AUGUSTA — The Maine House Thursday gave initial approval to a bill to allow local school boards to override a city charter or other superintendent residency requirement if the board wants to hire someone who does not live in their city.

After a short debate, the House voted 115-22 on L.D. 6, which faces additional House votes before it goes to the Senate.

“We had a lot of testimony from school board members from across the state saying they’ve had difficulty getting qualified applicants,” said Rep. Bruce MacDonald, D-Boothbay, chairman of the Education Committee.

Those opposed said although the bill was modified from the original version, which sought to prohibit cities and towns from imposing residency requirements on superintendents, the measure continued to be an overreach by the state.

“To me, this is an insult on a local community having its way,” said Rep. Joe Brooks, an independent from Winterport. “If I have to stand up every single day for local control, I’ll do it.”

Rep. Alan Casavant, D-Biddeford, sponsored the bill because Biddeford schools currently have a superintendent who lives in nearby Saco, which is counter to the city charter. In Augusta, the school board has said it has had difficulty finding qualified applicants who live in Augusta or who will move to the city if hired.

Augusta interim Superintendent James Anastasio lives in Gardiner.

In addition to Augusta and Biddeford, Waterville, Lewiston, Brewer and Presque Isle require superintendents to live in their districts.

Rep. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, said the compromise crafted by the Education Committee gives locally elected school board members who are close to their constituents a chance to decide what’s best for the school district.

“Giving them authority to make this decision is home rule,” he said.

If the bill reaches Gov. Paul LePage, it’s unclear whether he will sign it. He has said he will veto every bill that reaches his desk until lawmakers send him a proposal to pay back hospital debt.

Susan Cover — 621-5643
scover@mainetoday.com