Harford schools' Licata set to retire after 42 years, many new schools built

Joe Licata has worked for Harford County Public Schools for 42 years, starting as a teacher and moving through the ranks to second-in-command under five superintendents.

As an adult, Licata has never worked for another organization but HCPS. He moved to Harford County from his native Buffalo, N.Y., in 1976 to take a position as an industrial arts teacher at Havre de Grace High School.

He said he has held many jobs with HCPS “and I’ve enjoyed every single one.”

When people asked him why he stayed so long, Licata said, he told them it was because of the “great people” at HCPS and the “great community.”

“I’ve enjoyed my career; I have no regrets,” he said.

He had an hand in supervising or overseeing the construction of 20 new school buildings and the school headquarters in Bel Air, as well as the renovations of countless others.

And he’s attended hundreds of Board of Education meetings, but Monday was his last in an official capacity.

Licata, the Harford County Public Schools chief of administration, is retiring effective Nov. 1, and was lauded for his service by school board members and Superintendent Sean Bulson, who thanked Licata for helping him get acclimated since taking over the leadership of HCPS in July.

“I’ve really enjoyed working with you,” Bulson told Licata.

Board President Joseph Voskuhl had some friendly advice for Licata, who is known for his jokes.

“When you cash that first retirement check, buy new golf clubs and take lessons – I’ve played golf with Joe – you’ll enjoy retirement much more,” Voskuhl said.

Board member Alfred Williamson said Licata is “a special kind of person who is hard not to like,” and was one of several board members to praise Licata for his accessibility and willingness to address their questions and concerns about the school system.

“The name of Joe Licata is synonymous with Harford County Public Schools,” board member Robert Frisch said. “You have a wealth of knowledge...a walking encyclopedia of what has been going on in the school system.”

Board member Thomas Fitzpatrick said Licata “has been a great help to me… If I wanted to know what was going on [in the school system] I called Joe. Man, I’m going to miss you.”

Licata said this summer that he had considered retiring at the end of the last school year in June along with outgoing superintendent Barbara Canvavan, but she told him one of them needed to stay to help Bulson get situated, “and Barbara had already announced she was going,” so he said he would stay a few more months.

Licata said he has no immediate retirement plans. He said he has been teaching a graduate level course at Towson University – in school budgeting and finance, he said with a smile – which is now being offered online, but nothing concrete beyond that.

He became chief of administration in 2007 under then superintendent Jacqueline Haas and also served under interim superintendent Patricia Skebeck, former superintendents Robert Tomback and Canavan, and under Bulson. From 1997 to 2007, he was assistant superintendent for operations.

The first major school construction project he managed was Ring Factory Elementary, which opened in 1990. He oversaw the rebuild of four high schools — Aberdeen, North Harford, Edgewood and Bel Air, plus the start of the Havre de Grace High and Middle School replacement and the construction of Patterson Mill High and Middle School and Fallston Middle School. His last completed project was the Youth’s Benefit rebuild which was formally dedicated in April.

Licata said he hopes to be remembered as someone who was “fair, accessible and solved problems, not created them.”

“I felt my responsibility was to serve 38,000 kids in our system; I didn’t get caught up in the politics and other stuff,” he said.

Slutzky honored

The school board also presented a proclamation to outgoing Harford County Council President Richard Slutzky in recognition of his service to the school system as an educator and liaison to the system from the council.

Slutzky is retiring from the council in early December after serving 16 years, the past four as president. He was a 31-year teacher and coach at Aberdeen High School prior to entering local politics.

In its proclamation, the board thanked Slutzky for his “greatly valued” service.

“I think we were able to create great synergies in working together,” Slutzky said in accepting the proclamation from Voskuhl and Bulson.

While they didn’t always agree, Frisch said he never doubted Slutzky believed what he was doing was in the best interest of the school system.

He thanked Slutzky for setting an example that all public officials can follow when it comes to education concerns.

“You’ve positively affected many lives in your school and public careers,” Frisch said.

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