The superintendent of School Administrative District 6, who sparked controversy two years ago by withholding a Bonny Eagle High School student’s diploma during his graduation ceremony, has resigned to become chief of Ellsworth-based Regional School Unit 24.

Suzanne Lukas planned to formally submit her resignation letter to the SAD 6 board of directors at a meeting Monday night.

She said Monday morning that her decision had “absolutely nothing to do” with the backlash she received from the controversial graduation ceremony in 2009. Lukas called her seven years at SAD 6 “a long tenure” for a superintendent and said she was ready for a change.

“This is an opportunity that professionals take all the time. There is nothing more to this than that,” she said.

During the 2009 ceremony at the Cumberland County Civic Center, Lukas refused to give a diploma to a student who bowed and blew a kiss to the audience and wore a cord necklace that she said was not approved. Another student was escorted out of the ceremony after the graduating seniors began bouncing beach balls on stage.

The incident, which became a national news story, drew the ire of students and parents, who called for Lukas’ removal. The school board stood behind her actions.

A committee of students, parents, school administrators and board members subsequently was formed to discuss graduation guidelines every year before the ceremony.

Lukas did not hand out diplomas last year.

Lukas, 59, was the assistant superintendent of Kennebunk schools for seven years before she was hired in Buxton. Previously, she worked as a teacher in Scarborough, a principal in Biddeford and as the curriculum director for Sanford schools.

No timeline has been set for when she’ll stop working for SAD 6 or start her new job. Lila Wilkins, chairman of the SAD 6 school board, said Lukas is obligated under her contract to give the district 90 days’ notice.

Wilkins said the board will discuss a transition plan at its meeting May 16.

Wilkins called Lukas a “financial expert” whose careful budgeting enabled the district to avoid layoffs, unlike many nearby school departments.

“Personally, I’m sorry that she’s moving on. She’s a great leader,” Wilkins said.

The RSU 24 school board voted last week to hire Lukas, said Nelia Lake, administrative assistant to the superintendent of that district.

Lake said Lukas will replace William Webster, who left RSU 24 in December when he became superintendent of Lewiston schools.

Lukas said she and her husband, who have two grown children, plan to move to the Ellsworth area, where they’ve always wanted to live.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: [email protected]