Brunswick Assistant Superintendent Pender Makin and Gov.-elect Janet Mills stand at a podium as Mills announces her nomination of Makin as education commissioner in December 2018. Credit: Michael Shepherd

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov.-elect Janet Mills said Wednesday she’ll nominate Brunswick Assistant Superintendent Pender Makin to lead the Maine Department of Education and her pushes for universal pre-K and raising minimum teacher salaries in Maine.

Makin, 54, of Scarborough has been the second-in-command in Brunswick since 2015 after 12 years as the principal of an alternative high school now controlled by Brunswick, where she was named principal of the year by the Maine Principals Association in 2013.

She is Mills’ sixth commissioner pick to date as the outgoing Democratic attorney general approaches her Jan. 2 inauguration to replace Gov. Paul LePage, a conservative Republican who often warred with Mills during her six years in that post.

Past governors have had a difficult time managing education. LePage’s predecessor, Democrat John Baldacci, passed a 2007 school consolidation plan that many cities and towns have opted out of. While LePage won a key reform in 2011 when the Legislature established public charter schools, his later years were marked by instability atop the department.

The current education commissioner, Robert Hasson, was confirmed in 2017 after LePage shuffled acting officials in out of the job. Mills couched Makin’s nomination as a chance to bring stable leadership to the department, and the nominee said Maine should “move away from the practice of reducing the definition of school success to a few questionably valid measurements.”

“Our schools do so much more and our students are so much more than their test scores,” Makin said. “It’s time to stop overlooking measures of success simply because they’re difficult to measure or to plot on a graph.”

Democrats will control the executive and legislative branches after the 2018 election that Mills won behind an education agenda that includes goals of universal pre-K, raising minimum teacher salaries from $30,000 per year — a mark set in 2007 — to $40,000 and the state meeting a never-met standard of paying 55 percent of basic education costs.

One of Mills’ first jobs in office will be to submit a two-year budget proposal to the Legislature. On Wednesday, she called the proposal “a work in progress” and labeled all three of those items priorities. However, Mills has said she doesn’t plan to raise taxes on Mainers in that budget.

Makin and other nominees will face confirmation hearings and must be approved by the Maine Senate. Mills told reporters on Wednesday that she expects to be “pretty close” to filling all 14 commissioner spots when she takes office next week.

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Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after time at the Kennebec Journal. He lives in Augusta, graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and has a master's degree from the University...