Thursday, April 17, 2014
AUGUSTA -- With Gov. Paul LePage vetoing a bill that would allow local school boards to override superintendent residency requirements, Augusta school officials may target November to change the city charter so they can look outside Augusta for their next superintendent.
The Augusta City Charter requires the city manager and superintendent of schools to live within the city.
School board members said that requirement greatly hindered their search for a new superintendent when former Superintendent Cornelia Brown resigned late last year. Deborah Towle, chairwoman of the school board's personnel committee, said the committee received only seven responses to its search for a new superintendent.
She said board members heard from multiple potential candidates who did not officially seek the superintendent's job in Augusta because they did not want to have to move to take the job. She hopes the Legislature will overturn LePage's Tuesday veto and pass the bill, L.D. 6.
"People said they were interested but never applied, because of the residency requirement," Towle said of Augusta's unsuccessful search for a new, long-term superintendent. "It hamstrung us. We were put in a tough position because the applications we did get were nothing we'd be interested in. If (L.D. 6) gets voted down, then that's what we're going to have to do, go out and change the charter so we can have a broader pool of candidates."
L.D. 6's chief sponsor is Rep. Alan Casavant, a Democrat from Biddeford who is also the city's mayor and school board chairman. The bill is co-sponsored by Republicans including Sen. Roger Katz, Rep. Matthew Pouliot and Rep. Corey Wilson, all of Augusta.
Voting on the governor's veto is tentatively scheduled for today. An override requires two-thirds majorities in the House and the Senate.
According to the House Democratic Office, L.D. 6 was enacted by votes of 115-22 in the House and 28-6 in the Senate.
In his veto message to the Legislature, LePage said, "State government should not lightly put itself above the decisions of local voters when it comes to their municipal charters. This bill would override the decisions of Maine voters who have intentionally added these requirements to their charters. That is not something I can support."
Augusta school officials are hoping LePage's veto of the proposed bill will be overturned. If it is, and the bill passes, there would be no need to change the city charter.
Changing the charter would require a total voter turnout of at least 30 percent of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election.
In that election, 7,652 Augusta residents voted. So to change the charter, at least 2,296 residents would have to vote, either for or against the charter change, according to City Clerk Barbara Wardwell.
That's a figure Susan Campbell, chairwoman of the Augusta Board of Education, thinks Augusta is not likely to see in the June election, based on past voting numbers. For example, last June only 1,558 residents turned out to vote on the school budget.
Wardwell also said there is not enough time to put a charter change on the June ballot.
So school officials would have to wait until the November election to propose a charter change to remove the superintendent residency requirement.
In the meantime, the system's search for a superintendent is on hold until the residency requirement is addressed, one way or the other.
"I'd hope the House and Senate override the governor's veto," Campbell said Wednesday. "If that doesn't happen, we'll work with council to get the charter changed."
Interim Superintendent James Anastasio was hired to step in after Brown left the Augusta superintendency Dec. 31.
The former Cony High School principal has expressed interest in stepping up to become Augusta's long-term superintendent, but he lives in Gardiner.
Campbell and Towle said the Augusta Board of Education has not discussed hiring Anastasio as the permanent superintendent, because their search for a superintendent -- whether that superintendent ends up being Anastasio or someone else -- remains old hold because of the residency issue.
"Jim was a good alternative as an interim because he knows the district and had a conditional (superintendent's) certificate," Campbell said. "We haven't had any discussion beyond that. Whether Jim decides he may want the position or not, we don't know. We can't do anything until we remove the residency requirement. Once we do that, then we can make some decisions about what we're going to do for a permanent superintendent."
Campbell said if a new superintendent isn't found by the time Anastasio's interim contract expires on Dec. 31, they could consider extending that contract another six months.
Portland Press Herald Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.
Keith Edwards -- 621-5647