ROCKLAND, Maine — Judith Lucarelli, the superintendent of Regional School Unit 13 announced Monday that she will retire later this year. In her time with the district, Lucarelli worked to combine two school districts that had voted to consolidate. Since then, the district closed the outdated MacDougal School. It had to lay off about 30 people in 2010 because of state and federal budget cuts. It also has revised how high school works for the six towns — Cushing, Owls Head, Rockland, Saint George, South Thomaston, and Thomaston. The district combined all the 8th and 9th grade students districtwide in one former high school and all 10th through 12th grade students in the former Rockland High School.
The Bangor Daily News conducted an exit interview with Lucarelli on Tuesday.
BDN: In your tenure you had to combine two school districts into one. What was it like being a superintendent in charge of the districts’ consolidation?
Lucarelli: It was an amazing challenge. First of all everyone was committed to it being as seamless as it could be for the children. We tried to deal with it all at an administrative level. In the second year we closed a school. In the third year we redid how we do high school — huge changes. We used the fact that we reorganized into one district as an advantage as we faced a fiscal crisis. If they were still two districts I don’t know how the districts could have dealt with the [state and federal] funding we lost.
Consolidation was supposed to reduce administrative costs. According to Maine Department of Education data, the two districts spent more than $1 million combined on administration before consolidation. Now RSU 13 spends about $660,000 on administration. Was consolidation the right move for RSU 13?
If saving administrative costs was the purpose, yes it worked. But I think there are other things than the cost of administration. I know the programs in kids in grades six through 12 are better because of the number of kids and the energy and passion for the teachers. They’re better for the kids and they only happened because of consolidation. There are many advantages that happened to RSU 13 because of reorganization.
Any surprises with the consolidation?
At the district level, coming from two cultures to one culture is very complex. It was 100 percent underestimated by the people who prepared the legislation. When I talk to RSU superintendents around the state — there are 22 of us [who consolidated many districts into one district] and we talk. The flavor is different in every district, but it’s something we have in common. One of our board members said early on, “MSAD 5 and MSAD 50 are like cousins who live next door to each other but grew up differently.” It’s a very profound statement.
What was the hardest part of your job?
At the school board level it’s been: How do we come together to be one board moving in a common direction? What will that direction be for the children and the citizens in RSU 13? That’s been the hardest. Another hard thing was the process of collective bargaining. The [two former districts’ school] boards had all the contracts expire in the summer of 2009, but we just settled the teachers contract month ago — we’d worked on it for two years. The teachers had been working under the 2008-2009 contract.
What was the best part of the job?
Getting to work with the staff upstanding administration and amazingly dedicated teachers and support staff. It’s the part I will miss the most.
What’s next for you?
I’m retiring. Retirement income isn’t the same as employment income, so I’m contracting with the Muskie School at the University of Southern Maine to work with the department of human services at Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe.
What’s next for the district?
To finish the strategic plan. Make the plan and keep the focus. And I don’t anticipate the budget process will be anywhere near as challenging as it has been in the past two years. I don’t expect a need for the extremely high number of transfers of personnel [like we had in 2010].
Any advice for the next superintendent?
There’s a lot of of people who have important things to say. I’d say listen and then decide what the path is.