Who will LePage appoint to be Maine’s next Education Commissioner?

Stephen Bowen and Paul LePage at the State House in 2012.

With the news that Stephen Bowen is resigning from his post as Gov. Paul LePage’s education chief to take a job with the national Council of Chief State School Officers, the big question is: Who will replace him?

The Education Commissioner post is one that’s traditionally gone to former school superintendents. Bowen was an exception to that trend, having come to the job via a two-term stint in the Legislature and the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center, where he was an education policy researcher and analyst.

For that reason, we might look out for Amanda Clark, who has stepped into the education role at MHPC once held by Bowen. Hard to say whether the governor would return to the same well again, though.

Here is a non-exhaustive list, presented in no particular order, of some names to watch for in the coming weeks. I think it’s fair to say some are more likely than others, but I’ll let you all be the judge of that.

  • Bill Beardsley: Likely a top choice for the governor. As former Conservation Commissioner, he’s already been in LePage’s Cabinet once before, so we know the Governor likes him. Last year, he was appointed by LePage to the state Board of Education. He’s also a former president of Husson College, the governor’s alma mater.
  • Jim Morse, former superintendent of Portland Public Schools, now works as a superintendent in New Hampshire. He’s a reform-minded guy who helped found the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone, one of the high schools that earned an “A” under LePage’s school grading system.
  • Bill Webster, superintendent of Lewiston Public Schools, the second-largest district in the state, behind Portland. He’s set sail on reforming low-performing schools in his district, but has come to blows with LePage and Bowen in the past over the same school grading system mentioned above.
  • William Shuttleworth, a former member of the Maine Charter School Commission, and former superintendent at districts throughout the Midcoast. He’s currently commissioner at Moosabec CSD and Monhegan Island. In the past, he’s broken form with many educators in supporting proficiency-based standards and charter schools, both of which have LePage’s support.
  • Rachelle Tome is a DoE veteran who recently became the state’s Chief Academic Officer. Before that, she oversaw improvement efforts under No Child Left Behind.
  • Donald Siviski is a former superintendent in Hallowell and Wiscasset, was the face of proficiency-based education under Bowen’s run as commissioner, and embraced reform as a superintendent.

There’s one really unlikely possibility that I’ve just got to mention Tony Bennett. He has been education commissioner in Indiana and Florida, and was a pioneer in many education reforms endorsed under the LePage administration, such as school grading and school choice. He’s been willing to move around to work under like-minded governors, moving from Indiana to Florida, where he resigned this month after reports surfaced that he’d intervened in Indiana’s school grading program to benefit a charter school run by a prominent Republican donor.

But everybody loves a good comeback story, so who knows whether Bennett could see a second chance in Maine? Again it’s not likely, and Bennett would probably see serious opposition from Democrats in the Legislature. But man, he would probably be one of the most gutsy, interesting choices to make.

Readers: Who’s on your short list? Who do you think we might expect to see as the next head of DoE?

UPDATE: A savvy reader pointed out these omissions to my list:

  • Jim Rier, who Bowen named deputy commissioner in 2011. Before that, Rier was the DoE’s head of finance and operations for eight years. He also served on the state Board of Education from 1995 to 2003, including three years as chair.
  • Fred Woodman is director of the United Technologies Center in Bangor, and he was instrumental in developing the Bridge Year program, a joint venture with UTC, Hermon High School and Eastern Maine Community College that students earn college credits while still in high school. LePage has made career and technology education a priority in his time as governor, and he and Bowen have looked at Bridge Year as a model to be expanded elsewhere in Maine.
Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.