New Castle News

February 2, 2013

Gabriel says retirement a frustration, trust issue

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — George Gabriel decided to retire as superintendent of New Castle Schools out of frustration.

His tide of support changed after the last school board election and several newcomers seemed to share different philosophies about decisions presented to them for votes.

The tipping point was in October. After a few years of planning for a renovation and consolidation of grade schools, the board voted against the $24 million project, which was to be done partly with $17.5 million in an interest-free federal loan.

After the board’s vote to defeat the project, a livid Gabriel submitted his retirement letter.

Earlier this week, struggling with tugs of regret, he packed up his belongings and vacated his office. He did not attend his last board meeting Tuesday.

Gabriel explained last week why he had decided to retire early so abruptly.

“When the board decided five to four not to approve the building project, it was a shocking disappointment to me,” he said. “It led me to believe I no longer wanted to continue with this district. I had worked three and a half to four years toward consolidating and providing a state-of-the-art early learning facility. I thought we made a compelling case.”

When the architects came back with bids exceeding what the district had indicated initially it wanted to spend, the board voted it down.

The unanimous approval to proceed came later — after Gabriel’s retirement letter and after administrators had explained to the board the district could lose millions of dollars if the project did not move forward.

“I’m not mad, I’m not bitter, but I am a bit confused about how I was treated,” Gabriel said. “Certainly these people on the board realize how much passion I have for this school district.”

Gabriel, 63, has been with the district for 54 years, from grade school to graduation, then 42 years as a teacher and administrator.

“The board of directors has to have an inherent trust and confidence in the superintendent and administrative staff, but somehow, I feel that somewhere along the line, some of this divided board doesn’t have that with me,” Gabriel said.

“I’ve had no motives but to help the students of this district.”

 Karen Humphrey, the current board member with the longest tenure — 17 years — said she was surprised when Gabriel submitted his letter.

“I believe at the meeting I asked him to wait a day, to see if he felt differently.”

The board members traditionally have differed on issues, Humphrey said, and the issues now seem to be causing divisiveness.

“I sit here baffled that some of the trust has been lost,” Gabriel commented about the board. “I hope the new person will have that trust, and I think that might become part of the healing process.”