we feel that this is just an effort by the school to sort of raise the stakes."

Baxter Academy has been approved by the Maine Charter School Commission to open this fall, under a state law passed in 2011.

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