AUGUSTA — Lewiston and Auburn officials heaped praise on Gov. Paul LePage’s nomination for state education commissioner, Jim Rier of Topsham, after he came one step closer to the job Wednesday.

Supporters said Rier knows Maine education, is fair and has integrity. Rier has a reputation for his command of education funding.

The Maine State Board of Education on Wednesday interviewed Rier, then said they supported his nomination. State law requires the board to review the nomination of the education commissioner.

Peter Geiger of Lewiston, vice chairman of the State Board of Education, said Rier is an excellent pick.

“I really like Jim,” Geiger said Thursday, adding that Rier served on the State Board of Education in the 1990s, along with Geiger. Rier is hardworking and honest, Geiger said.

“Jim has a style that’s needed,” Geiger said. “He understands education. He understands the financing of education. He’s been around long enough and is very capable of working out the many difficult issues.”

State Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said she’s known Rier for years. He was chairman of the State Board of Education when Rotundo was president of the Maine School Board Association.

Rier has overseen changes to Maine’s school construction regulations and knows well the complicated process, Rotundo said.

“Jim is extremely knowledgeable of education policy,” she said. “He has integrity. I have great respect for Jim. He’s a good choice. He will listen well to people’s concerns.”

Veteran Auburn School Committee member Tom Kendall also endorsed Rier.

“He has the depth of experience with public education in Maine that will serve the state and our school-age children well,” Kendall said.

Rier’s background will allow him to continue to transform public education, as required to meet the demands of the 21st century, Kendall said.

His nomination has been supported by Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association.

Rier is a former senior project engineer at Buick and he worked for 25 years as president of his family’s car dealership in his hometown of Machias.

He joined the Department of Education in 2003 as director of finance and became deputy commissioner in 2011. Rier began serving as acting commissioner in October, following the resignation of Commissioner Stephen Bowen.

Rier’s nomination next will be taken up by the Legislature’s Education Committee, then will be voted on by the Maine Senate.

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