On Tuesday, the nonpartisan Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA) released its highly anticipated report on the Good Will-Hinckley controversy. Investigators concluded that the LePage administration had taken steps to withdraw $530,000 in state funding unless the charter school rescinded a job offer it had extended to Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves, though Governor LePage’s personal involvement remains unclear.
OPEGA director Beth Ashcroft said that the Governor’s intentions to stymie Speaker Eves’ hiring were plain. The report reveals that Acting Education Commissioner Tom Desjardin told OPEGA that a meeting he had with the Governor shortly after news broke of Eves’ selection amounted to a “venting session.” LePage’s displeasure was also communicated to Good Will-Hinckley in the form of a “scathing” letter that accused school officials of “political patronage,” a charge that investigators dismissed after reviewing the school’s hiring practices and concluding that Speaker Eves’ credentials were thoroughly scrutinized before the job offer was made.
Soon after learning that Speaker Eves had been offered employment, the Governor and his surrogates warned school officials that Good Will-Hinckley might lose LePage’s “support” if it didn’t reverse its decision. The report states that school administrators “clearly understood the Governor’s ‘support’ to mean the $530,000” in state funding for the upcoming biennium. Shortly thereafter, Acting Education Commissioner Desjardin withdrew a regular quarterly payment to Good Will-Hinckley, though investigators were unable to link the Commissioner’s decision to a explicit directive from the Governor.
Ashcroft said Good Will-Hinckley’s state funding for this year and next has been restored, and that the school has agreed to gradually reduce its dependency on government funding in the years ahead.
The report is the result of an investigation launched in early July at the behest of the Government Oversight Committee. OPEGA investigators interviewed staff from the Department of Education, Good Will-Hinckley and some of the school’s private funding sources. The Governor’s staff declined to participate, citing a pending lawsuit by Speaker Eves.
The legislative and judicial ramifications of the report are uncertain. Several Democratic members of the House of Representatives are considering launching impeachment proceedings against LePage, but the effort would likely be defeated in the Republican-controlled Senate. The details revealed in the report could also be used to bolster the lawsuits Speaker Eves has filed against LePage. David Webber, Eves’ attorney, said that the report “confirms that the Governor engaged in blackmail to get Speaker Eves fired without cause.”
The Government Oversight Committee will hold a hearing to discuss the matter on October 15; members of the public are welcome to attend.