FAIRFIELD — The Good Will-Hinckley board of directors’ decision to withdraw a job offer to Mark Eves shows students that it’s OK to give in to bullies and that money trumps values, alumni of the charter school, overseen by the organization, and parents of students said Monday.

But the chairman of the board of directors reiterated that the decision to withdraw the offer to hire Eves, the speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, as the organization’s president was “in the best interest of the students.”

Leann Hewey, 19, of Cornville, told the Morning Sentinel Monday that the pressure put on the board by Gov. Paul LePage to retract the offer to Eves was a clear case of bullying, and the takeaway for students would be that education and skills might not guarantee success.

“I think it shows you can be qualified for the job and still someone can not like you and just push you out,” said Hewey, a 2013 graduate of the Maine Academy for Natural Sciences, which is overseen by the nonprofit Good Will-Hinckley.

Jennifer Grant, whose son Robert was in the first graduating class of the academy, said that she worried that after the Eves episode, parents might not have the same kind of respect for the school they might have had if the board had stood up to the governor’s threats.

“I think it will be harder for them to trust the school because it chose money over what it believed in,” she said. “The power of the dollar changed what they thought was right.”

Christopher Cooper, whose son attended Good Will-Hinckley in the 1990s when it was a school for troubled youths, said, “My disappointment is that the people on this board have tried to make the controversy and the press attention go away at the cost of reneging on their promise to the kids. Cowardice, that’s what it looked like to me.”

He said that even if students aren’t paying attention to the unfolding controversy, management still should “do the right thing and set a good example.”

“Are you going to let the governor shove you around, or are you going to stand up for the kids? That’s the question,” he said.

Chairman of the Board Jack Moore said in a telephone interview Monday that he had no further comment on the issue aside from he just needed “to let this thing die” and every decision made by the board was in “the best interest of the students.”

In a written statement later Monday, he repeated the board’s stance that “We decided to keep the school open so all of our current and future students would continue to have a place to learn lessons and improve their lives.

“As fiduciaries faced with the loss of state and significant private funding, the very real financial consequences for the school made the board’s unanimous decision on June 24 black and white.”

Three weeks ago, the Good Will-Hinckley board announced that it had selected Eves as the school’s next president in a unanimous vote. Eves was to start his new job Wednesday.

The board abruptly withdrew its offer to Eves Wednesday after LePage threatened to pull funding from the academy, the state’s first charter school.

LePage acknowledged Monday to reporters that he threatened to pull $530,000 in annual funding from Good Will-Hinckley because he didn’t believe Eves, who has opposed charter school legislation, was the right fit for the private nonprofit academy.

“Yeah, I did,” he said. “If I could, I would. Absolutely. Why wouldn’t I? Tell me why I wouldn’t take the taxpayer money to prevent somebody to go into a school and destroy it.”

Robert Grant, 20, Jennifer Grant’s son who was in the first graduating class at Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in 2013, said Monday that the board had hired Eves because it thought he could provide good leadership, but dropped him before he could prove himself.

“They should have at least given him a chance to do something before booting him out,” he said. “It wasn’t a good message they sent with that one.”

Hewey, who is Grant’s girlfriend, said, “It’s unfair. It’s really unfair. They didn’t even give him a chance to contribute.”

Founded in the 1890s, the school has offered a residential education and social experience for generations of at-risk youth. In 2009, the school shut down its core service because of financial problems, but in 2011 it opened the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, which became the state’s first charter school the next year. The organization also operates the Glenn Stratton Learning Center, a day program for students with significant social-emotional and behavioral challenges, and the L.C. Bates Museum.

Cooper, of Alna, brought his son Graydon to Good Will-Hinckley in the late 1990s after the 15-year-old’s behavior threatened to tear the family apart.

Cooper said the program at Good Will-Hinckley did more than his family could have done alone.

In the three years he was at the school, his son, along with hundreds of other students, was exposed to the values that founder George Hinckley believed were necessary to make a good and useful citizen: integrity, decency, and honesty, Cooper wrote in his June 25 letter to the board.

“I am disappointed and disgusted that those of you who now are chosen to guide this wonderful institution cannot live up to these simple values in our present time,” Cooper wrote.

By backing down under LePage’s threat to pull funding, the board made the school “appear no different than any other cheap and self-interested player in the tawdry games of our corrupted age,” he wrote. “Your moral collapse when assaulted by a serial abuser of power and a man of increasingly obvious instability is shameful.”

But at least one parent of a student at the school wholeheartedly agreed with the board’s decision and said the school isn’t the same one that helped Cooper’s son.

Karen Corson, of Athens, whose son is entering his senior year at the academy, said she was unhappy with Eves after hearing him talk about his new role in a television interview. Eves made what she thought were disparaging remarks about the school that weren’t in line with how it currently works, Corson said.

In remarks to WCSH 6 after he was picked to lead the nonprofit organization, Eves referenced the school’s 125 years of helping at-risk students who have “had a rough start.”

“I didn’t like how I heard Mark Eves talk about Good Will-Hinckley students because he talked about them like they weren’t going to achieve, like they were still back in the day when they were a school that targeted children that were troubled, not going to amount to anything,” Corson said.

“It pissed me off to no end that they hired someone that didn’t know anything about the school,” she said.

Good Will-Hinckley is no longer just a school for troubled kids, Corson said. Her son has gone to the school since he was a freshman and never got in any trouble, she said. Now, he is “reaching his potential,” and she had no doubt he would “keep on soaring.”

When she heard that the Good Will-Hinckley board had rescinded Eves’ offer, she was very pleased, especially after she learned that he had made previous statements criticizing charter schools, one of the reasons LePage said he was opposed to Eves’ appointment.

“I actually praised the Lord,” Corson said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire


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