Gov. Paul LePage is again bypassing the traditional legislative confirmation process in naming a new leader for the Department of Education.

On Monday, LePage announced the appointment of Robert Hasson to the position of temporary deputy commissioner of the department and said William Beardsley – his longtime top choice to lead the department – will continue serving as deputy commissioner.

LePage initially nominated Beardsley to be commissioner in January, but withdrew his name after Democrats on the Legislature’s education committee indicated they might vote to block the appointment. At the time, LePage said he would take over some responsibilities of the job himself 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.

Monday’s appointment mirrors the title shuffle at the department six months ago, and is a way to avoid the legislative confirmation process. Under state law, if a commissioner post is vacant, the governor can appoint a “temporary deputy commissioner” who has the authority to do whatever the commissioner would do, serves for no more than six months and cannot be reappointed.

Hasson’s appointment takes effect Thursday, and he replaces Debra Plowman, who has been serving as temporary deputy commissioner since May. A day after taking that role, she appointed Beardsley as deputy commissioner, serving at the pleasure of Plowman. Beardsley had previously served as temporary deputy commissioner.

Although Beardsley serves at the pleasure of the temporary deputy commissioners – who are the acting commissioners – LePage has said repeatedly that Beardsley is acting as the department’s leader and remains a member of the governor’s Cabinet.

Hasson, a longtime educator, was named in August to serve as the department’s representative to and chairman of the governor’s blue ribbon panel to study education reform, the Commission to Reform School Funding and Improve Student Performance. Hasson oversees certification, educator effectiveness and higher education for the Department of Education. Before joining DOE, he was deputy executive director of the Maine School Management Association, executive director of the Maine School Superintendents Association and the superintendent of SAD 51 in Cumberland and North Yarmouth. He earned a doctorate from Boston College.

Beardsley is the former president of Husson University. The decision to keep Beardsley in place through temporary appointments and have a string of acting commissioners has drawn criticism from lawmakers and education organizations, who say the Legislature should act if LePage does not.

“The absence of a permanent commissioner has left the state without an official leader to articulate education policy and direction and has caused disruption and turnover among (DOE) staff, whom districts rely on for information and guidance,” read a resolution passed in October by the Maine School Boards Association, which represents school boards across the state. “If the governor’s office does not put forth a permanent commissioner nominee, the next Legislature needs to express and advance viable options for filling this key position.”

The Department of Education has a $1 billion budget.

Beardsley is the third acting commissioner since LePage’s first commissioner, Stephen Bowen, stepped down in August 2013. Jim Rier won unanimous support from the education committee to succeed Bowen, but he stepped down less than a year later for medical reasons. Tom Desjardin was named acting commissioner in April 2015 but suffered a significant injury in a fall and was replaced by Beardsley last October.

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