Gov. Paul LePage wasted little time expressing concerns about the hiring of House Speaker Mark Eves to the top post at a charter school, but a report released Tuesday said it's unclear if the governor personally communicated a threat to withhold a state payment from the school.
The report prepared for the Legislature's Government Oversight Committee found ample evidence that LePage opposed Eves' hiring, noting that the governor called the school on the day he learned of it to indicate his "support" was now in question. The acting education commissioner underscored the administration's anger over Eves' hiring by withholding a quarterly payment, the report said.
Eves, a Democrat, accused the Republican governor of blackmailing the school's board into firing him by threatening to withhold $500,000 from Good Will-Hinckley, which operates the charter school.
The governor declined to participate in the report, citing a lawsuit filed by Eves. LePage previously said he opposed Eves' hiring because he was unqualified and had fought charter schools in the past.
Eves would have become president of the school on July 1. Good Will-Hinckley Board Chairman Jack Moore said it decided to hire someone else because the institution didn't want a "political controversy."
The report indicated that the state funding was important.
The loss of state funds would have cost Good Will-Hinckley another $2 million in private dollars, potentially triggering an eventual default on a loan for which the 10,000-acre campus was used for collateral.
In the uproar over Eves' firing, LePage allegedly sent a handwritten note to the chairman of Good Will-Hinckley, but it was unclear what the governor said. The report acknowledged the note's existence.
Moore told investigators that the note included a passage along the lines of, "I would have trouble supporting Hinckley if you hire such a hack," said Beth Ashcroft, director of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, which launched the fact-finding investigation at the request of lawmakers.
Funding for Good Will-Hinckley has been restored for this year and the next year, following the firing of Eves, Ashcroft told lawmakers. The Good Will-Hinckley board has signed an agreement with the state to wean itself from state funding over time.
LePage's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.
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