AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage announced Friday that he has appointed William Beardsley as acting commissioner of the Maine Department of Education.
Beardsley, former president of Husson University, Maine Department of Conservation commissioner and 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary candidate, will assume the position immediately.
“Bill has a strong track record in Maine and elsewhere, broad constituency support and a personal interest in education,” said LePage in a written statement. “Bill has contributed greatly to the administration already, and we are fortunate to have his support again.”
Beardsley was president of Husson University from 1987 to 2010. In 2011, he was appointed as commissioner of the Department of Conservation until the agency merged with the Department of Agriculture in 2012, creating the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
In 2012, LePage appointed Beardsley to the State Board of Education and earlier this year appointed him to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Council. He will continue to work with both groups.
Tom Desjardin, who has been acting education commissioner since April, will return to his prior role of deputy commissioner. Desjardin is currently on medical leave.
Facing a deadline to make a decision on Desjardin, LePage appointed Beardsley.
LePage appointed Desjardin as acting commissioner in December 2014 after the former education commissioner, Jim Rier, went on medical leave. Rier retired officially on April 17, 2015. State law gives the governor six months from that date to appoint an acting commissioner as permanent.
When asked outside his office Friday afternoon, LePage declined to say why he chose Beardsley instead of appointing Desjardin permanently
“Read the law,” said LePage before leaving the State House.
The law does not indicate that LePage can’t appoint Desjardin permanently at a later date.
Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Education Committee, said Friday afternoon that she was surprised by LePage’s announcement. She said she and other lawmakers once had their doubts about Desjardin’s qualifications but that those concerns have evaporated.
“I felt originally that [Desjardin] was coming out of the governor’s office and really didn’t have the background in education, but he has done an excellent job,” said Kornfield. “I would say that everyone on the Education Committee feels that he’s been very good to work with.”
Kornfield said Beardsley may also be a good choice by LePage.
“He was responsible for bringing Husson from a college to a university, and he did an excellent job in doing that,” she said. “I hope he will be as good to work with as Desjardin has been.”
Rep. Joyce Maker, R-Calais, ranking Republican on the Education Committee, said she has known Beardsley for years and reiterated Kornfield’s praise of Beardsley’s accomplishments at Husson. Maker said she also was supportive of Desjardin but disappointed that LePage has gone so long without a permanent commissioner.
“What I’m not happy about is not having someone permanent in that position,” said Maker. “It’s very difficult for the employees to keep having a new boss.”
Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, said she hopes Beardsley will prove to be a collaborative partner and that the association, which represents most of Maine’s public school teachers, wants to learn more about Beardsley’s positions on elementary and secondary education.
The person LePage nominates as commissioner would be subject to recommendations by the State Board of Education and the Legislature’s Education Committee before consideration by the Maine Senate.