A bill that leaves it to school boards to decide whether their superintendents must live in the communities where they work won the approval of the Legislature this week, but it remains unclear whether the governor will sign it.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Alan Casavant, D-Biddeford, would let school boards, rather than voter-approved municipal charters, set any residency requirements. Officials in Augusta and Biddeford, two cities with residency requirements in their charters, say the change would provide more flexibility to ensure that school districts can attract qualified superintendents who might not want to relocate.
Gov. Paul LePage has 10 days to sign the bill, veto it or allow it to take effect without his signature. Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s press secretary, said Thursday that she isn’t sure what LePage will do.
“He’ll be taking a look at it very soon,” Bennett said.
Casavant, who also is the mayor of Biddeford and chairman of the city’s school board, submitted the bill after Biddeford residents rejected a charter change in November to eliminate a requirement that the superintendent move to the city within six months of being hired.
Biddeford Superintendent Jeremy Ray, who was hired last year, lives just 1.2 miles from the office, but in neighboring Saco.
Ray knew of the residency requirement when he was hired, but has said he was confident that voters would eliminate the requirement from the city charter. Voters rejected the change by a margin of 1,167 votes — about 12 percentage points.
The Biddeford School Committee gave Ray until December of this year to move to Biddeford. Casavant said that allows the legislation to play out and, if necessary, gives Ray extra time to sell his house.
Casavant said Ray will likely resign if the requirement is not lifted, and that would be a loss for the city. Ray could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The bill, as originally proposed, would have eliminated residency requirements for superintendents, but it was changed to preserve home rule by allowing school boards to make the decision, Casavant said.
“It’s the perfect marriage of opposing needs,” Casavant said. “Now I hope the governor also sees the wisdom in the bill.”
The bill was co-sponsored by three Republicans from Augusta, Sen. Roger Katz, Rep. Matt Pouliot and Rep. Corey Wilson.
Augusta officials may want to hire their interim superintendent, James Anastasio, but he lives in nearby Gardiner.
The bill, L.D. 6, was approved last week in the House without a roll call vote. The Senate passed the bill Tuesday on a 28-6 vote, with one member excused.
Opponents have said the bill circumvents the charter change process and local voters. One of the six senators who opposed it was Sen. David Dutremble, a Democrat from Biddeford. He could not be reached Thursday.
Casavant said requirements that superintendents live in the communities where they work puts cities like Biddeford and Augusta at a “huge disadvantage” because many candidates don’t want to uproot their families or scramble to sell their houses. “If you want to attract young, dynamic superintendents, that (residency requirement) is an obstacle,” Casavant said.
In addition to Augusta and Biddeford, Waterville, Lewiston, Brewer and Presque Isle require superintendents to live in their school districts.
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: