AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage reversed a routine and state-approved payment to a Fairfield non-profit that operates a charter school the day it was announced that Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves was named president of the organization, according to a source inside state government.
This is the latest development in a conflict that became public after Eves’ hiring was announced in early June. On June 8, LePage wrote to the board of Good Will-Hinckley, the organization that hired Eves, disparaging Eves, calling his hiring “unabashed political patronage” and saying that “Although he is employed as a family therapist, I have seen first hand that his skills in conflict resolution, leadership, negotiation and reconciliation are sadly lacking.”
Yesterday, Good Will-Hinckley’s board announced that they had rescinded their employment offer to Eves, saying their decision was “grounded in the institution’s desire not to be involved in political controversy that will divert attention away from our core mission of serving children and has the potential to jeopardize the future of our school.”
A confidential source in the state Department of Education (DOE) said that, the day Eves’ appointment became public, a top official of the state DOE was called to the governor’s office “for an impromptu meeting.”
According to the source, who asked not to be identified for fear of being fired, the governor’s office told Suzan Beaudoin, director of school finance and operations, to stop a payment of about $100,000 to the school. That payment, due as soon as the state budget was passed, would have been the first quarterly payment of the $530,000 the school was expecting to get for another year, following three previous years of similar payments.
Beaudoin then called Joanne Allen, school finance and compliance coordinator, and told her to stop the payment. The paperwork for the payment had already been approved by the DOE and sent to the state’s Department of Administration and Finance, which normally would electronically transfer the payment when the 2015 state budget was approved. (The budget has been approved by the legislature, but is not in effect pending the likely override of a promised veto by LePage.)
The source said Good Will-Hinckley’s paper work for the payment was on time and complete, so there was no reason for the department not to authorize the payment except for the direction from the governor’s office. The payment, however, is not required by law; it is within the discretion of the DOE, which until now had been approving the quarterly payments to the school. The money — $530,000 annually — has been used to pay room and boarding costs for at-risk students.
The source in the DOE said when employees at the finance section heard about the governor’s action, “We all kind of joked: ‘He’s up to his thing.’”
Although previous news stories about the controversy had implied funding had been cut to the school in response to Eves’ appointment, the information from the DOE whistleblower is the first claim that formal action has been taken by the governor against the school.
Adrienne Bennett, a spokesperson for the governor, responded to an email question that outlined the source’s information with the statement: “This is not accurate and due to pending litigation, we are unable to comment.” A DOE spokesperson deferred comment to Bennett.
A written statement from the governor today implies that funding has been or will be cut: “To provide half-a-million dollars in taxpayer funding to a charter school that would be headed by Maine’s most vehement anti-charter-school politician is not only the height of hypocrisy, it is absolutely unacceptable.”
Eves’ attorney David Webbert said, “If the Governor sent an order to the DOE on about June 8 to rescind the payment planned for the Good Will-Hinckley School, that is further evidence of illegal retaliation by the Governor against Speaker Eves and further supports a federal civil rights case against the Governor.”