Bill Beardsley, Maine’s acting education commissioner since October 2015, can now remain as the de facto head of the department until April 2018, and he can do it without ever taking questions from the Legislature’s education committee and the full Senate, both of which according to the constitution are supposed to play a role in a commissioner’s confirmation.

That’s because Gov. Paul LePage has withdrawn Beardsley’s nomination and created for Beardsley a new position — “public service executive” — and imbued it with most of the power of the commissioner.

The maneuver prevents Beardsley, as he continues to run the state’s second largest department, from having to say one word to lawmakers.

That’s convenient for LePage and Beardsley, since that one word may very well have been “transgender,” and both have toward transgender people uninformed, regressive attitudes that if put into policy would seriously harm transgender students.

But to everybody who wants to take the temperature of the man overseeing state education policy, and carrying out that policy on a day-to-day basis, it is an affront to public process.

The commissioner of education is not an adviser on the governor’s staff; he is the head of one of the most consequential state departments. In that role, he oversees a roughly $1.2 billion annual budget and has great influence over the state’s school boards, administrators, teachers and students.


And he is supposed to report to both the governor and the Legislature.

LePage is bypassing those checks and balances because he feels Democrats have scrutinized his nominees too closely in the past — a stance that does not really hold up — and now he believes they will scuttle Beardsley’s nomination over his comments on transgender students.

While campaigning for governor in 2010, Beardsley suggested parents were doing transgender students a disservice by allowing them to live as the gender they identify with, similar statements to those made by LePage when the governor inexplicably joined a lawsuit against a transgender boy in Virginia.

(Beardsley has also said that protections for gender and sexual identity should be removed from the Maine Human Rights Act.)

That issue warrants clarification by Beardsley in a hearing setting, particularly as the department works on related policy guidelines.

But it’s not the only one.


There is much work to be done on education in Maine.

There are strides to be made on how to evaluate teachers and schools so that students everywhere are getting the education they deserve. Recent changes to proficiency-based graduation standards will have to be implemented and monitored. There is a new standardized test to be administered, and its efficacy reviewed.

And there is a mountain of work to be done to improve efficiency, including by facilitating the way education is delivered across a large state that is losing school-age population.

All of that takes cooperation between local educators and appointed and elected officials. By holding back an important piece, LePage is letting his paranoid hatred of the Legislature get in the way of real progress.

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