February 13

Acting commissioner endorsed for Maine’s top education post

Lawmakers also give Jim Rier an ovation for his many years of service as they send his nomination to the Senate.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Acting Education Commissioner Jim Rier won unanimous endorsement to be named to the position permanently – and a standing ovation – from the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

click image to enlarge

Acting Education Commissioner Jim Rier testifies at his confirmation hearing Wednesday before a legislative committee. “I’m excited to continue my work in this role,” he said. “I simply can’t wait to show up to work every day.”

Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“I’m excited to continue my work in this role,” Rier told the committee members. “I simply can’t wait to show up to work every day.”

The nomination now goes to the Senate for approval.

Each committee member who spoke Wednesday prefaced their remarks with praise for Rier’s service.

“I have enormous respect for your ability and helpfulness,” said Rep. Peter Johnson, R-Greenville.

“I deeply admire your competence and humanity and have no reservations at all about this nomination,” said Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor.

Rier emphasized his devotion to working in education, from being a school board member in Machias, to serving on the state Board of Education, to his work today. At one point, when asked what he would have done differently, he joked that he would “have started all this earlier” instead of running a family business.

“I am enthusiastic about working with (the committee), Governor LePage and our education partners to foster a collaborative environment,” Rier said.

Rier has been the acting head of the Education Department since October, after former Commissioner Stephen Bowen left to take a position at a national organization that formulates education policy.

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 said his top priorities going forward are to execute on many of the recent education mandates, including implementing proficiency-based diplomas, standards-based education and educator-effectiveness standards.

“The list goes on, but those are some of the major areas,” Rier said. “I’m very excited; it’s the next evolution of the teamwork we have.”

Rier, a former Buick engineer who led a family dealership in Machias, has been actively involved in state education for years.

He served two terms on the state Board of Education, and was chairman from 1997 to 2000. He joined the Department of Education in 2003 as director of finance and operations, and was named deputy commissioner in 2011.

Rier noted Wednesday that during his time on the state Board of Education he worked on developing the Maine Learning Standards and creating the Essential Programs and Services funding formula.

“I believe that experience still influences me today,” he said.

He is known as an expert on the state’s education funding formula and also led an initiative under Democratic Gov. John Baldacci to consolidate school districts.

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.

As commissioner, Rier would oversee a department of about 150 employees and an annual budget of more than $1.1 billion.

Rier has said increasing efficiency and being better able to serve the school districts are top priorities for him.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

ngallagher@pressherald.com

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