AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday appointed Department of Education veteran Jim Rier as the department’s acting commissioner, effective immediately.
Rier, a 10-year veteran of the department, has been overseeing day-to-day operations at the department since the resignation last month of Commissioner Stephen Bowen, who left his state government post for a position with the national Council of Chief State School Officers.
Rier, who lives in Topsham, started with the DOE as its director of finance and operations. In 2011, he was appointed deputy commissioner under Bowen.
Rier is known as one of the state’s foremost experts on education funding, and Bowen quipped from time to time that he’d like to “wrap him in bubble wrap” to protect his skills and institutional knowledge.
“With Jim’s expertise in fiscal responsibility and his leadership of improved operations, I am confident the department is in very capable hands,” said LePage in a media release.
Rier has worked for years on several high-profile initiatives such as leading reforms to the state’s 2005 school funding law, child development services and the essential programs and services model, which dictates how much money for public schools the state pays versus local taxpayers. He has also overseen school audits, facilities, nutrition, transportation, teacher certification, data management, and state and federal reporting.
In the past, Rier was a senior project engineer for Buick and for 25 years was president of Rier Motors Co., a car dealership founded by his father in his hometown of Machias. Rier has also served on the State Board of Education and on the boards of directors for Bangor Hydro Electric Co., the Maine Community Foundation, the Regional Medical Center at Lubec and the Washington County Education & Economic Development Alliance.
“It is an honor to serve the people of Maine, and I look forward to working with Gov. LePage and the talented team at Maine DOE to continue the transformation of our education system so that it serves all Maine students and prepares them for success after they leave our schools,” said Rier in a prepared statement.
He told the BDN Tuesday afternoon that he is committed to continuing a range of initiatives launched by his predecessor and that he stands ready to become the permanent commissioner should LePage nominate him for appointment by the Legislature.
“This is a new role for me, but with many of the same people I’ve worked with in the past,” said Rier, who has three grown sons who graduated from Machias-area public schools. “There are a lot of things that I look forward to being able to reinforce, such as the new structure in the Department of Education. I believe that was one of Commissioner Bowen’s strongest hands … a real focus on trying to have the department be a support for local schools. That’s not easy to do, and it takes more than just saying you’ll do it.”
Rier will be paid a salary of $103,708.80, which is the same as Bowen was receiving when he resigned, according to LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett.
Rier is widely respected by Maine educators. Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, said last month that Rier “has been in the Department of Education for a long time and is fully qualified to fill in for the commissioner.”
LePage said he will continue to consider candidates for the permanent commissionership and could introduce his nominee to the Legislature’s Education Committee in January 2014.