There may be compelling reasons why Lake Placid’s school board continues to stand behind embattled Superintendent Randy Richards. It would behoove all concerned for the board to explain those reasons to the public, because, on the face of it, the situation does not add up.
To his credit, Board President Phil Baumbach recently provided us with a rationale for keeping Richards on the payroll. It doesn’t strike us as compelling, but it’s better than silence.
“First and foremost, Randy Richards is a responsible guy,” Baumbach said. “He’s been able to provide a good budget for the voters, he’s keeping the academic programs going, and he’s doing this at a very challenging time. We’ve heard what the community has said, but we feel that Randy is moving the school forward ... In any community there will always be differences.”
Baumbach’s comments are a start, but seem unlikely to satisfy the crowds that attend board meetings. Creating a responsible budget for the voters and moving a school forward is the minimum that a school superintendent should do.
If you haven’t been following this story, here’s an abridged version: Richards has admitted to using language that is wholly inappropriate and unacceptable, particularly when one considers the setting and context in which the offensive terms were used.
After that, Lake Placid’s high school principal, Katherine Mulderig — one woman at the receiving end of Richards’ derogatory remarks — filed a gender discrimination complaint against Richards.
As has been widely reported, the Equal Opportunity Employment Coalition eventually found that the principal had standing for her claims that Richards engaged in gender discrimination, retaliation, and the creation of a hostile work environment.
Mulderig’s peculiar recent exit from the scene adds another wrinkle to the mess.
People in Lake Placid and Wilmington are outraged. Taxpayers line up at packed school board meetings (which are now necessarily held in a much larger room) to give the powers that be a dose of their ire, voices shaking with emotion — and receive sustained applause from the crowd.
Retired high school principal Robert Schiller has emerged as a voice of dissent, a position difficult for many who know Schiller to fathom. Schiller always seemed a genial consensus builder, but there he was, handing the school board a petition with nearly 600 signatures demanding Richards’ ouster.
Schiller — who is a highly respected member of the community and has rare insight into school matters — recently presented the board with a long list of reasons for the district to shed Richards, most of which are unrelated to his offensive comments.
It is readily apparent that large numbers of parents and teachers join Schiller in broadly distrusting Richards’ competence and judgement.
It may be that Richards is a decent man who made a mistake, owned up to it, and apologized. However, if Richards wanted to behave decently, it seems likely that he would have resigned months ago, sparring everyone else considerable time and frustration. He has said that he anticipates staying on the job through next spring.
We believe that the members of Lake Placid’s school board are public-spirited volunteers who are acting under the advice of attorneys and doing their best under trying circumstances. The idea that they are privy to information that justifies their support for Richards is plausible, but their community is poorly served by any counsel who advises continued silence.
Silence in such situations (and they are unfortunately a reoccurring phenomenon around our area) is easily interpreted as stonewalling, as waiting it out until “they” get tired of the matter and move on — or as something more insidious. Secrecy on such matters often serves to increase discord, distrust and division.
The firestorm in Lake Placid seems likely to continue until the board presents the public with reasonable explanations.
Aren’t taxpayers observing such spectacles entitled to at least that much?
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