Thursday, April 17, 2014
After months of uncertainty, Biddeford Superintendent Jeremy Ray must decide whether to move to Biddeford or give up the job he has held since last summer.
Biddeford Superintendent Jeremy Ray
"I'm not sure what my future holds at this point," Ray said Wednesday, a day after the Legislature upheld the governor's veto of a bill that would have allowed school boards to decide whether superintendents must live in the districts they lead.
Because of Biddeford's requirement that the superintendent live in the city, Ray has until December to move from Saco to Biddeford.
He said he knew about the residency requirement when he took the job but had the impression that the issue would be resolved.
He was initially given six months to move, then the school board extended that period to December.
Though Ray has not decided what to do, the School Committee is preparing for the possibility that it will have to find a new superintendent.
The committee voted Tuesday to set aside $35,000 in next year's budget to pay for moving costs if the district has to hire a new superintendent.
The School Committee has not otherwise discussed the ramifications of the bill's failure or what it could do to keep Ray.
Biddeford is one of six municipalities in Maine with charters that require superintendents to live in their school districts.
Opponents of that requirement, including state Rep. Alan Casavant of Biddeford, say it makes hiring good superintendents even harder because candidates are hesitant to uproot their families.
After Biddeford voters rejected a charter change that would have eliminated the city's rule, Casavant submitted the bill, L.D. 6, to prohibit cities and towns from requiring residency.
Casavant -- who also is the mayor of Biddeford and chairman of the School Committee -- said he submitted the bill at the committee's urging.
The bill was later amended to authorize school boards to make the decisions.
The bill passed easily, with a 115-22 vote in the House and a 28-6 vote in the Senate, but was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage.
Many House Republicans who initially supported the bill switched to support the governor's veto in voting on Tuesday.
"I was disappointed in the vote because it was so overwhelming the first time," said Superintendent Ray. "I was surprised so many people changed their mind, but that's how our country is set up. It's true democracy."
Casavant and School Committee members aren't sure what will happen next.
They're wondering whether they could have done more to explain to Biddeford voters why they wanted to eliminate the residency requirement. The change, proposed in November, failed by 1,167 votes.
"As a school committee we failed Superintendent Ray," said Bil Moriarty, a committee member. "We did not communicate how important this charter change is for the district."
During Biddeford's last search for a superintendent, several potential candidates called for information about the job, but the city never heard from them again after they were told of the residency requirement, Casavant said.
"My great fear is we're going to lose our superintendent, and that will be devastating to the community," Casavant said. "If we have no ability to attract the best and most creative candidate, we're at a huge disadvantage."
Casavant, who was frustrated by the Legislature's vote to uphold the veto after it showed bipartisan support for his bill, has faced a political backlash for proposing the legislation. Critics in Biddeford have told him he disregarded the will of the voters.
"The bottom line is, if I had to do it all over again, I would do it all over again," Casavant said.
Ryan Fecteau, who served on the charter commission that recommended the rule change, did not favor eliminating the residency requirement.
He said LePage "got it right with this veto" because Biddeford voters made clear in November that "they value a superintendent who lives in the city."
He questioned Casavant's move to submit legislation because it "circumvents the electoral results and the purpose of the city charter, even though I understand the good intention of trying to retain Superintendent Ray."
While Casavant and School Committee members figure out their next step, Ray faces a difficult decision.
He lives in a neighborhood he loves that is 1.2 miles from his office and is home to neighbors who have become extremely close to his 3-year-old son.
The neighborhood also provides easy access to the Maine Turnpike for his wife, a teacher who commutes to Westbrook.
Ray said he wants to keep his job in Biddeford because "there's not one thing I dislike about the community and this school department."
Casavant said he would like to see Ray stay in Biddeford because he is an innovative leader with strong financial skills to deal with the district's budget issues.
Casavant said Ray is often at school events and has become so much a part of the community that "his little kid wants to grow up to be a Tiger."
"To me, Jeremy is part of Biddeford," said Moriarty, the School Committee member. "We talk as a city about how we're Biddeford and Saco, that we're one community. Yes, he lives in Saco, but he shops here in Biddeford and goes to all the same games we do. His family is part of the community."
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: