Maine Superintendents Call for Permanent Commissioner of Ed

(Photo: Shawn Patrick Ouellette, Portland Press Herald)

(Photo: Shawn Patrick Ouellette, Portland Press Herald)

Officials from the Maine School Superintendents Association said in a letter to Gov. Paul LePage that it was time to relieve acting Deputy Commissioner of Education William Beardsley of his temporary office because the position’s stature is being corroded by the uncertainty of the post. They added that the Department of Education staff found that the instability was causing confusion.

Dennis Hoey of the Portland Press Herald writes that the letter, penned by former Association President Susan Pratt and new President Steven Bailey, arrived at the governor’s office last week.

The letter explained that a permanent commissioner was necessary because districts and the Department of Education must begin data reporting, distribution of aid to school districts, compliance with federal and state regulations, student transfer requests, Medicaid reimbursement, and compliance with special education law.

“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.”

LePage used some political maneuvers to get Beardsley, the former president of Husson University, into the position after former commissioner Jim Rier left because of poor health. After Beardsley had served in the position for six months, state law mandated that he vacate the office, and Debra Plowman was named by LePage on May 24 to be temporary deputy commissioner. The next day Plowman appointed Beardsley to the position of deputy commissioner.

State Rep. Victoria Kornfield (D-Bangor) said education in the state is in a period of transition as districts across the state are attempting to comply with new federal laws including the Every Student Succeeds Act passed in December of 2015.

Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s Steve Mistler reports that because Beardsley was not authorized to sign them, two deadlines for implementing how students are vetted for special education services and another for immunization requirements for students were missed.

Beardsley seems unaffected by the mighty flurry of voices calling for a permanent commissioner. In October of last year, Beardsley said he did not support the teaching of creationism in the state’s public schools, which was a reversal of his position when he ran for the office of the governor in 2010.

Beardsley has been a member of the State Board of Education since 2012 and served as the Department of Conservation Commissioner from 2011 to 2012. Beardsley is also credited with bringing the small struggling Husson University to the level of a Bangor institution, says Noel K. Gallagher for the Portland Press Herald.

Maine Education Association President Lois Kilby-Chesley said in October that she had heard no concerns from teachers about Beardsley’s positions on science and added that she looked forward to working with Beardsley in the future.

After assuming the role of acting commissioner, Beardsley said he would focus on continuing the work that had already started at the Department of Education. Primary issues include the implementation of new teacher and administrator evaluation standards and continued efforts toward proficiency-based requirements for the Class of 2018′s graduating students.

Sen. Brian Langley (R-Ellsworth), the co-chair of the education committee, said:

“My initial gut reaction is that (Beardsley) is a good choice because Bill has been a longtime member of the education community in Maine,” Langley said. “He’s got the credentials, and more importantly, he’s got a veteran crew and staff in the Department of Education. I’ve really grown to respect the work they do and how competent those folks are.”