AUGUSTA, Maine — William Beardsley, the de facto leader of Gov. Paul LePage’s Department of Education, has resigned for personal reasons, LePage announced Wednesday.
Beardsley’s last day will be Dec. 23. He will be replaced by Robert G. Hasson, who will serve as acting commissioner.
“Bill Beardsley is a man of tremendous integrity, intellect and service,” said LePage in a written statement. “It has been a great asset to the state of Maine that a man of his caliber and experience returned to serve in our administration. Over the last year, his leadership has reshaped the Maine Department of Education to ensure every decision is focused on the best interest of students and that children from every corner of the state have access to a high-quality public education.”
Beardsley has led the department since 2015, after his service on the Maine State Board of Education from 2012 to 2015. Beardsley, who previously served as commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation, was president of Husson University in Bangor from 1987 to 2009. He also was an unsuccessful candidate for governor in the 2010 Republican primary.
Beardsley’s service to the Maine Department of Education has not been without controversy. After Democrats indicated they might block his confirmation as commissioner over concerns about Beardsley’s past, particularly some of his conservative views and his purported knowledge of alleged sexual misconduct by a disgraced pastor, LePage rescinded his nomination of Beardsley in February 2016.
LePage initially said he would serve as education commissioner but since then has appointed a series of acting education commissioners in order to skirt the Legislature’s approval process. However, the governor has made it clear that Beardsley was in charge. Hasson was named acting commissioner last month. LePage’s office did not respond to a question about whether Hasson’s name will be submitted for consideration by the State Board of Education and confirmation by the Legislature.
Hasson currently oversees certification, educator effectiveness and higher education for the department. He is a former teacher, principal and superintendent who served as deputy executive director of the Maine School Management Association from 2013 to 2015. He also is chairman of the Blue Ribbon Commission to Reform Public Education Funding and Improve Student Performance in Maine, a high-level committee that is developing policy recommendations, the first of which are due by Jan. 10, 2017.
Hasson took over leadership of the commission in August so Beardsley could serve as LePage’s personal representative.
Hasson, who holds a doctorate in education from Boston College, said he is humbled by LePage’s nomination.
“The next two years will be critical to addressing major challenges in Maine public education,” said Hasson in a written statement. “Over the last six years, Gov. LePage has demonstrated a commitment to improving education in Maine, and I firmly believe that we can make great strides to benefit all Maine students by pursuing the regional delivery of backend operations for school districts, closing the achievement gap, and strengthening professional learning for educators throughout the state.”
Sen. Rebecca Millett, a South Portland Democrat who served on the Education Committee during the previous two legislatures, said Hasson is widely respected in education circles.
“I am hopeful that with this change, the governor will take this opportunity to nominate him for commissioner permanently,” said Millett. “The Department of Education is large, and it takes a huge chunk of the state budget. It really deserves a fully vetted commissioner and someone who is confirmed by the Senate.”
Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, the union that represents most public school teachers, echoed Millett.
“The MEA and its members are looking forward to working with Dr. Bob Hasson,” said Kilby-Chesley in a written statement. “Dr. Hasson is an experienced education professional who will bring a tremendous amount of knowledge to a department that needs stability, especially now as educators work to implement new state and federal mandates.”
The Maine School Board Association Delegate Assembly passed a resolution in October calling on LePage to nominate an education commissioner and send him or her through the Legislature’s confirmation process.
“The absence of a permanent commissioner has left the state without an official leader to articulate education policy and direction and has caused disruption and turnover among Department of Education staff whom districts rely on for information and guidance,” read the resolution. “If the governor’s office does not put forth a permanent commissioner nominee, the next Legislature needs to express and advance viable options for filling this key position.”