Gov. Paul LePage tried unsuccessfully to persuade Good Will-Hinckley School not to hire House Speaker Mark Eves, by writing a scathing letter Monday filled with personal criticisms and a broadside against the state’s education system.

“It is unfortunate for both Maine taxpayers and Maine students that the education system has become a soft-landing place for unqualified former Democratic politicians who seek exorbitant salaries but bring no real skills or true leadership to the important public positions entrusted to them,” the governor wrote to the school’s board chairmen.

Despite LePage’s effort, the Fairfield school announced Eves’ hiring Tuesday, calling him the best candidate.

In an interview shortly after the announcement, Eves side-stepped the governor’s criticism and said the position was attractive because he’s spent his career helping at-risk youth and their families. He is a licensed family counselor and operated a private practice in York County for many years.

“Thinking about the next chapter, this aligned with my values and what I want to continue to do,” he said.

The school’s board of directors apparently was not dissuaded from hiring Eves by LePage, who said Eves’ consistent opposition to charter schools should have disqualified him.

“As a former at-risk youth myself, I question the ability of Speaker Eves to lead the mission of the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences and administer the difficult and unique challenges faced by each of its students,” LePage wrote.

But LePage didn’t stop there.

“Although he is employed as a family therapist, I have seen firsthand that his skills in conflict resolution, leadership, negotiation and reconciliation are sadly deficient,” LePage wrote, going on to say that he doesn’t think Eves has been an “honest broker.”

LePage also blasted the selection of Eves as “unabashed political patronage.”

He noted that the board chair for Good Will-Hinckley, Bill Brown, worked in Eves’ legislative office and another board member, Erik Jorgensen, was appointed by Eves to the powerful Appropriations Committee as a freshman lawmaker. Both Brown and Jorgensen recused themselves from any discussions or votes involving Eves.

Eves, of North Berwick, said he will continue to serve as House speaker through the end of his term next year. After that, he will be termed out of the Legislature. Asked whether he will move his family closer to Fairfield, Eves said he has not made a decision.

He said Tuesday the governor’s letter surprised him, but he declined to criticize LePage’s action.

“The governor and I both agree that Good Will-Hinckley is one of the great institutions of our state,” he said. “He’s been a great supporter of this school. It wouldn’t be here without him.”

Asked whether he expected that support to continue, Eves said, “I have no indication that’s not the case.”

In a statement Tuesday, the board of directors praised Eves experience in the private sector and as a lawmaker.

“The Good Will-Hinckley Board of Directors and senior staff believe strongly that Mark Eves’ professional credentials and career in psychology and family therapy, as well as his statewide policy and leadership experience as speaker of the Maine House of Representatives make him the best candidate to lead our school’s work creating opportunity for at risk and non-traditional students from across Maine,” Board President John Moore said in a statement Tuesday.

For more than a century, Good Will-Hinckley operated as a private boarding school for at-risk children. It temporarily closed its core operations in June 2009 for financial reasons but then relaunched in 2011 as the state’s first charter school, the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences.

The school focuses on hands-on learning, agriculture, sustainability, forestry, and work and living skills. It receives tuition funding from its approximately 75 students and the state also contributes $530,000 annually to support residential programming. The Good Will-Hinckley campus in Fairfield also includes: the Glenn Stratton Learning Center, the L.C. Bates Museum, the College Step-up Program and the Carnegie Library.

Even before Monday’s letter, LePage had stepped up his criticism of Eves, mostly over budget negotiations.

In a press conference at the Blaine House on May 29, LePage lashed out at both Eves and Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond.

“I think the speaker of the House should go back home to where he was born (California), and I think that Mr. Alfond should be put in a playpen,” the governor said.

Eves takes over leadership of Good Will-Hinckley from Richard Abramson, a longtime Maine teacher and superintendent, who had been interim president since last September.

Before that, the school’s president was Glenn Cummings, who had been named president of the University of Maine at Augusta but now will take over at the University of Southern Maine. Like Eves, Cummings is a former Democratic lawmaker and House speaker.

It was Cummings who led the creation of the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in 2011 and helped secure a $10.5 million grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation to open the school. LePage even hosted that press conference and spoke highly of Cummings and the school. Good Will-Hinckley paid Cummings $154,023 in salary plus $13,295 in other compensation in 2013, the latest tax filings available online.

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or:

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Twitter: @PPHEricRussell