Maine’s schools have a lot on their plate, yet it’s been two years since the state Department of Education has had stable leadership. Now that William Beardsley has announced that he’s stepping down as de facto head of the department, Gov. Paul LePage should nominate the well-regarded Robert Hasson, Beardsley’s successor as acting commissioner, to run the department permanently.

The department — the state’s second-largest agency — hasn’t had a permanent commissioner since the end of 2014. The governor tapped Beardsley for the post earlier this year but then withdrew the nomination, huffily declaring that his nominee would be subjected to what LePage called “silly, foolish political-rhetoric games.”

In other words, Beardsley would have had to field legislators’ questions about his having suggested that parents do transgender students a disservice by allowing them to live as the gender with which they identify.

Because these wrongheaded remarks point to attitudes that could harm transgender students if put into policy, they warranted clarification during the confirmation process. But LePage dodged the checks and balances, instead using legislative loopholes to allow Beardsley to run the Education Department, even without the formal title.

On Wednesday, however, just a few weeks after the LePage administration reaffirmed his role, Beardsley announced that he’ll soon be leaving. The governor hasn’t said whether he’d nominate a permanent commissioner, but it’s an important job: The agency has a $1 billion budget and is grappling with initiatives that affect families all over Maine, including implementing changes to graduation standards, evaluating teachers and schools and getting resources to the neediest districts.

And it’s a job for which Hasson appears well prepared. A former Cumberland and North Yarmouth superintendent, the acting commissioner has also held leadership posts with the Maine School Superintendents and Maine School Management associations.

Just as significant in a fractious Legislature is the broad-based support for Hasson. The head of the state teachers union has praised him. So has the Republican senator who chairs the Legislature’s Education Committee. And Hasson seems to be in LePage’s good graces, too, given that Hasson was Beardsley’s choice to chair the governor’s blue-ribbon education reform panel and LePage’s pick for deputy education commissioner.

We urge LePage to move ahead with the process of permanently filling the position of education commissioner. Hasson is a likely prospect for the post, and he could get a lot of much-needed work done if the governor is ready to put aside his differences with the Legislature and allow it to happen.


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