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 — The curious recent exit of Middle/High School Principal Katherine Mulderig went unmentioned at the April 17 Lake Placid School Board of Education meeting — until the time came for public comments.
At that point, the public unloaded on the board, repeatedly questioning the judgement of Superintendent Randy Richards and once again calling for his resignation or dismissal.
“The lack of confidence in the current basis of decision making for the district is dangerous, and it’s taking the school and its students in the wrong direction,” said former Middle/High School Principal Robert Schiller. “You have heard, but you have not listened. It is a train wreck. It will not improve until you do what you have been asked to do.”
On Feb. 21, Schiller presented Board President Phil Baumbach with a petition signed by almost 600 people who want Richards to resign immediately. Now Schiller says this May will mark the first time he votes no on a school budget, and he plans to cast his vote as an expression of disapproval of the board.
“The board cannot continue to ignore the 600 community members who signed a petition calling for Dr. Richards’ resignation,” Schiller said. “The board cannot ignore the pending budget vote in May, which in my opinion is in danger of not passing, not due to cost to taxpayers, but due to failed leadership and inaction on the part of the Board of Education.”
Schiller listed the many problems he sees in Richards’ administration, including:
•the Superintendent’s inappropriate language, gender bias and discrimination;
•the termination of positions without prior consultation with the impacted personnel;
•broken promises to the teaching staff;
•arbitrary and thoughtless decisions such as changing the contribution for health care to retirees;
•failed long-range budget planning for a tax cap that schools knew about last year;
•BOCES technology spending that is more costly to the district;
•the use of BOCES services that are more costly and cannot be administered locally;
•the posting of possible staff cuts using exact salaries without any prior communication with individuals involved;
•and the removal of competent teachers from positions of districtwide importance.
Schiller’s comments received a standing ovation.
About 70 people attended the April 17 School Board meeting. Attendees repeatedly applauded the individuals addressing the board.
Judy Waldy, a parent, told Richards that she is “extremely appalled” by his previous comments and behavior.
“It is not acceptable to me in any way, shape or form, and I am embarrassed that you are our superintendent,” Waldy said. “Shame on you! I’m asking you to step down for the good of our children.”
On April 19, Richards told the Valley News he expects to stay on the job through the end of his contract, which expires in the spring of 2013.
Erenstone vs. Richards
Jeff Erenstone joined Schiller and Waldy in calling for Richards’ job.
“I wanted to use this upcoming vote as a referendum against Randy Richards — vote no to Randy and overwhelmingly take him down — but I’ve had some good conversations and cooler heads prevailed,” Erenstone said. “You need to terminate him because he’s sending a message that it’s OK to bully.”
“Vote this budget down, go anti-Randy Richards, and the kids will suffer,” Richards responded. “It has nothing to do with me. It’s for your kids.”
Erenstone used his time at the podium to question Richards’ math, his competence, and his integrity.
A press release stating that $500,000 must be sliced from school expenditures if the School Board’s proposed budget fails to win voter approval and a contingency budget is enacted was at the center of the Erenstone-Richards debate.
Richards said the $500,000 figure comes from adding the amount already trimmed from the budget and the $246,000 that will need to be cut if a contingency budget is adopted.
“How’d you get the $500,000?” Erenestone asked. “The levy is capped at 0 percent in the contingency budget, so that’s $246,000 — not $500,000. That number was unfounded. You’re off by half!”
Voters have the right to defeat the school budget and force a contingency budget, Erenstone argued.
“And it doesn’t have to hurt the students, and don’t make that claim, because that is a bully tactic, and it’s a bully tactic using misinformation,” Erenstone said, adding that the district can use its fund balance to save programs for students.
Richards responded to Erenstone.
“You’re way out of bounds in attacking my morality or my competence,” the superintendent said. “You want to talk about bullying? You’re a bully to sit there and call me that, point the finger that way.”
The $500,000 came from taking the money the district had to cut to get to the proposed budget plus another quarter million dollars.
“That’s over half a million dollars cut to programs, and it’s no bully tactic at all,” Richards said. “You take that much away from their budget and kids suffer and programs suffer. I stand by that. This district cannot afford to go much further in its reserves. I have concerns about using the reserves we’ve used this year and last year.”
Richards vs. Mulderig
In 2011, Principal Mulderig filed a gender discrimination complaint against Richards, and the Equal Opportunity Employment Coalition subsequently found that Richards engaged in both gender discrimination and retaliation against Mulderig, and created a hostile work environment for the principal.
Sources within the school confirm that Mulderig is gone for good. She left before Easter break and will not return to work.
District leaders have remained mum on the matter, though Richards issued a terse press release.
“The district and a particular employee have reached a tentative agreement regarding the separation from employment and resolution of the disputed claims,” the release stated. “The Board of Education authorizes the President of the Board of Education to execute a settlement agreement and release on behalf of the district and such other documents as may be necessary to effectuate the terms of that agreement as recommended by the attorney for the district.”
Upon advice of the district counsel, Richards said he will not be providing any additional comment.
Schiller and many others have been asking Richards to resign and putting pressure on the School Board since December, when it was revealed that the superintendent had used inappropriate language when referring to female employees. Richards apologized for his actions in a districtwide letter, but that hasn’t stopped members of the community from seeking to oust him from his job.
Baumbach has said that the School Board is standing behind Richards and that discussing personnel matters in public would be “inappropriate and non-productive.”
Baumbach told the Valley News that he anticipates Richards serving out his contract.
Home ec. teacher axed
After the April 17 meeting, Marsha Roy, the district’s longtime home economics teacher, told the Valley News that her position was eliminated and that her courses will be taught on a fill-in basis by teachers of other subjects when they are available.
Roy was disappointed that her job was not discussed publically by district leaders, who are set to trim spending on sports, summer school and transportation in addition to spending on instructors as they seek to abide by the state’s new tax levy increase cap.
Richards confirmed that Roy’s job will be cut.
“It’s not in the budget right now,” the superintendent said. “We’re going to deliver the instruction a different way. We’re required to teach home and careers at the middle school level and we’re going to split that duty up among some existing teachers right now. We’re going to map it out and see if we can do without it, because this year’s budget is so tight.”
Roy had formally retired at the end of last year, but agreed to teach a few classes a day this year. Richards said other home and careers courses are currently being taught by other teachers.
(Andy Flynn contributed to this article.)