AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage is following through on his plan to install the state’s education chief while bypassing the legislative confirmation process.

The governor has approved a financial order that will allow acting deputy commissioner Bill Beardsley to perform many of the duties of commissioner for the Department of Education. The creation of the temporary position coincides with the end of the six-month period that Beardsley can legally serve as acting chief, and runs through April 2018.

LePage nominated Beardsley for the job earlier this year but pulled him back after Democrats on the Education Committee signaled that they might vote to block the former president of Husson University.

LePage responded by vowing in February to take over some responsibilities of the job rather than subject his nominee to political scrutiny. The governor’s comments prompted criticism from Democrats, who accused LePage of circumventing the process for appointing state agency chiefs.

In a statement, Sen. Rebecca Millett, D- South Portland, said the order was “yet another end-run around transparency and due process by Gov. LePage.”

She added, “The Department of Education is charged with leading our public schools, education policy and a more than $1 billion budget. Its work touches nearly every single Mainer at some point in their lives. Maine people deserve vetted leadership at the top of DOE. That means a commissioner who received a hearing in front of the Education Committee and a vote by the Senate — not a disciple of Gov. LePage who slid into the job through a back door.”

LePage has previously justified his actions by saying Democrats were playing politics with a qualified candidate. Democrats have successfully blocked at least one of the governor’s appointments since he took office in 2011 and delayed the confirmation of a second. Earlier this month Democrats voted to block Steven Webster from the Unemployment Insurance Commission, but LePage withdrew Webster’s nomination before he came up for final vote in the Senate. Many of his nominees, if not most, have received overwhelming support.

Beardsley had come under scrutiny about how he handled the case of Bob Carlson, a former chaplain at Husson University who committed suicide after learning state police were investigating allegations that he sexually abused several children over 40 years.

Beardsley was drawn into the scandal because he was named in a police report saying he had received two phone calls, one in 2005 and another in 2006, that suggested that Carlson had participated in a homosexual relationship. Beardsley told police that he confronted Carlson after the second caller in 2006 threatened to make the relationship public.

Beardsley told the Portland Press Herald in August 2012 that he told Carlson that if he had done anything wrong he shouldn’t be on campus, and that Carlson immediately resigned. Beardsley later acknowledged that he had not categorically banned him from campus.

Last year, Beardsley repeated what he told the Legislature’s education committee in 2012: He had no knowledge of any illegal activity by Carlson. Beardsley was eventually confirmed to the State Board of Education after a vigorous debate on the floor of the Senate and a party-line vote of 19-13.

Peter Steele, the governor’s communications director, said in an email Wednesday that the governor’s decision to pull Beardsley’s nomination “had nothing to do with Carlson,” but an effort to avoid Democrats’ turning his confirmation hearing “into a sideshow on transgender bathrooms.”

In 2010, Beardsley, then a gubernatorial candidate, expressed his views about transgender bathrooms during an interview with the Aroostook Watchmen radio show.

“On the transgender issue — it seems like — that I feel so badly for little children that are being, you know, kind of decisions being made for them that are outside what we call our normal activities here in the state and imposing those kind of things on a very small child,” he said.

According to the financial order signed by the governor on April 8, the new position will allow Beardsley to oversee “significant policy changes” and involvement in “executive level educational issues and decision-making.” The position will also include “day-to-day oversight of the department’s school funding.” According to the financial order, the position will be funded with salary savings from a vacant position within state government.

Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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Twitter: @stevemistler