AUGUSTA – The Maine House on Thursday gave initial approval to a bill that would allow local school boards to ignore local superintendent residency requirements.

After a short debate, the House voted 115-22 in favor of 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.

The bill originally sought to prohibit cities and towns from imposing residency requirements on superintendents.

Opponents said that although the bill has been modified to leave residency decisions to local school boards, the measure still amounts to 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 now has a superintendent who lives in nearby Saco, which is prohibited by the city charter. Jeremy Ray knew of the residency requirement when he was hired, but said he was confident that voters would vote to eliminate the requirement from the charter. Voters rejected the change by a margin of 1,167 votes.

The Biddeford School Committee gave Ray until December to establish residency in Biddeford. Casavant said that will allow the legislation to play out and, if necessary, give Ray extra time to sell his house. Ray currently lives 1.2 miles from his office.

Casavant said residency requirements make it hard to find a qualified superintendent among a relatively small pool of candidates. Augusta school board members have said they’ve had difficulty finding qualified applicants who live in Augusta or are willing to move there 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 would allow locally elected school board members to decide what’s best for their 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.

 

– Staff Writer Gillian Graham contributed to this report.

 

Susan M. Cover can be contacted at 621-5643 or at:

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