2017-02-23 / Front Page

Super doesn’t have to live in Biddeford

By Garrick Hoffman
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The tenet of a city ordinance that required the Biddeford school superintendent to establish residency was overturned unanimously in a recent school board meeting.

Under the ordinance, which was passed in a charter change in November 2016, the superintendent of schools was to establish residency in the city of Biddeford within six months of being hired, unless otherwise approved by the school committee.

As a result of the requirement, Biddeford superintendent Jeremy Ray, who lives in Saco about a mile from the superintendent’s office, was forced in 2013 to purchase a condo in Biddeford to adhere to the residency requirement. He is now enabled to relinquish the property if desired, although he said it’s a decision he and his wife will make.

“The school board decided unanimously it made no sense for (Ray) to have both places,” Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant said.

Casavant is also chairman of the school board.

“From my point of view, it was ridiculous and cumbersome to have the residence requirement,” Casavant said. “The school board was very clear that they didn’t want to lose (Ray) over residence issues. The board is very satisfied with the way he’s performed. He has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars for the school because of his creativity. Someone who lives in the community might be paying property taxes, but with Ray, he’s essentially at most athletic and city events, always here doing something. Although he lives in Saco, he lives so close and is a great representative for the school department.”

Biddeford resident Howard Hanson, a member of watchdog group Concerned Citizens of Biddeford, doesn’t feel the same way.

“I think the overall will of the voters has been expressed and betrayed,” Hanson said. “Even with the charter changed in November, you got the same group of people that just disregarded the charter entirely before it was changed because (Ray) became a tax payer. He bought a condo in Biddeford but didn’t live in it. It should be clear to people in the city that the public officials haven’t respected residents’ wishes. It’s irrespective of my opinion because it was in the charter and the residents vote for it, so there are rules to abide by. I feel the city leaders should obey the charter, even though they put the two provisions in. It’s what residents put in the charter that counts, and if you’re in the council, you need to play by the rules. If they’re breaking that one, what else are they doing?”

Hanson said an issue arose in 2013, when Casavant, a state representative at the time, introduced a bill, LD 6, that would have allowed school boards and committees to determine whether to require residency for its school superintendents. It was approved by the Senate but vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage. The veto was upheld.

Before this, residents had voted to uphold the city charter and require the superintendent to live in Biddeford.

“In that respect he kind of made an end run around me and the citizens of Biddeford. The mayor is also the chair of the school board, and to go to Augusta and try to get the city’s charter overturned – it doesn’t jive.”

Hanson also said he thinks the residency requirement is important because “they get more of a pulse of what’s going on here,” citing a perceived problem with school bus stops not being plowed that could have been solved if the superintendent lived in the city.

“They’re going to interact with citizens in the community,” he said. “For example, with issues of school bus stops not being plowed, it’d be a good thing if the superintendent lived in Biddeford because he might be driving around town and be able to look at these. One person made that comment actually, which is a very good one – maybe if he lived in Biddeford he’d have seen the school bus stops weren’t plowed and would have acted differently.”

The overturning of the residency requirement is also a measure for the hiring process for future superintendents, Casavant said, because the requirement makes it difficult to attract potential applicants for the position. He said other communities with a residency requirement, such as Augusta, struggle with hiring qualified superintendents because of the requirement’s deterring effects.

“Most applicants have a family, they don’t want to move. Twenty to 30 years ago that wasn’t an issue,” Casavant said. “To be competitive to get the best superintendent – which we got – you have to have that flexibility to waive the requirement in the future. In the short term it gives Ray the option to do what he needs to for his properties.

“Other communities are facing the same dilemma (with attracting qualified applicants),” Casavant said. “More and more cities are finding that their schools’ pool for applications for superintendent is decreasing” because they have a residency requirement.

When asked if residents may feel frustrated about the decision, Casavant said he doesn’t believe they should. The decision was made unanimously.

“The residents voted for it, so I don’t see it being an issue,” he said. “They approved of the charter change. The school board has the option and flexibility to waive the

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