August 14, 2013

Biddeford superintendent to buy condo to keep job

Jeremy Ray, who lives in Saco, must establish residency in Biddeford to comply with a city ordinance.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Superintendent Jeremy Ray plans to buy a condo in Biddeford, a move intended to allow him to keep his job as leader of the city's schools.

Ray, who lives in Saco, must establish residency by December to comply with a city ordinance that requires the superintendent be a resident of Biddeford.

The city is one of six municipalities in Maine with a residency requirement for superintendents.

Ray said Wednesday he is in the process of buying a condo in Biddeford and is hopeful the transaction will be complete by December.

"I will be a taxpayer of Biddeford," he said, declining to elaborate on other details, including whether his family will move from their house in Saco.

After he was hired last year, Ray had six months to establish residency. The school board later voted to extend that time until December to allow the Legislature to consider a rule change proposed by Mayor Alan Casavant, who also is a state representative.

Ray accepted the Biddeford position with full knowledge of the residency requirement, but a proposed ordinance change to eliminate the requirement was pending with voters.

That change was rejected last November, prompting Casavant to introduce legislation to eliminate the requirement.

The legislation, which was amended to give school boards the authority to override residency requirements, was passed by both the House and Senate, but later vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage.

Casavant, who serves as chairman of the school board, said Biddeford's residency requirement limits the city's ability to attract high-caliber candidates.

"Many superintendents living in cities which have residency requirements in the state simply rent an apartment to fulfill the definition of residency," Casavant wrote in a letter to constituents. "Mr. Ray has chosen not to go that route, and instead wants to purchase space so that he, too, can be a taxpayer. I think that says a good deal about his character and integrity."

Casavant said Ray -- who lives a mile from his office -- has already proven himself to be a member of the community by shopping locally, attending after-school activities and going to community events.

Despite criticism by some residents that he went against voters' will by proposing the legislation, Casavant said he stands by his decision and would do it again.

"My greatest fear was, and remains, that our inability to attract the most qualified superintendents because of our charter language would lead us to instead be forced to choose between 'double-dippers' or those of poor quality," Casavant said.

Casavant said he has no plans to again try to change Biddeford's requirement, but feels it will continue to be an issue every time the city has to hire a new superintendent.

Ray said he will establish residency in Biddeford because "I love working here."

School board member Bil Moriarty said he is "thrilled" by Ray's decision to buy a condo in Biddeford.

"I think (Ray) buying the condo basically finishes (the residency requirement) and we should be able to move on to bigger and better things," Moriarty said.

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@mainetoday.com

Twitter: grahamgillian

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