WELLS — An education reform commission accused of meeting illegally in closed session won’t challenge a legal complaint from the Maine Attorney General’s Office and will pay any fine the court sets, the panel decided in a unanimous vote Monday.

Eight members of the 15-member education finance reform commission voted without any discussion, declining to meet in closed session with an attorney hired to represent it in court. The lawyer was in the audience but did not address the commission.

One Democrat on the Legislature’s Education Committee said she was glad the commission dealt swiftly with the legal complaint.

“It was definitely a distraction and started the commission on a bad note,” said Sen. Rebecca J. Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, who was in the audience. “I’m glad the commission can move forward.”

Commission Chairman Bob Hasson, a Maine Department of Education employee, proposed the motion as the commission met in public for the first time. Several dozen people were in the audience, including education lobbyists, education officials and lawmakers.

One of the commission members, House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, did not attend. Rep. Michael McClellan, R-Raymond, took his place. McClellan voted to pay the fine, but his vote did not count.


Hasson said the vote would help the commission “put (the issue) behind us” and allow members to focus on education issues.

Deputy Education Commissioner Bill Bearsdley agreed. “I’m ready to move on,” he said during a break in the meeting.

After the vote, the commission immediately moved into a discussion of how it would operate and communicate, and Hasson asked members to suggest “big ideas” for education reform.

The commission, created by L.D. 1641, is charged with evaluating the state’s current education funding model and reporting back to the Legislature with “recommendations for action to reform public education funding and improve student performance in the state.” The commission is expected to meet through July 2018.

On Monday, members tossed out more than a dozen ideas for possible focus areas. Some of the ideas were familiar to education specialists: the benefits of universal pre-K instruction, satisfying the 55 percent state funding for education mandate, improving teacher training and increasing teacher pay. Other ideas, not as widely discussed previously, included moving to a year-round school calendar, adopting a common statewide school calendar, shifting sports away from schools to municipalities, and having a single statewide teachers contract.

Documents, past reports and meeting materials are all available at the Maine Department of Education website, Hasson said.


“I’m encouraged that (Gov. Paul LePage) said that whatever comes out of the commission, he will seriously consider it,” Hasson said.

LePage’s education adviser, Aaron Chadbourne, had no comment on the commission’s vote.

The Attorney General’s Office filed its complaint in Kennebec County Superior Court over whether the LePage administration violated the state’s open meetings law when the reform commission held a session closed to the public on April 25. The court date for the hearing is Sept. 12.

Maine law requires most meetings by elected bodies to be open to the public. The law provides for a civil penalty of up to $500 for a knowing or intentional violation.

Three days before the meeting, an assistant attorney general told Beardsley that the meeting needed to be open to the public under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, according to the court complaint.

After getting the opinion, the administration changed the description of the meeting and relocated it to the Blaine House, but kept it private. The governor’s office described the three-hour meeting as an informal, invitation-only, getting-to-know-you session, even though an agenda described it as the commission’s first meeting.


On the day of the meeting, members of the governor’s staff exchanged a flurry of texts when lawmakers and members of the public objected that they were not being allowed to attend.

The texts violated the governor’s policy against communicating via text messages.

In the wake of the controversy, LePage removed himself from the commission and appointed Beardsley as the governor’s representative. In turn, Beardsley named Hasson the Education Department’s representative and the commission chairman.

Hasson oversees certification, educator effectiveness and higher education for the department.


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