Thursday, April 24, 2014
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In this 2011 file photo, state education commissioner Steve Bowen. Bowen, a one-time schoolteacher who spearheaded significant education initiatives under the LePage administration but clashed with the governor on occasion, resigned Friday.
Joe Phelan / Staff Photographer
In this May 2013 file photo, education commissioner Stephen Bowen, surrounded by students, unveils the state's new A-F grading system at the Maine State Library.
Joe Phelan / Staff Photographer
"As I told the Governor in my letter to him, I firmly believe in the reform work we are doing here in Maine," Bowen said in the statement.
An acting commissioner will be named in the upcoming weeks, officials said. LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the administration would not comment at this time on a possible successor.
Brewer of UMaine noted that education will likely remain a key issue for the governor as he heads into a re-election campaign in 2014.
"It's certainly a big issue to his supporters, and it seems like an important issue to him personally. He's going to hold on to that," Brewer said.
As for a successor, the next education chief will have to "match up with the governor, policy-wise," Brewer said. "That's the one precondition for the job. (LePage) is not interested in people who have differing views from his own."
"I wish him well," said Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-South Portland, Senate chairwoman of the education committee. Bowen was always "collegial" and "tried to work with us the best he could," she said.
"In the first two years, they (the administration) were very effective in getting through their agenda," she said. "But obviously when the legislative body shifted control (to Democrats), I think he experienced some frustration in not being able to pursue some of his agenda."
Bowen acknowledged that the session has been "easily the most frustrating legislative session I've ever been a part of," but said that was the nature of politics and wasn't related to his decision to leave.
As for a successor, Millett said she hopes for someone willing to work with everyone.
"It would be really great if the next commissioner is not wedded to a particular agenda, a really ideological reform agenda, but someone who comes with a genuine passion for education," she said. "I suspect that probably Steve had that also, but the governor's office is not so willing to engage in that. That's the reality: No matter who they get, they're going to have to work with the governor's office."
During his tenure, Bowen disagreed with the governor on some issues, but that played no role in his decision, he said.
Last fall, LePage considered shutting down Maine's school laptop program but was persuaded not to by Bowen, according to emails obtained under a public records request.
"He and I have talked about things and there's times he's convinced me, and there's times I've convinced him," Bowen said. "Commissioners disagree with governors, and that's what governors want. They don't want a bunch of 'yes men' around."
On Friday, LePage and Bowen both praised the other's education efforts.
"I am pleased that Steve will be working to implement innovative practices throughout the nation's educational systems," LePage said in a statement. "It is encouraging that a national organization committed to educational excellence has recognized (his) passion and dedication for improving schools and student outcomes. We wish him well, and we hope that he can continue to improve Maine's educational system by introducing best practices from around the country to our state."
Also Friday, the president of the Maine Education Association said the group was "looking forward to working with the next Commissioner of Education."
"We hope the new Commissioner will represent Maine public school educators and will be open to meeting with MEA to discuss the best path for public school students. We hope she or he cares about MEA's mission to lead the way to great public schools for every Maine student," wrote Lois Kilby-Chesley.
In his new role, Bowen will oversee the Council of Chief State School Officers' Innovative Lab Network, which provides support to identify, test and implement student-centered approaches to learning.
"His new position inherently demands a strong commitment to continually seeking improvements to education for all students, something the Commissioner is no stranger to," the council said in a statement.
Noel Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at: