State Department of Education officials played a little musical chairs with job titles this week.

But Gov. Paul LePage’s top choice to lead the department – Bill Beardsley – is still calling the tunes.

This year, LePage outflanked lawmakers by using procedural moves to install Beardsley temporarily in the role of acting commissioner while bypassing the legislative confirmation process. LePage had nominated Beardsley to be commissioner in January, but withdrew the nomination a month later after Democrats on the education committee indicated they might vote to block the appointment of the former president of Husson University.

This week, another round of temporary appointments was triggered because the governor needed someone at the education department with the authority to act on behalf of the department, according to LePage’s spokeswoman.

Debra Plowman, who was director of policy and programs, was named “temporary deputy commissioner” on Tuesday. On Wednesday, she appointed Beardsley “deputy commissioner,” and he serves at the pleasure of Plowman, who has a six-month term as temporary deputy commissioner.

Under state law, a temporary deputy commissioner cannot be reappointed – and Beardsley already held that role last year.


“This is a legal formality. After Dr. Bill Beardsley’s six months as acting commissioner expired, it was necessary for the governor to empower someone at the Department of Education with the authority to sign on behalf of the commissioner,” spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett wrote in an email. “(Plowman) has ratified Bill’s appointment as deputy commissioner for the department and has empowered him to act on behalf of the department. Dr. Beardsley will continue to lead the department and remains a member of the governor’s Cabinet.”

Bennett noted that LePage intends to renominate Beardsley in the next legislative session.

The head of the state’s teachers union immediately criticized the move.

“Educators in Maine deserve a qualified, dedicated leader at the Department of Education,” Maine Education Association President Lois Kilby-Chesley said.

“It is not, in the minds of educators statewide, too much to ask for this state to have a leader at the Maine DOE who both has a background in education, understands the changing dynamics of the profession and the work required, and who first and foremost is going to put student learning first,” she said. “Appointing someone to the post of education commissioner shouldn’t be a shuffle of the deck to see which card lands on top.”

The issue came up Wednesday night at the governor’s town hall meeting in Bangor. The Education Committee’s Democratic chair, Rep. Victoria Kornfield, asked LePage when the state would have a permanent commissioner for the department, which has a $1 billion budget.


“You have one, ma’am,” he told her, saying Beardsley would lead the department while he is governor. According to a video of the town hall, LePage said he would have a new acting commissioner every six months, and that person would delegate his or her authority to Beardsley.

“Bill Beardsley is an excellent candidate, an excellent choice and you folks are just playing games, excuse me, but that’s the truth,” he said, to scattered applause. When she responded by saying the committee had never held a hearing, LePage said, “Thank you. I answered your question, I answered your question.”

In February, when challenged on the nomination, LePage responded by vowing to take over some responsibilities of the job rather than subject his nominee to political scrutiny. The governor’s comments prompted criticism from Democrats, who accused LePage of circumventing the process for appointing state agency chiefs.

On Thursday, Sen. Rebecca Millett called on the governor to bring his nominee forward to the Legislature.

“Our students, teachers and communities deserve vetted, qualified leaders at the helm of DOE. Instead, the governor has pledged to continue selecting political patrons for short-term stints as acting commissioners, all while Bill Beardsley pulls the strings from the behind the scenes,” said Millett, who is on the Education Committee. “If Gov. LePage believes Deb Plowman, Bill Beardsley or anyone else is the right person to help our students succeed, he should be willing to put them in front of the Education Committee and the Senate, the same way every other governor has done. He is not above the rules.”

Beardsley has come under scrutiny over the years for a series of issues. This year, when the transgender bathroom issue was heating up, critics noted Beardsley’s comments in 2010 when he was a gubernatorial candidate.


“On the transgender issue – it seems like – that I feel so badly for little children that are being, you know, kind of decisions being made for them that are outside what we call our normal activities here in the state and imposing those kind of things on a very small child,” he said at the time, during an interview with the “Aroostook Watchmen” radio show.

In April, he was criticized for attending a closed-door meeting at the Blaine House on education funding that was in violation of the state’s open-meeting law.

In 2012, and again in 2015, he was questioned about how he handled the case of Bob Carlson, a former chaplain at Husson University who committed suicide after learning state police were investigating allegations that he sexually abused several children over a period of 40 years. Beardsley has repeatedly said he had no knowledge of any illegal activity by Carlson.

Beardsley was appointed to the State Board of Education in 2012 after a significant floor debate and a party-line vote.

Beardsley previously served as commissioner of the Department of Conservation from 2011 to 2012 and was president of Husson University from 1987 to 2010.


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