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February 5, 2004

Baxter victims plead for more funds

From: Press Herald, ME - Feb 5, 2004

By TESS NACELEWICZ, Portland Press Herald Writer

AUGUSTA — It will be hard for the state to come up with an additional $6 million in a tight budget year to compensate former students who were physically and sexually abused at the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf.

But the head of the state authority in charge of compensating the victims told lawmakers Wednesday that it may be good for the state to feel some pain. Mainers, said John Shattuck, director of the Baxter Compensation Authority, should be reminded that they must never again let such abuse happen to children under the state's care.

"It should be painful for the state so we don't forget it," Shattuck told the Legislature's Appropriations Committee.

Shattuck was among a group of more than 100 former students and advocates for the deaf who attended a public hearing on a bill to add $6 million to a fund for victims abused at Baxter and its predecessor, the Maine School for the Deaf.

The $6 million that lawmakers allocated two years ago has been used up and only about one-third of the 240 registered claimants have received compensation. As many as 100 more former students are expected to file claims before the filing deadline in 2006.

The overriding message of the more than 20 speakers who addressed the committee during the emotional three-hour hearing was that the state must find the money to make good on its pledge made three years ago to compensate those who suffered. Lawmakers acknowledged in 2001, when they set up the Baxter Compensation Authority, that the initial $6 million in funding would not be sufficient.

"You people got money for different things, you got money to pay this off," said Donald Boilard of Waterboro, who said that as a student at Baxter in the early 1960s he was beaten by the superintendent until he passed out.

After Boilard spoke, former students enthusiastically applauded him in a way favored by the deaf - by raising their arms and shaking their hands.

Boilard described his time at Baxter, on Mackworth Island in Falmouth, as a "living hell." Former students who attended Baxter, or the Maine School for the Deaf in Portland, tell stories of abuse dating back to the 1940s.

Lois Galgay Reckitt, a member of the board of directors of the Baxter Compensation Authority and executive director of Family Crisis Services, said she has worked for 25 years with victims of domestic violence, yet the Baxter students' stories still shocked her.

A mental health therapist said Wednesday that the abuse ranged from hitting and punching to some students having their genitals hit with a whip and being hung naked from a tree.

Reckitt told lawmakers: "I know there is no money, but there must be money for this if for nothing else."

Some students complained of the abuse at the time, but school officials always denied it. Finally, in 1982, an investigation by the Attorney General's Office found that physical and sexual abuse had occurred. It named Superintendent Joseph P. Youngs, now deceased, and the school's principal, Robert E. Kelly, as the primary abusers.

Both men resigned but denied the allegations. No criminal charges were brought, in part because the statute of limitations had expired.

Jonathan Connick, executive director of the Maine Center on Deafness, complained that Kelly, who is living in Florida, has been receiving a state pension. Connick calculated he has been paid $220,000 so far, yet the top award for victims is only $100,000.

Shattuck said a compensation panel that began work last year had heard 94 cases as of Wednesday and granted awards to 91 former students. Award levels are $25,000, $60,000 and $100,000, and average $56,000. The panel is continuing to hear about 10 cases a month and make awards, but has run out of funds to pay for them, he said.

The Appropriations Committee will hold a work session at 1 p.m. Wednesday in Room 228 of the State House to consider the funding request.

Committee members quizzed Shattuck and others about the authority's administrative costs, and said they want answers at the work session to such questions as whether the estates of now-deceased former students can make claims.

Rep. Joseph Brannigan, D-Portland, co-chairman of the committee, asked Shattuck if he had any ideas as to "where the people of Maine should look for money in a painful way."

Lawmakers labored last week to address a shortfall of more than $100 million in the current state budget, and another hole is expected in the supplemental budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Shattuck, who said the authority expects to return to the Legislature next year to ask for another $6 million, said he had no suggestions.

Still, Brannigan assured the victims: "We will do what is right." He said afterward that he believes "we have an obligation to continue funding at some level."

Gov. John Baldacci has not yet submitted his supplemental budget for the new fiscal year, so committee members said they don't know whether he'll include money for compensation.

Lee Umphrey, Baldacci's spokesman, said later on Wednesday that the Baxter funding is "one of things that is being considered" for the governor's budget.

Staff Writer Tess Nacelewicz can be contacted at 791- 6367 or at:

Copyright © 2004 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.