AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul Le Page named the Department of Education’s longtime finance director Tuesday to be the acting education commissioner.
Jim Rier of Topsham has been the education department’s finance director since 2003. He will fill in for Stephen Bowen, who stepped down as education commissioner in September to take a position at a national organization that formulates education policy.
Rier is known as an expert on the state’s education funding formula and its $2.1 billion education budget. He also led an initiative under Democratic Gov. John Baldacci to consolidate school districts.
Education has been a priority for the LePage administration, which launched an aggressive reform agenda that has included opening the state to charter schools, issuing A-to-F report cards for public schools and instituting an evaluation system for teachers and administrators. The administration has failed in its efforts to introduce school choice and allow the use of public funds for religious schools.
Rier, and a permanent commissioner to be named later, will face the task of implementing those reforms, in addition to leading new initiatives proposed by the administration.
Rier said his top priority is continuing the ongoing organizational changes in the department to increase efficiency and transparency. The changes include a new online data warehouse and efforts to enhance the department staff’s ability to work directly with schools.
“I want to be able to support the work Commissioner Bowen did … restructuring how we apply the staff we have to (do) the work we have to do,” Rier said. “It was one of the most significant things he did and I’m very anxious to continue that work.”
In the LePage administration, Rier has helped to implement school funding reforms. The LePage administration credited him with overseeing daily operations of the department, teacher certification, data management and auditing.
“With Jim’s expertise in fiscal responsibility and his leadership of improved operations, I am confident the department is in very capable hands,” said LePage said in a prepared statement Tuesday.
Rier served two terms on the state Board of Education, and is credited with leading an effort to change the state’s school construction process.
Rier is likely a temporary replacement for Bowen. LePage said in his statement Tuesday that the administration is reviewing candidates to be the next commissioner.
House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said in a statement that Rier “has been consistently available to legislators and understands the school funding formula well, which is a major asset in an Education Department leader. … I hope that when a more permanent appointment is made, the governor will choose someone with classroom experience to lead the department.”
Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher contributed to this report.