May 22, 2018
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Superintendent residency bill gains support in Biddeford

By Dina Mendros, Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD, Maine — Superintendent of Schools Jeremy Ray may be able to keep his job without moving to Biddeford.

On Wednesday, the state Senate approved LD 6, the bill sponsored by Biddeford Mayor and state Rep. Alan Casavant, which allows school boards and committees to determine whether to require that a school superintendent reside within a school district.

Like the House of Representatives, which approved the bill last week, 151-22, the Senate approved the measure 28-6, with a more than two-thirds majority.

Ray, who became superintendent in July, resides in Saco.

The city charter requires the school superintendent to establish residency in Biddeford within six months of being hired.

Ray said he knew about the residency requirement when he was hired, but was assured the charter would be changed to eliminate this requirement.

A question to remove the requirement from the charter failed at the November general election, 5,269 to 4,102.

In the Senate vote, Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, who represents part of Biddeford, voted in favor of the measure.

Sen. David Dutremble, D-Biddeford, who represents part of Biddeford, voted against it.

“I initially signed on as a co-sponsor of LD 6 … because I did not believe that school superintendents should be required to live in the school district they serve,” Dutremble said in a prepared statement. “But the more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I became with the bill,” he said, because of Biddeford voters’ rejection of the charter change.

“To change this requirement via legislation so soon after a referendum struck me as an end-around the democratic process. That is why I voted against the bill today in the Maine Senate,” Dutremble said Wednesday.

A number of residents have also stated similar concerns, both before the school committee and the city council.

Casavant said he’s pleased with the Senate vote. He noted that some who oppose LD 6 have said they believe it takes away control from local communities.

However, he said, the bill as amended from his original version doesn’t do that. In the original bill, residency could not be a requirement in hiring a superintendent, but the amended version of the bill allows a school board to determine whether to require residency or not.

“This retains home rule,” said Casavant. “It allows duly-elected school board members to determine if residency should be an issue.”

Because of the Biddeford vote, Dutremble said, “I urge Biddeford’s School Committee to respect the will of the people and keep the requirement in place. I do not make this recommendation lightly, as I respect Superintendent Ray and the job he is doing.”

However, if the past actions of the school committee are any indication, Ray may be allowed to remain in Saco.

After the defeat of the charter change regarding superintendent residency, the committee extended the deadline for Ray to move until the end of the year.

This bill not only affects Biddeford, but also affects other Maine communities that have a residency requirement for their school superintendents.

In Augusta, which also has such a requirement, the school district’s interim superintendent James Anastasio resides in Gardiner.

Both the House and Senate must vote again on the bill. Assuming both bodies approve the measure, it will go to the desk of Gov. Paul LePage. He can either sign the bill, let it take effect without his signature or veto the measure. To override a veto, a two-thirds majority vote of both the House and Senate is required.

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