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9. Lake Placid school district weathers internal turmoil

January 15, 2013
By CHRIS MORRIS - Staff Writer (cmorris@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

LAKE PLACID - The Lake Placid Central School District endured a turbulent 2012, caused in large part by a controversy involving district Superintendent Randy Richards and former middle-high school Principal Katherine Mulderig.

The story stretches back to late 2011, when the Enterprise first reported that Mulderig had filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against Richards. Mulderig revealed during a May 2011 hearing that, in February of that year, Richards had tried to reassign her to the elementary school because he needed someone "bitchier" to govern the "bitchy" elementary school teachers. At the hearing, Richards had admitted to using those words. Mulderig also said Richards told her that because the was the middle-high school's first female principal, she would have to work harder than a male principal would to earn the community's trust. Richards has denied this claim.

Soon after the story broke, Richards apologized to faculty and staff for his remarks, but before school let out for Christmas vacation, nearly 40 middle-high school students staged a protest outside of the district's Administrative Services Center to protest his actions.

Article Photos

Superintendent Randy Richards works on the Lake Placid Central School District budget in April.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)

The new year didn't bring any relief for Richards. School board meetings overflowed with angry parents and community members, and in February, former middle-high school Principal Robert Schiller presented the board of education with a petition calling for Richards' removal. Nearly 600 people had signed it.

"During the past several months, it's become clear that Dr. Richards is leading the school district in a direction that is opposed to the wishes of the teachers, students and community members of Lake Placid," Schiller said at a Feb 21 board meeting. "He has demonstrated a lack of competence as chief school officer in his working relationship with staff, students and parents to move this district forward in order to best meet the needs of all of its constituents."

The school board kept fairly quiet about opposition to Richards. When the EEOC validated Mulderig's complaint, then-President Phil Baumbach seemed to dismiss the determination.

"The determination involves a personnel matter; it's an administrative determination from an office in New Jersey, not a judge's ruling," Baumbach said at the time. "We believe it failed to adequately look at all of the facts. Beyond that, because it is litigation, I can't comment any further."

Baumbach also said at the time that the board respected the community's input on the superintendent.

"We all understand this is a very difficult situation for members of the school district," he said. "We'll continue to work on it with our attorneys."

Mulderig eventually accepted a settlement offer from the district to leave her position, which she did in the middle of spring break with no public notice from her or district officials. With help from an anonymous source who was close to Mulderig, the Enterprise broke the story two days before students returned to class from the two-week break and took state exams that same day.

"She had all these boxes packed (in her office), so I asked her what she was doing," the anonymous employee said at the time. "That's when we got into the conversation that she was leaving. She had had enough."

Her position was left vacant until the end of the school year.

The district's dilemma prompted a trio of concerned community members - Mary Dietrich, Martha Stahl and Patti Gallagher - to run for the school board. They were successful, and Dietrich took over as president. Not long after, the board announced it would not renew Richards' contract after its three-year run expires in June 2013.

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Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or cmorris@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.

 
 

 

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