Former Lake Placid Middle/High School Principal Robert Schiller hands Lake Placid Central School Board President Phil Baumbach a petition of almost 600 names of people who are demanding that School Superintendent Randy Richards resign during the Feb. 21 meeting. Richards, seen at the far right, had admitted to and apologized for using inappropriate language when referring to female employees.
Lake Placid Central School District Superintendent Randy Richards must go, and he must go now, according to hundreds of district residents.
At the School Board’s Feb. 21 meeting, retired Middle/High School Principal Robert Schiller presented Board President Phil Baumbach with a petition signed by almost 600 people who want Richards to resign immediately.
“It is my opinion that if the board does not act and Dr. Richards does not resign upon receiving this petition, that the ramifications would be catastrophic for the school district,” Schiller said during the public comment period.
Schiller and many others have been asking Richards to resign and putting pressure on the School Board to force the issue since December, after it was learned that the superintendent had used inappropriate language when referring to female employees, including the word “bitchy.” Richards apologized for his actions in a districtwide letter in early December, but that hasn’t stopped Schiller and members of the recently formed Community Alliance for Responsible Excellence in Education (CAREE) from their mission to oust Richards from his job.
“The questions remain, the solution seems obvious, yet nothing has been resolved,” Schiller said, reading from a prepared statement. “So tonight we will change the dialogue and the direction of the debate. Tonight the school board must take notice and act. Tonight is the night that this board of education will hear the voice of a collective of the school community. Although each board meeting has had community input, this meeting will raise the bar in dramatic fashion.”
With almost 600 names on the petition, Schiller said that number is significant, as it represents the number of voters who typically pass a school budget. In actuality, 746 people voted on the 2011-12 school budget May 17, 2011. Voters also elected Herbert Stoerr to the board with 501 votes and re-elected Baumbach with 476.
“It’s important that the school board listen to the voice of the constituents,” Schiller said. “The teachers, the students, the parents and the people of Lake Placid deserve better.”
Schiller’s speech was followed by half a minute of applause and two more speakers, including Tricia Garrett, a mother of three and longtime substitute teacher.
“I can’t believe it’s come to this,” Garrett said, adding that she has spoken to a number of teachers, students, parents and community members about the School Board and the superintendent. “Sadly, none of them seem happy with the status of our district ... The Lake Placid Central School District needs an intervention, and we need it now.”
Garrett said she has seen the morale of the school community go up and down over the tenure of five school superintendents, “But it has never been remotely this bad. We do not just have a hostile working environment; we have a toxic working environment, where fear prevails and bullying and intimidation are motivating factors. This is unacceptable. We need to restore respect and a positive working environment right now so that our students learn from a positive model.”
The School Board immediately went into executive session for a “tenure discussion” after more than 60 chairs in the Elementary School cafeteria were folded and put away.
Baumbach has said in previous media reports that the School Board is standing behind Richards and that discussing personnel matters in public would be “inappropriate and non-productive.”
In March 2011, Lake Placid Middle/HIgh School Principal Katherine Mulderig filed a complaint of discrimination for gender bias, sex discrimination and harassment with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charging Richards with making inappropriate comments to her when proposing a job change. The EEOC made a decision on the complaint Feb. 10 and ruled against Richards, Mulderig's attorney, Phillip Steck of Cooper Erving & Savage in Albany, said in a phone interview with the Valley News Feb. 22. He would not comment on the ruling.
Neither Richards nor Baumbach could be reached by press time for comment.