AUGUSTA — The board of Good Will-Hinckley School withdrew its job offer to House Speaker Mark Eves just days before he was slated to begin serving as the institution’s new president, after Gov. Paul LePage reportedly threatened to withhold state funding for the school.

While the school said Wednesday the board of directors had “voted to seek a new direction for the institution’s leadership” in order to avoid “political controversy,” Eves’ attorney said the House Speaker had been “terminated … without cause” and hinted at legal action against the governor.

Eves, meanwhile, released a statement accusing LePage of “blackmailing” the school for at-risk youths by threatening to cut $500,000 in state funding, which potentially could cause the loss of another $2 million in private funding.

“The governor knows that these financial losses would put the school out of business, but he has refused to back down,” said Eves, D-North Berwick. “This is an abuse of power that jeopardizes Maine children. The Governor’s actions represent the worst kind of vendetta politics Maine has ever seen. If it goes unchecked, no legislator will feel safe in voting his conscience for fear that the Governor will go after the legislator’s family and livelihood.”

Good Will-Hinckley, in Fairfield, announced June 9 that it had hired Eves as the school’s new president despite a last-minute intercession by LePage. On Wednesday, board Chairman Jack Moore announced the decision to withdraw the offer to Eves, who was scheduled to begin July 1.

“The basis for this decision is 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,” Moore said in a prepared statement. “Good Will-Hinckley has a very dedicated staff. The Board’s first priority is to act in the best interest of students and educators alike and the Board’s actions reflect its unwavering commitment to them.”


LePage’s office did not respond to several requests for comment Wednesday evening.

Moore said Good Will-Hinckley’s board would not comment any further on the decision, but added that the school immediately was launching a new search for a president.

For more than a century, Good Will-Hinckley operated as a private boarding school for at-risk children. It temporarily closed its core operations for financial reasons in June 2009, 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.

In addition to the charter school, the Good Will-Hinckley campus in Fairfield includes the Glenn Stratton Learning Center, the L.C. Bates Museum, the College Step-up Program and the Carnegie Library.

Details were still emerging Wednesday evening about the funding issue. But a letter sent to Moore from the Harold Alfond Foundation — a major donor to Good Will-Hinckley — that was obtained by the Portland Press Herald refers to “the likely loss of $1,060,000 in state funding over the next two years” for residential programs at the school.

“First, we want to express the serious concern of the Harold Alfond Foundation regarding the future financial viability of (Good Will-Hinckley), given the likely state funding loss,” reads the letter from the foundation’s Gregory Powell. Powell goes on to say that the foundation was reviewing the school’s “budget and financial forecasts,” noting that $2,750,000 of $5.5 million in potential grants from the foundation were contingent on the school achieving enrollment and other performance goals.


LePage had written a scathing letter to the school’s two board chairmen, attacking Eves’ qualifications and urging the school not to hire Eves, largely because he was a critic of charter schools.

“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,” LePage wrote in early June. He went on to level personal criticisms at Eves, questioning his skills and saying he had not dealt honestly with LePage while working on the state budget.

“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.

In response to LePage’s letter, Eves acknowledged that he was not a strong supporter of charter schools and continued to have reservations about them. But he said his commitment to aiding children with troubled backgrounds outweighed those concerns.

Eves also declined to criticize LePage for intervening in his hiring.

“He’s been a great supporter of the school,” Eves said on June 9. “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.”


Eves’ attorney, David Webbert, said Wednesday evening that litigation against the governor is a possibility, adding “there seems to be strong evidence of a civil rights claim.”

“Under the First Amendment, the governor is clearly prohibited from using the money of our state government to exact revenge on public officials because they do not vote the way the governor wants,” Webbert said in an additional statement. “This is not how Maine’s system of government is supposed to work. The governor’s tyrannical behavior threatens our democratic institutions.”

The incident, if true, is the latest example of how LePage has grown increasingly bold as he pursues his policy agenda as well as targets his opponents. The governor has berated and insulted lawmakers from both parties — including members of the Republican leadership — in recent months and has threatened to veto all legislation sent to his desk.

This is the second time this year that an education leader has been forced to step down because the governor threatened to withhold funding. In January, John Fitzsimmons, president of the Maine Community College System, resigned after LePage demanded his ouster and flat-funded the system in his budget.

The tactics have infuriated Democrats and caused considerable angst within Republican ranks at the State House. Among those critics is Sen. Roger Katz, a moderate Republican from Augusta who has clashed several times with LePage.

Katz said Wednesday night that LePage’s reported intervention “goes beyond the political.”


“There is no question Mark is qualified to lead the school,” Katz wrote in an email. “This is personal, angry and vindictive. I sometimes don’t agree with the Speaker, but he is a fine and honest man. More importantly, he is a husband and the father of three beautiful young kids who is trying to support his family. Political battles are one thing. Trying to ruin someone is quite another. This is unprecedented. Where does it all end?”

Eves, a licensed family counselor who has operated a private practice in York County for years and has worked with both at-risk youths as well as families, received a strong endorsement from the Good Will-Hinckley board despite LePage’s criticism.

“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,” Moore said at the time.

Webbert, the employment law specialist who is representing Eves, is no stranger to conflict with LePage. In 2013 Webbert filed a complaint against the governor with the U.S. Department of Labor, after LePage summoned a group of unemployment claims hearing officers to a Blaine House luncheon and berated them for allegedly deciding too many appeals cases in favor of workers.

In a review released in February 2014, the Labor Department effectively upheld the complaint, saying LePage’s action endangered the fair-hearing process. The agency said it would be monitoring Maine’s performance in unemployment appeals to ensure that all parties were treated fairly.

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