AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage may take until the end of this week to appoint an education commissioner to replace Stephen Bowen, who resigned last month to take a job with a national school reform organization, according to LePage spokesman Peter Steele.
Bowen concluded his 2.5-year tenure as Maine’s education commissioner last week.
“The governor is close to naming an acting commissioner at DOE, hopefully by the end of the week,” wrote Steele in response to emailed questions. “Jim Rier, deputy commissioner, is in charge of the day-to-day operations.”
Rier, who served as the department’s head of finance and operations since 1994, was appointed deputy commissioner in March 2011. Prior to that, he spent eight years on the state Board of Education, including three years as its chairman.
Under Gov. John Baldacci, Rier chaired the Governor’s School Facilities Commissioner, which led to the creation of the state’s revolving loan fund and changes to the leased space and major capital construction program. According to professional information about Rier on the Department of Education’s website, those initiatives led to increased legislative and budgetary support for all three programs.
According to Maine law, the absence of a deputy commissioner within the department would have put LePage in charge of day-to-day operations. The law also says that a deputy commissioner’s term as acting commissioner cannot exceed 60 days before a permanent replacement is named by the governor. The governor’s nominee for permanent appointment must be confirmed by the Maine Senate.
Rier is widely respected for his expertise in the public education sector, including by Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, the union that represents most Maine public school teachers.
“The MEA is not concerned that we don’t have someone in that position at this moment,” she said. “Certainly Jim Rier has been in the Department of Education for a long time and is fully qualified to fill in for the commissioner.”
Bowen, who was a LePage appointee in March of 2011, resigned effective Thursday to take a job with the national Council of Chief State School Officers.