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Maine Superintendents Urge LePage to Appoint Permanent Education Chief

The organization representing Maine’s school superintendents says Gov. Paul LePage should pick a permanent education commissioner. According to a letter from the Maine School Superintendents Association, the department suffers from a lack of leadership, creating confusion among the agency’s staff.

The Maine Department of Education has not had a permanent education commissioner since Jim Rier left the agency late in 2014 for health reasons. And LePage’s pick for the job, Bill Beardsley, has been ensnared in the governor’s ongoing dispute with the Legislature, which confirms agency chiefs.

Steven Bailey, the new president for the Maine School Superintendents Association, says the uncertainty at DOE has created instability among agency staffers. And that’s not good, he says, for school officials who rely upon the DOE for policy and rule guidance.

“They are trying to create and develop a more stable staff underneath the commissioner, but there’s even uncertainty in the department, in terms of who’s going to be there and who we should be calling to be able to get advice and answers for our districts,” Bailey says.

In a June 30 letter to the governor, Bailey wrote that the leadership void has created confusion at the agency, which school leaders consult for a range of important issues, including compliance with state and federal rules, distribution of education funding and student transfers.

The LePage administration did not respond to a request for comment. The governor has said that he plans to keep Beardsley in place through the duration of his term as governor. He withdrew the former Husson University president from the confirmation process earlier this year when some Democrats signaled that they wouldn’t support him. The governor has since attempted to circumvent the Legislature to keep Beardsley at the helm.

But doing so has required a number of title swaps, that given Beardsley limited power to carry out his duties. In May the juggling resulted in a missed deadline to implement two new rules, one detailing how students are identified for special education services; another for immunization requirements for school children. Both rules lapsed because Beardsley was not authorized to sign them.

Bailey says school superintendents are hoping for a permanent commissioner.

“It’s not about the individual. It’s about having a process in place that can be followed so we can end up with a finally naming a permanent commissioner,” Bailey says.