Maine People Before Politics today revealed a shocking conflict of interest at the Portland Press Herald and Maine Today Media, owner of the Herald, Kennebec Journal and Waterville Sentinel.
“While we were initially disappointed with the publishing of an untrue statement and the conspiratorial tone of the recent ‘Special Report’ on digital learning policy published by the Portland Press Herald and Maine Today Media, a newly revealed conflict has blown a hole in the credibility of this report, the investigative reporter and Maine Today Media as a whole,” said Jason Savage, executive director of Maine People Before Politics.
Maine Today Media allowed Colin Woodard to publish a report that attacked two potential applicants to the Maine Charter School Commission without disclosing that his wife sits on the Advisory Board of a competing applicant.
“This is a sad day for the Maine people, the Maine press and for the reputation of investigative reporting in Maine,” said Savage.
Maine Today Media is now partially owned by Donald Sussman, husband of Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and the largest contributor to the Maine Democratic party—an ownership change that took place just before Woodard’s hiring.
“Sussman’s ownership stake might not be proof enough that Woodard would be motivated to launch an attack against the Governor disguised as a report,” said Savage. “Maybe the fact that Woodard’s wife works for Eliot Cutler, who is spending large sums on an organization called One Maine to set up a challenge to Governor Paul LePage for the Blaine House in 2014, might not even provide enough proof. But the fact that his wife stands to gain for her cause directly from his false report is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
“While MPBP supports the opening of the Baxter Academy of Technology and Science, the perception that Colin Woodard, under the guise of journalism, could be attacking competing charter school applicants to clear the road and eliminate competition for his wife’s preferred group is grotesque and must be remedied immediately,” said Savage.
Savage encourages Maine Today to clearly lay out and implement protocols to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again.
The Special Report, titled The Profit Motive Behind Virtual Schools in Maine, purported to be an investigative report covering financial and political connections —one claim has since been retracted—and investigation of two proposed virtual charter schools that had applied to the Maine Charter School Commission for approval to operate in Maine.
The Commission can authorize up to 10 public charter schools throughout the state during the first 10 years of Maine’s charter school law.
Two schools, Cornville Regional Charter School in Cornville and Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Hinckley, have been authorized by the commission to operate in Maine, leaving eight more charters available.
One of the remaining eight open slots is occupied by the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science in Portland, which has been granted conditional approval in the fall of 2013.
In May of 2012, nine groups filed letters of intent to compete for one of the 10 available slots.
According to the Maine Charter School Commission website, six have submitted applications and two have been withdrawn. Three remain outstanding.
The Charter School Commission has now published a Request for Proposals for Charter Schools for the 2013-14 School Year, opening the possibility that an even larger number of charter schools could apply to begin operation in the fall of 2013. This casts doubt on the certainty of future applications, potentially creating a situation where some applicants will be denied due to the number of charters allowed by law.
Proof of the conflict discussed in this press release is available here: http://baxteracademy.org/advisory-board/.
The original article, which includes no disclosure of Woodard’s wife’s connection to the Baxter Academy, can be viewed here: www.pressherald.com/news/virtual-schools-in-maine_2012-09-02.html.