May 25, 2018
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Legislature passes bill to allow local school boards to decide superintendent residency rules

By Dina Mendros, Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD, Maine — On Tuesday, the Legislature approved a bill that would allow school boards, rather than the municipal charter, to determine whether superintendents must reside within their school districts.

Gov. Paul LePage now has 10 days to decide whether to sign the bill into law, veto it or do nothing and allow LD 6 to become law without his signature.

On Tuesday, the governor’s press secretary Adrienne Bennett said she didn’t know what the governor planned to do with the bill.

Mayor and state Rep. Alan Casavant, a Democrat representing part of Biddeford, sponsored the bill as a result of the situation in Biddeford. Superintendent of Schools Jeremy Ray lives in Saco, despite a city charter requirement for the school superintendent to live within the city boundaries.

Ray, who began his job in July, was to have moved to Biddeford within six months of when he was hired. To allow time for Casavant’s bill to become law, the school committee earlier this year extended the time Ray had to establish a residence in Biddeford until December of this year.

If the bill becomes law, it would not only affect Biddeford but also several other communities that have rules requiring residency for their school superintendents.

For instance, Augusta has a similar charter rule and has had difficulty finding a permanent superintendent. That city’s interim school superintendent, James Anastasio, lives in Gardner.

“I’m very glad the bill was overwhelmingly supported by both parties,” Casavant said. Legislators seemed to understand the importance of the bill, he said, adding, “I hope the governor similarly sees the value of the change in law.”

Earlier in the process, said Casavant, the bill was misrepresented as being averse to home rule.

The bill isn’t opposed to home rule, he said, “It puts the decision back with the school board, which parallels all existing state law.”

When he was hired, Ray said, he knew about the charter requirement that he live in Biddeford, but was told it would be removed. In November, a proposed charter change to eliminate the residency requirement failed at the polls. The vote was 5,269 to 4,102 against nixing the requirement.

When Casavant proposed state legislation that would allow the school board to permit the superintendent to live outside the city, a number of Biddeford residents spoke against the bill — and against Casavant — in public forums.

“I find your actions to be somewhat arrogant,” said Pat Rhames to Casavant, regarding the bill, saying it goes against local voters’ wishes.

Casavant shouldn’t try to pass something at the state level that was voted down locally, said Terry Belanger.

“You need to remember what a democracy is,” he said.

The decision to propose state legislation “had less to do with the local vote than the reality of interviewing superintendents,” said Casavant. Qualified candidates want to retain their homes, he said, so replacing Ray with someone willing to move to Biddeford would be difficult.

LD 6 “wasn’t rejecting [the local] vote,” said Casavant. “But in the real world, the status quo no longer works.”

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