AUGUSTA — Employees of Maine Child Development Services overwhelmingly supported a vote of no confidence in the director of the state agency, citing complaints such as long wait times for services, a toxic work environment and “apparent nepotism” in hiring and personnel decisions.

The union representing those employees said Thursday that the vote also stems from Roberta Lucas’ “apparent support” for dissolving the agency and “pushing its state-mandated services onto Maine’s public schools – something the Maine Legislature has declined to do.”

Tom Farkas, a spokesperson for the Maine Service Employees Association, Local 1989, said in a written statement that 96% of union members who work for the agency supported a no confidence vote on Thursday morning. He said those who voted no confidence represented a majority of all workers in the agency. It was not clear Thursday how many people voted or how many people were eligible to vote.

CDS is a quasi-independent state agency under the supervision of the Maine Department of Education that provides educational services for children with disabilities. It has nine locations throughout the state, including Portland, Lewiston, Oxford and Waterville, providing services to children under the age of 5 who have intellectual, developmental or physical disabilities in public educational settings. Those services include speech, occupational, behavioral, physical and art therapy.

Union members blame Lucas for staff turnover and vacancies, saying 29 workers have quit since June 1. While 28 people have since been hired, they said 70 vacancies remain, representing 20% of all positions. Those vacancies have led to heavier caseloads for remaining workers, the union said.

“The toxic work culture that Roberta Lucas has created has hurt morale and driven many CDS workers out of the agency, exacerbating the long wait times for services,” union President Dean Staffieri said in a letter to Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin on Thursday.


Katrina Ray-Saulis, union field representative for the education unit, said the nepotism allegations come from union members who believe Lucas is forcing out – and in some cases firing – experienced field directors and replacing them with friends and former associates who workers believe are not qualified.

Lucas did not respond to a request for an interview on Thursday.

The Department of Education “takes seriously the thoughts and concerns raised by the employees of Child Development Services,” Marcus Mrowka, a spokesperson for the department, said in prepared statement. “The Maine DOE believes that CDS is a crucial program and will continue efforts to bolster and improve CDS.”

Mrowka said the state is in the midst of a review of the agency and how the state serves children with disabilities.

“Consistent with a resolve passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, the Maine DOE is studying CDS and plans to submit a report to the Legislature no later than February 15, 2024, that examines: development and implementation of partnerships with private providers; funding models and budgets; responsibility for free, appropriate public education; transportation; employment and staffing; programs, enrollment and children served; and infrastructure and material needs,” he said. “This effort builds on the many years of work by the Maine DOE to improve the care and services that CDS provides to infants and toddlers with disabilities across Maine.”

Staffieri, the union president, called on Makin to replace Lucas “with a director who is committed to the agency’s success,” form a hiring committee for a new director that includes workers and families, and create an oversight board for the agency.

“We have repeatedly tried to communicate with the Maine Department of Education’s program manager for CDS and have continually been denied an audience,” Staffieri said. “We, therefore, are asking you to take immediate action to address the concerns of CDS workers and their recommended course of action.”

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