AUGUSTA — Outgoing Conservation Commissioner Bill Beardsley moved closer Wednesday to taking a seat on the state Board of Education.

Lawmakers on the Legislature’s Education Committee endorsed Beardsley’s nomination, 6-4, during a relatively brisk confirmation hearing. They asked a handful of questions about his views on public education, charter schools and school choice.

During the hearing, only one panelist, Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, broached the most anticipated topic: Beardsley’s handling of sexual abuse allegations against the Rev. Bob Carlson, a former chaplain at Husson University where Beardsley was president for 22 years.

Beardsley handled Alfond’s inquiry in the same manner he has others on Carlson since an individual told Maine State Police that the former college president knew as early as 2005 that the reverend was “not who he appeared to be” and that students had told Beardsley about abuse.

Beardsley reiterated to lawmakers Wednesday that he had no knowledge of any illegal activity by Carlson.

The well-known reverend committed suicide Nov. 13 after learning that state police were investigating allegations that he sexually abused several children over 40 years.

Beardsley, who was president during Carlson’s nine years at Husson, told the Education Committee that the situation was tragic, but “in my view I dealt with everything appropriately.”

Reps. Alfond, Richard Wagner, D-Lewiston, Mary Nelson, D-Falmouth, and Helen Rankin, D-Hiram, opposed Beardsley’s appointment to the Board of Education. Wagner said later that his opposition was based on unanswered questions about the Carlson case, not on Beardsley’s qualifications as an educator.

During questioning, Alfond asked Beardsley if he considered himself a “mandated reporter,” a reference to a law designed to compel people to report suspected abuse.

Beardsley said he was aware that there were legal protocols when abuse is suspected, and that he would have followed them had he had any knowledge of illegal activity by Carlson.

Questions have surrounded Beardsley’s handling of the Carlson situation ever since the outgoing Department of Conservation commissioner was named in a report published by the state police. In the 104-page report, Beardsley told investigators that he received two phone calls, one in 2005 and another in 2006, that suggested that Carlson had participated in a homosexual relationship.

Beardsley told police that he confronted Carlson after the second caller in 2006 threatened to make the relationship public. Beardsley told the Press Herald in August that he told Carlson that if he had done anything wrong he shouldn’t be on campus, and that the reverend immediately resigned.

Beardsley later acknowledged, when confronted with photographic evidence showing that the reverend continued to participate in activities at Husson, that he had not categorically banned Carlson from campus.

Gov. Paul LePage has expressed “full confidence” in Beardsley. On Wednesday, only Alfond and Wagner raised questions about the Carlson case. Three people testified in support of his nomination and none of them mentioned the issue.

Beardsley said that despite his current position as a subordinate to LePage, he would remain an independent voice on the education board. He said he was a supporter of public education.

Beardsley, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate, has transitioned out of his conservation post since the agency merged with the Department of Agriculture on Aug. 30.

The Education Committee unanimously approved two other LePage nominations to the education board, Peter Geiger of Lewiston and Ande Smith of North Yarmouth.

The nine-member board is an advisory panel that reviews school construction projects and establishes teacher certification standards. Three members also serve on the Charter School Commission, a panel that certifies charter and magnet schools.

The education board appointments must now clear a vote in the full Senate.

Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

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