Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill Tuesday that would allow school boards in Maine to decide whether their superintendents must live in the communities where they work. The bill, which has bipartisan support in the Legislature, is of particular concern to Biddeford and Augusta, whose city charters require superintendents to live in those cities.

Officials from both cities say they fear they could lose their superintendents – each one lives in a neighboring city – unless the Legislature overrides the governor’s veto. Voting on the governor’s veto is tentatively scheduled for Thursday. An override requires two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate.

In his veto message to the Legislature, LePage said, “State government should not lightly put itself above the decisions of local voters when it comes to their municipal charters. This bill would override the decisions of Maine voters who have intentionally added these requirements to their charters. That is not something I can support.”

According to the House Democratic Office, L.D. 6 was enacted by votes of 115-22 in the House and 28-6 in the Senate. Its chief sponsor is Rep. Alan Casavant, a Democrat from Biddeford who is also the city’s mayor and school board chair.

The bill is co-sponsored by Republicans including Sen. Roger Katz, Rep. Matthew Pouliot and Rep. Corey Wilson, all of Augusta. Supporters of the bill say that unless the Legislature overrides the governor’s veto, school boards may have to choose less qualified applicants or so-called double dippers – retired superintendents who are looking to re-enter the work force.

The city charters in Biddeford, Augusta, Waterville, Lewiston, Brewer and Presque Isle require superintendents to live in their school districts.

“This bill puts the authority for decisions about superintendents back where it belongs: with local elected school officials,” Casavant said in a statement issued Tuesday. “They know that to do right by the children they serve, they need to attract the most qualified superintendent candidates.”

Casavant said he is concerned that Biddeford’s first-year superintendent, Jeremy Ray, may leave unless the bill is passed. That would leave the city scrambling to find a qualified superintendent who is willing to move to Biddeford.

Ray was given an extension to meet the city’s residency requirement by Dec. 3 of this year. If the bill fails, he said, he is not sure what he will do.

Ray, 36, is a former Westbrook school administrator who bought a home in Saco eight years ago. He was hired as Biddeford’s superintendent about eight months ago.

“This is a difficult situation because I love the city of Biddeford, I love my job, and the district is going places,” Ray said Tuesday night.

Pouliot, the Republican state representative, said Augusta’s interim superintendent, James Anastasio, is in a similar predicament. Anastasio’s contract expires Dec. 31 and is up for renewal, but he lives in Gardiner.

“He’d have to sell his home and move to Augusta in order to stay on,” said Pouliot, who works as a Realtor. “It doesn’t make sense.”

In November, Biddeford voters rejected a proposal to change the city charter to eliminate the residency requirement.

“My concerns are especially strong when it comes to Biddeford, where the voters had this issue directly before them and chose to keep these charter provisions,” LePage said in his veto message. “I have received scores of letters from them encouraging this veto and I am acting today on their behalf.”

 

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: dhoey@mainetoday.com