AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would prevent Maine cities and towns from requiring superintendents to live within their school districts was upheld Tuesday by the Legislature.

The bill, L.D. 6, passed in the Legislature easily, with a 115–22 vote in the House and a 28–6 vote in the Senate. After LePage’s veto last week, however, numerous House Republicans who voted for the bill initially — including House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, of Newport, and his assistant leader, Alexander Willette, of Mapleton — switched to support the governor’s veto.

The vote on overriding the veto went 88–56, falling short of the two-thirds of House members needed to override LePage.

City charters in Biddeford, Augusta, Waterville, Lewiston, Brewer and Presque Isle require superintendents to live in their school districts. All sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill are from Biddeford and Augusta.

“I am disappointed with (today’s) results but will sleep well knowing that I put up a good fight for my constituents,” said Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, a supporter of the bill, in a text message after the vote. “I will continue to work to find a solution that helps Augusta schools.”

The original bill would have banned residency requirements altogether, but the amended version that the Legislature passed would allow school boards to decide whether they want to retain a residency requirement.

Three Augusta Republicans — Pouliot, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz and Rep. Corey Wilson — co-sponsored the bill.

“We need to overturn this veto today because we need to be able to continue to attract the best and the brightest,” Wilson said on the House floor.

The Augusta City Charter requires the city manager and the superintendent of schools to live in 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 seek the superintendent’s job in Augusta officially because they did not want to have to move to take the job.

So Augusta school officials may target November as the time to change the city charter so they can look outside Augusta for their next superintendent. A charter change would require a referendum by residents.

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 have 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 on hold as a result of the residency issue.

Rep. Alan Casavant, D-Biddeford, also the city’s mayor and school board chairman, submitted the bill after city residents rejected a charter change in November to eliminate a requirement that the superintendent move to the city within six months of being hired. Biddeford Superintendent Jeremy Ray, hired last year, lives about a mile from the office, but in Saco.

“We need greater flexibility,” Casavant said on the House floor Tuesday. “This is about Biddeford and Augusta trying to achieve educational success but (being) handcuffed by rules that are problematic.”

In his veto message to the Legislature, LePage said the Legislature shouldn’t “put itself above the decisions of local voters.”

“This bill would override the decisions of Maine voters who have intentionally added these requirements to their charters,” he wrote. “That is not something I can support.”

On the floor, Willette called Casavant’s bill an “end run around the vote of the people in Biddeford,” despite voting to support it earlier this session. Fredette called it “fundamentally wrong” to overrule local voters.

In a statement after the vote, House Democrats blasted the veto.

“There’s no rhyme or reason to the governor’s vetoes,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan in the statement. “The governor continues to undermine the good, bipartisan work of the Legislature.”

Staff Writer Keith Edwards contributed to this story.

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652
[email protected]

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