Gov. Paul LePage said Monday he wants the acting education commissioner, James E. Rier Jr., to be named commissioner.
Rier has been the acting head of the Education Department since October, after former Commissioner Stephen Bowen left to take a position at a national organization that formulates education policy.
LePage sent a letter Monday to State Board of Education Chairwoman Nancy Perkins, asking the board to interview Rier on Jan. 15 and forward a written recommendation back to the governor within 10 days.
State law requires that the board weigh in on the governor’s choice for education commissioner before the nomination is announced.
“I’ve been excited about (heading the department) for a while,” Rier said Monday. “I’m anxious to get through the process and not have this be a question of what’s going to happen next. It helps the department continue the momentum we’ve created in the last four months.”
Rier said he had already instituted some changes as acting commissioner, including creating a new 10-person leadership team that meets twice a week to review department business.
“We’re trying to get our hands as a leadership team around all aspects of the department’s work,” he said.
Education has been a priority for the LePage administration, which launched an aggressive reform agenda that has included opening the state to charter schools, issuing A-to-F report cards for public schools and instituting an evaluation system for teachers and administrators. The administration has failed in its efforts to introduce school choice and allow the use of public funds for religious schools.
Rier has said increasing efficiency and being better able to serve the school districts are top priorities for him.
Rebecca Millett, Senate chairwoman of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, called the move “a positive development.”
“I think Jim has a depth and a breadth of understanding of Maine education that very few people do,” said Millett, D-South Portland. “We certainly all will benefit from the perspective he will bring.”
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett declined to say Monday how many people were considered for the position, citing confidentiality because it is a personnel matter.
Rier, a former Buick engineer who led a family dealership in Machias, has been actively involved in state education for years.
He served two terms on the State Board of Education, and was chairman from 1997 to 2000. He joined the Department of Education in 2003 as director of finance and operations, and was named deputy commissioner in 2011.
He is known as an expert on the state’s education funding formula. He also led an initiative under Democratic Gov. John Baldacci to consolidate school districts.
In the LePage administration, Rier has helped to implement school funding reforms.
The LePage administration credited him with overseeing daily operations of the department, teacher certification, data management and auditing.
As commissioner, Rier would oversee a department of about 150 employees and an annual budget of more than $1.1 billion.
“I feel like I have a very good grasp on how to implement very complicated things, and will be able (as commissioner) to bring that even more strongly to the department, because things are difficult here,” he said.
Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at: