The Maine School Superintendents Association is calling on Gov. Paul LePage to appoint a permanent education commissioner.

Officials from the association said in a letter dated June 30 that the uncertainty about the position in the LePage administration has diminished the position’s stature, created instability in the office and caused confusion for the staff about who is leading the Department of Education.

The letter, signed by outgoing association President Susan Pratt and newly elected President Steven Bailey, was delivered to LePage’s office Friday. Acting Deputy Commissioner William Beardsley was copied on the letter.

The LePage administration did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the letter, which said a permanent commissioner is essential because school districts and the Department of Education must work together on data reporting, compliance with state and federal rules, distribution of aid to school districts, student transfer requests, compliance with special education law and Medicaid reimbursement.

“We urge you to exercise your leadership and outline the process and qualifications you envision for finally naming a permanent commissioner,” Pratt and Bailey wrote. “The uncertainty around that position has … been an ongoing problem since the end of 2014, and our concern is it will continue for the remaining two-and-half years of your second term.

“School administrators, and their boards, need a well-run Department of Education to effectively run their schools and provide the best education possible for our students. We believe restoring that relationship is essential.”


The Department of Education has not had a permanent commissioner since 2014, when Jim Rier left for health reasons.

LePage nominated Beardsley, the former president of Husson University, to be commissioner in January, then withdrew his nomination after Democrats on the Legislature’s Education Committee indicated they might vote to block Beardsley’s appointment.

LePage then outflanked lawmakers by using procedural moves to install Beardsley temporarily in the role of acting commissioner.

Because Beardsley already had begun serving as temporary commissioner in the fall and under state law could only hold the post for six months, LePage named Debra Plowman, who was director of policy and programs, as temporary deputy commissioner on May 24. A day later, she appointed Beardsley as deputy commissioner.

“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 to the Press Herald in May. “… Dr. Beardsley will continue to lead the department and remains a member of the governor’s Cabinet.”

Under the commissioner’s link on the Maine Department of Education’s website is a profile and picture of Beardsley, who is listed as the contact person for the commissioner’s office.


State Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor, a co-chair of the Education Committee, said the department has never operated without a permanent commissioner.

Kornfield said the field of education is in a period of transition as school districts in Maine and across the country try to comply with new federal laws such as the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in December. The bill narrows the federal government’s role in elementary and secondary education, shifting accountability to states.

“We really need strong leadership in the Department of Education,” Kornfield said. “It’s important to have a steady leader at the helm to guide all our schools, and we don’t have that now.”

Kornfield said her committee has no way of persuading the governor to nominate a permanent commissioner, calling his appointment of Beardsley “a complete end-around of the Legislature and the citizens of Maine.”


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