In a surprise announcement, Gov. Paul LePage’s choice to lead the Maine Department of Education announced he is stepping down Dec. 23, just weeks after his role was reaffirmed by the administration.

William Beardsley made the announcement to the state Board of Education, which was meeting in Portland at Casco Bay High School. He said he was leaving for “family reasons.”

“Although his departure is a loss for our administration, we are thankful to Dr. Beardsley for his many contributions. We wish him well in his future endeavors,” LePage said in a written statement. The statement said Beardsley was leaving for personal reasons, but did not elaborate.

The department will continue to be overseen by acting Commissioner Robert Hasson, and LePage did not mention whether he’d nominate a permanent commissioner. When asked if Wednesday’s announcement would lead to such a nomination, LePage education adviser Aaron Chadbourne declined to comment.

LePage has taken advantage of legislative loopholes to keep Beardsley in control of the department, including appointing other officials to the commissioner’s post, who then defer control to Beardsley.

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.


Less than a month ago, LePage announced Hasson’s appointment and said Beardsley would continue serving as deputy commissioner.

Beardsley is the former president of Husson University. The decision to keep him in place through temporary appointments and have a string of acting commissioners has drawn criticism from lawmakers and education organizations who say the department, with its $1 billion budget, should have a permanent commissioner.

On Wednesday, the Maine School Boards Association and Maine School Superintendents Association both reiterated that request .

“We wish Dr. Beardsley well, but it is time to move forward and name a commissioner who is vetted through the traditional process,” said school boards association President Becky Fles. “Our districts deserve it, and above all, our students do.”

Superintendents association President Steven Bailey agreed, saying a permanent commissioner “is critical to bring stability back to the (Department of Education), whose staff superintendents rely on to do their job.”

On Wednesday, Beardsley said he “absolutely” was glad he accepted the governor’s request to step into the education leadership role.


“My parents said, ‘Whatever you do, you should do public service before you retire.’ It’s been kind of a family thing,” he said. “When things get rough, I remember that.”

He said he told the governor several times that he wanted to step down, but LePage was not receptive. “I finally put my foot down,” Beardsley said with a smile.

“I like what he’s accomplished,” Beardsley said of LePage.

The head of the state teachers union said the organization is “looking forward” to working with Hasson.

“Dr. Hasson is an experienced education professional who will bring a tremendous amount of knowledge to a department that needs stability, especially now as educators work to implement new state and federal mandates,” said Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association.

Beardsley was 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.


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.

Before joining the Department of Education, he was deputy executive director of the Maine School Management Association, executive director of the superintendents association, and superintendent of SAD 51 in Cumberland and North Yarmouth. He earned a doctorate from Boston College.

“I am humbled by the trust and confidence that Governor LePage has placed in me,” Hasson said of his appointment. “The next two years will be critical to addressing major challenges in Maine public education. Over the last six years, Governor LePage has demonstrated a commitment to improving education in Maine, and I firmly believe that we can make great strides to benefit all Maine students by pursuing the regional delivery of back-end operations for school districts, closing the achievement gap, and strengthening professional learning for educators throughout the state.”


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