AUGUSTA (AP) — An aide to Gov. Paul LePage who just a couple of months ago turned down an offer to become education commissioner on Wednesday became the governor’s nominee for the post.

Former social science teacher Steve Bowen, more recently LePage’s senior policy adviser, is the Republican governor’s nominee to head one of the largest departments in Maine state government. Among its major tasks is distributing hundreds of millions of dollars in public school subsidies.

In making the announcement, the governor said he asked Bowen as early as December if he wanted the job. Bowen turned it down. But after several other candidates were interviewed and offered the job, Bowen began to reconsider, he said. His interest grew as Bowen and LePage discussed the governor’s vision for Maine schools.

“I realized that this was the job that I wanted,” said Bowen. “I found as I went on and I was learning about some of the possibilities that I was growing more enthusiastic by the day about the opportunities for educational reform that we have in Maine.”

Bowen has a Master’s degree in education but has never served as a school superintendent like many of the commissioners before him.

After teaching in Virginia schools, Bowen returned to his native Maine and taught in the Camden-Rockport district before joining the conservative think tank Maine Heritage Policy Center. He went to work for the LePage transition team and became a top staffer.

He faces legislative confirmation reviews for the commissioner’s post.

Bowen said the new administration wants to restore focus on students rather than have teachers and students “lurch forward” from one reform movement to the next.

First steps have been taken toward LePage’s goal of having five-year high schools that incorporate college curricula for students who are ready to take those courses, Bowen said. He said an inventory is being conducted of schools in Maine that offer such programs and could serve as models for other districts in offering college-level work.

The administration also lists as a “major reform initiative” a law allowing charter schools, as most other states already have.

Bowen said he will be on the road in the weeks ahead meeting with superintendents across Maine to strengthen their relations with the state, which were tested amid the consolidation effort of the last few years.

LePage said he doesn’t support financial penalties authorized by law for districts that fail to consolidate.

“Fining schools with money we send them is not going to help,” he said.

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