Rier named deputy chief in education department

Jim Rier, who has been head of finance and operations for the Maine Department of Education since 2003, has been appointed deputy commissioner of the department.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen announced the appointment Wednesday.

Rier will be responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the department, with a focus on financial transparency and accountability.

Rier has been responsible for implementing the school funding law, school facilities programs and the school nutrition program.

Plan cooked up to whup Pennsylvania’s whoopie pie

A South Portland-based radio station is teaming up with a whoopie-pie maker to create a 500-pound-plus whoopie pie, with the sole aim of outdoing Pennsylvania’s 250-pounder.

Wednesday’s announcement came as the Maine House approved a compromise that would declare the whoopie pie the state “treat,” while making blueberry pie the state’s official “dessert.”

The measure was approved 107-34 but required a second reading before going to the Senate for consideration.

Contrary to Maine’s claim, Pennsylvania contends that the whoopie pie was invented by the Amish. But WMGX program director Randi Kirshbaum says there will be no doubt about whose whoopie is bigger.

The station is teaming up with Wicked Whoopies to make the whoopie pie that will be at least twice the size of Pennsylvania’s current record holder.

The massive whoopie pie will be assembled and displayed Saturday at the Maine Mall in South Portland, Kirshbaum said. Afterward, it will be cut up by Reps. Paul Davis and Emily Cain, sponsors of the whoopie-pie bill, and given away in exchange for donations.

Proceeds will go to send smaller whoopie pies to Maine troops serving overseas.

Legislature considering bill to refigure excise tax

Every car and truck owner in Maine would be affected by proposed legislation that would cut the state’s excise tax on vehicles.

Supporters say Maine’s excise taxes are too high and vehicle owners need a break. Opponents say cuts in excise taxes would hurt municipalities and shift the tax burden onto property owners.

The primary aim is for car buyers to pay an excise tax based on the true cost of a vehicle, not the list price, which is often higher than the actual price, said Rep. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee.

Excise tax legislation has been debated and rejected for years. In 2009, residents voted down a proposal to slash excise tax rates by an average of more than 50 percent.

Knight thinks some form of legislation could pass this time because Republicans now control the Legislature.

High court to hear counties’ land-records access appeal

A legal fight that could set a new standard for what public agencies can charge for copies of public records is heading to Maine’s highest court.

Androscoggin, Aroostook, Cumberland, Knox, Penobscot and York counties have appealed Justice Thomas Warren’s decision to give MacImage of Maine free access to digital copies of deeds and land records stored in county registries.

Warren ruled that the counties were charging exorbitant fees, which he said violated the Freedom of Access law by restricting access to those records. MacImage’s owner, John Simpson of Cumberland, wants to develop a statewide clearinghouse of land records.

“It’s a great victory for the public’s right to know,” said Sigmund Schutz, an attorney for Preti Flaherty of Portland.

Bryan Dench, an Auburn-based attorney, said the counties’ appeal is expected to be heard by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court by the end of this year.

Dench said the counties have also filed a request asking Warren to stay his order until the Supreme Court has had a chance to hear their appeal. He said the counties believe they should be compensated for developing record databases and maintaining them.


School Board OKs budget with 2.2% spending hike

The School Board has approved the $21 million budget proposed by interim Superintendent Ken Murphy.

The board voted unanimously to adopt the 2011-12 budget Tuesday night. The budget would increase spending by 2.2 percent — $447,719 — over this school year. With an expected drop in revenue of about $270,000, the property taxes to support the schools would increase 2.6 percent.

Board Chairwoman Mary Townsend said no changes were made to the budget submitted by Murphy. She said the board went through the budget line by line and Murphy was able to respond to all of its questions and concerns.

The budget would eliminate 1.5 teaching positions: a full-time position at Pond Cove Elementary School, where enrollment is declining, and a half-time literacy teacher at the elementary level that has been funded with federal stimulus money.


Japanese students idled by quake invited to study here

The University of Maine System is organizing an initiative to assist English-speaking Japanese university students whose educations have been interrupted by the recent earthquake and tsunami in that country.

The system is inviting students enrolled in any Japanese university that has suspended or terminated classes because of the disaster to enroll as visiting students in one of Maine’s seven universities for as long as a year.

Japanese students who enroll through the initiative will be mentored through the system’s international student programs and by Japanese citizens and immigrants who work and attend school in the system. Eleven Japanese students are now in Maine universities.