AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage announced Monday that he has selected Jim Rier as his nominee for commissioner of the Department of Education.
Rier, who has worked in the department for 10 years and who was appointed acting commissioner by LePage in October of last year, has been overseeing the department since former Commissioner Stephen Bowen resigned in September 2013 to take a job with the national Council of Chief State School Officers.
LePage’s nomination of Rier is subject to review by the state’s Board of Education, which is scheduled to interview Rier at its Jan. 15 meeting.
State law requires that nomination of the education commissioner go to the Board of Education for review before the governor makes a final recommendation to the Legislature. The board’s written appraisal of Rier will be completed within 10 days of the interview, according to a news release from the Department of Education.
Rier is a former senior project engineer for Buick and was president of his family’s car dealership, Rier Motors Co., in Machias for 25 years. He has also served on the boards of Bangor Hydro Electric Co. (now Emera Maine), the Maine Community Foundation, the Regional Medical Center at Lubec and the Washington County Education & Economic Development Alliance.
He served two terms on the state Board of Education, including as its chairman from 1997 to 2000. Rier joined the DOE as its director of finance and operations in 2003 and became deputy commissioner in 2011.
Rier has worked for years on several high-profile education 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 compared to local taxpayers. He has also overseen school audits, facilities, nutrition, transportation, teacher certification, data management, and state and federal reporting.
Rier, who is known for his command of the education funding system in Maine, is less likely to draw opposition from LePage’s political opponents than Bowen, who came to the administration after serving as an education policy specialist for the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center, or some of the governor’s other top-level nominees, who were challenged on ideological grounds.
Rier won praise from a leader of the state’s largest teachers union when he was appointed interim commissioner. Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, told the BDN in October that Rier is “fully qualified” to lead the department.
House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, a former teacher, has told the Bangor Daily News in the past that the state’s education commissioner should have classroom experience.
“While he lacks experience in the classroom, Jim has an excellent background for the job in other respects,” said Berry in a prepared statement. “He has strong knowledge of our schools, our state and the school funding formula. His job will be to convince us that he can not only manage, but also lead. Democrats will want to hear his visions for helping all students succeed, not just a few.”
The length of Rier’s tenure at the helm of the DOE could depend on the outcome of this year’s gubernatorial election, because incoming governors typically make new cabinet-level appointments.
When he was appointed acting commissioner, Rier was being paid a salary of $103,708.80, which is the same Bowen was receiving when he resigned.
Rier lives in Topsham with his wife, Linda.