February 21, 2013

Legislative committee leaves superintendent's residency up to municipalities

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA -- A legislative committee voted 12-2 Thursday in favor of a bill that would allow local school boards to decide whether they want to require superintendents to live in their cities or towns.

The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee changed the original text of L.D. 6, which is sponsored by Rep. Alan Casavant, D-Biddeford. The bill first sought to prohibit cities and towns from requiring superintendents to live in their municipalities, but Rep. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, offered an amendment Thursday to give the final say to local school boards.

"I believe school boards are close to the people," said Pouliot, a co-sponsor of the bill. "The intent here is to empower the school board."

The amendment was drafted by the Maine School Management Association, which lobbies the Legislature on behalf of superintendents and school boards.

Casavant and Pouliot raised the issue because Biddeford and Augusta both have charter provisions that require their superintendents to live in their respective cities. Biddeford voters rejected an attempt last fall to remove the requirement, and Augusta officials are considering whether to ask voters to make the change.

In Biddeford, Superintendent Jeremy Ray lives in Saco, and in Augusta, Interim Superintendent James Anastasio lives in Gardiner.

Some legislators expressed concern Thursday that the Legislature might be overreaching by enacting a law designed to help specific cities. In addition to Augusta and Biddeford, Waterville, Lewiston, Brewer and Presque Isle require superintendents to live in their districts.

"If I woke up in the morning after I voted and the Legislature made a law that overruled my vote in my town on my superintendent, I'd be furious," said Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor.

Kornfield, along with Rep. Madonna Soctomah, of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, voted in opposition to the bill.

Although she ultimately voted in support of the bill, Rep. Joyce Maker, R-Calais, said constituents don't like it when the Legislature gets involved in local issues.

"I think it's a mixed message when you hear about Augusta fixing local problems," she said.

Supporters said they felt comfortable that the amendment to give school boards the final say preserves local control, while possibly relieving places such as Augusta from having to ask voters to amend the charter.

"I don't think we're taking that control away," said Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville.

Susan Cover -- 621-5643

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