AUGUSTA, Maine — The chairman of the Good Will-Hinckley board of directors told lawmakers on a government watchdog panel Thursday that Gov. Paul LePage’s threat to withhold state funding because of the school’s hiring of Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves placed the school’s existence in jeopardy.

Good Will-Hinckley Chairman Jack Moore, in lengthy questioning by the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee on Thursday morning, said LePage’s threat to withhold $530,000 in state funding under the governor’s discretion likely would have caused Good Will-Hinckley to lose millions in grant funding from the Harold Alfond Foundation.

“We didn’t need the letter from the Alfond Foundation to know we were in trouble with the funding there. … Throughout this process we were focused on fulfilling our fiduciary duties,” Moore said. “We could not have been doing that by going down the road to a series of defaults that could put Good Will-Hinckley in question. It would have been imprudent for us to just wait for the chips to fall.”

Moore’s testimony confirmed much of what has been uncovered by the media and the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability: That by threatening the funding, LePage, his staff and acting Education Commissioner Tom Desjardin were directly responsible for Good Will-Hinckley’s board canceling a $120,000 per year employment contract with Eves. Eves has since filed a federal civil lawsuit against LePage, who has not denied that he leveraged the state funding to force Eves out.

Moore said that in addition to a handwritten note from LePage that called Eves a “hack,” which Moore said he threw away, and a formal letter written by the governor in early June, communications to the board’s interim president raised a major “red flag” about the funding.

“The red flag came from our interim president, Richard Abramson, who did get a call or a direct communication from the governor,” Moore said. “We felt if we didn’t have the funding, that could very potentially trigger a series of events that could conceivably result in the school closing down. That is why as fiduciaries we as a board took the steps that we did.”

Moore said the board, which oversees a public charter school called the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, thought unanimously that Eves was highly qualified for the job.

“The speaker is a good speaker, and that was a skill set that was attractive to us,” Moore said. “We thought he could probably raise money. … We have a great staff that can manage the on-campus happenings. We needed someone who was outward-facing.”

Thursday’s hearing was expected to last for much of the day. Dozens of onlookers were present, many of whom intended to talk during the public comment portion of the proceedings.

Watch for updates.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.