Tuesday, March 11, 2014
BIDDEFORD - Superintendent Jeremy Ray lives 1.2 miles from the office, but he finds himself on the wrong side of both the river and a local requirement that the school superintendent live in the city where he works.
Ray, a Saco resident who was hired last summer to lead the school department, knew about the requirement to live in Biddeford when he accepted the job, but he also was aware of a proposed charter change to eliminate the rule.
"I was fairly confident from what I was hearing that this wouldn't be an issue with voters," he said.
But voters rejected the proposed change by a margin of 1,167 votes. Now, the Legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit towns from placing a residency requirement on superintendents.
After Biddeford voters rejected the charter amendment in November, Rep. Alan Casavant -- who also is mayor of Biddeford and chairman of the school board -- sponsored legislation to prohibit residency requirements for superintendents. Only six communities in Maine -- Biddeford, Augusta, Waterville, Lewiston, Brewer and Presque Isle -- require superintendents to live in their respective cities.
The bill, L.D. 6, is co-sponsored by Augusta Republicans Sen. Roger Katz, Rep. Matt Pouliot and Rep. Corey Wilson. The Legislature's Education and Cultural Affairs Committee heard testimony last week on the bill from several supporters, but no one spoke in opposition. The bill was tabled while an analyst gathers information to address questions about overlapping language in different statutes, Casavant said.
Casavant said Biddeford is not alone in dealing with limitations that come from the residency requirement. It can be hard to find a highly qualified candidate from a shrinking pool of superintendents because of the requirement, he said. In Augusta, city officials would like to permanently hire the interim superintendent, but he lives in near-by Gardiner.
Casavant said that while Biddeford residents did vote against the residency requirement, he doesn't know if they truly understood why the change was requested.
"It's the nuances of the implications I don't think I or anyone else really transmitted to the voters," he said. "It really ties our hands in terms of attracting better people. It puts Biddeford and Augusta at a huge disadvantage."
Former Mayor Joanne Twomey said she is impressed with Ray, but believes the superintendent should live in Biddeford.
"I believe it's important you live in the community where you get paid. I truly believe that money comes back to the community," she said. "If you have children, your children should go to the school system you're involved with."
Twomey said she feels that Casavant is "using his bill to change a law for the whole state of Maine to benefit one town."
"We're changing the law for one person," she said. "It's not fair to the other superintendents who have had to play by that rule. (Ray) knew what he was getting into when he took the job."
Ray said he can do nothing but wait for the legislation to play out in Augusta. He said he has not decided to sell his house in Saco, which he bought six years ago. He is hesitant to leave a neighborhood where neighbors have become like grandparents to his young child, he said.
"I love being here in Biddeford. It's fabulous," he said. "But at the same time, I love my house and I love my neighborhood and everything my family has a mile from work."
Ray said he understands why people support having a superintendent live in town, but feels his residency in Saco does not affect his commitment to Biddeford.
"My commitment to the district is not one bit different based on the fact I live 1.2 miles away. I spend pretty much all of my waking hours in Biddeford," he said. "Our life is in Biddeford, but when I lay my head on the pillow it's not even a mile over the (town) line."
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: