Gov. Paul LePage has long been clear that he wanted Bill Beardsley to head the state’s Department of Education — even though he never went through the process to formally allow the former Husson University president to become Maine’s education commissioner. With Beardsley’s departure from the department set for next week, now is the perfect time for the governor to finally nominate a permanent education commissioner for his remaining two years in office.
The last time an education commissioner confirmed by the Senate — as required by state law — was running the Maine Department of Education, overseeing the largest pot of state taxpayer dollars in Maine government, was November 2014.
In the two years since, LePage has appointed a series of acting commissioners, who, by law, can only serve for six months, while saying that Beardsley, who was deputy commissioner, was actually in charge. As a result, the governor kept someone of his choosing in charge without subjecting him to the legislative confirmation process demanded by the Maine Constitution.
That process is designed to allow lawmakers and the public to vet the person charged with one of the most important jobs in Maine and to keep the executive branch’s power in check.
LePage did nominate Beardsley for the commissioner’s job in October 2015 but withdrew the nomination in February, when it was clear there would be opposition to it.
Having an education commissioner, not a deputy or acting commissioner, also brings needed stability and cohesion to the department.
In May, the attorney general’s office refused to sign off on rules regarding student immunization and special education because no one at the department, including Beardsley — who was not a “duly appointed” commissioner or temporary deputy commissioner — had the authority to sign them. The office also warned the LePage administration that other commissioner duties, such as signing off on student transfers between school districts and revoking teacher certifications, could not be fulfilled by Beardsley. LePage quickly appointed Debra Plowman, a former lawmaker, as the department’s temporary deputy commissioner. Her first act was to appoint Beardsley as the deputy commissioner.
Plowman’s term expired last month, so LePage appointed Robert Hasson, the department’s director of certification, to the job of acting commissioner.
With Beardsley’s departure, the governor’s office said Hasson would remain as acting commissioner.
In a July letter to the Maine School Superintendents Association, which expressed concerns about the leadership at the education department, LePage said he would consider nominating Beardsley again “if the 128th Legislature will be different.” LePage should follow through on this pledge to nominate a commissioner in January by nominating Hasson, who has been praised by educators and lawmakers, and let the new and different Legislature do its job.
“I am hopeful that with this change, the governor will take this opportunity to nominate him for commissioner permanently,” said Sen. Rebecca Millett, a South Portland Democrat who served on the Education Committee during the previous two legislatures. “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.”
“I would like to confirm a new commissioner of [education],” Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, tweeted Wednesday.
LePage should finally follow the law and allow the Legislature to do its job by nominating a permanent education commissioner.