LAKE PLACID - Lake Placid Central School District Superintendent Randy Richards will step down five weeks sooner than previously expected, at which point Roger Catania will take his place.
Last June, the district's Board of Education decided to part ways with Richards after his current contract expires. Then in December, the board announced that Catania would become interim superintendent, starting July 1.
In a press release Tuesday, the board announced that "by mutual agreement," Richards will begin using his accrued vacation days on May 24, "until the negotiated end date of his three-year contract" expires on June 30. The board also said Catania will officially become acting superintendent on Saturday, May 25. His first official day of work will be Tuesday, May 28, the day after Memorial Day.
"This will allow the district to conduct its normal business matters routinely handled by the Superintendent of Schools," the release said. "Dr. Richards, Dr. Catania, and the Board of Education have been working together to ensure a smooth transition in leadership. The Board of Education thanks Dr. Richards for his service to the District and wishes him well."
"I am very excited to be returning to the Lake Placid Central School District," Catania wrote in an email to the Enterprise. "Lake Placid and Wilmington are wonderful communities, with active and involved families, great students, and terrific teachers. Our secretaries, custodians, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers are equally committed to our students - which I think speaks volumes."
School board President Mary Dietrich told the Enterprise that Catania will receive a stipend of $5,000 for his role as acting superintendent. Benefits won't kick in until he becomes interim superintendent for the 2013-14 school year, for which he'll be paid $115,000.
Dietrich said Catania is starting the job early, without benefits, "as a favor to the district."
Richards' tenure with the district was tainted by a gender-bias grievance filed by former middle-high school Principal Katherine Mulderig, who accepted an undisclosed settlement and parted ways with the district last year.
Richards also had to deal with the implementation of the state's new property tax cap. He warned that New York school districts, including Lake Placid, will face some huge challenges starting next year. He advised paying attention to the ongoing school funding dilemma in Tupper Lake, which - despite a quarter of the faculty being laid of in 2010 - still faces heavy tax hikes and drawdowns from fiscal reserves.
"I kind of use Tupper Lake as the barometer," Richards said. "For some odd reason, they're about two years ahead of the rest of us. The problem is, you're seeing a lot of districts dip into fund balances, and they can't last forever.
"So I see, within a year or two really, the districts being even more affected than they are now. We've been able to get by in Lake Placid. We're lucky; we've had a fund balance. I think regionally, as fund balances dry up, the realities will hit taxpayers. And you're forced with either piercing that bubble on the cap or greatly reducing staff and programs."
Richards declined to comment on his upcoming departure. He said he doesn't have any plans for the immediate future.
In the weeks ahead, Richards will work with the board as it prepares for two public hearings on the proposed 2013-14 budget. The public decides whether to approve the plan on May 21.
Richards said he will also help the district prepare for summer school and with the master schedule for next year.
"Plus, we're finishing up all of those (Annual Professional Performance Reviews) for teachers," he said.
"I think overall, I leave the district in much better shape than I found it," Richards added. "I'll be leaving some detailed plans and notes for my successor. We've met a couple times. He'll have a good knowledge of what needs to be done."
Dietrich stressed that the district isn't buying out Richards' contract.
His leaving early "isn't a reflection on the job we think he's done or hasn't done for us," she said. "It's kind of a practical solution to how we handle his unused vacation days."
Catania's appointment for 2013-14 is an interim one. Dietrich said the board will decide whether to make the appointment permanent "fairly early on.
"The theory behind it was that we really didn't go through a search process," she said. "While we're hopeful that Roger will be our superintendent for a long time, we wanted to give the community and Roger and the school district a chance to work together and make that decision."
Dietrich said Catania has what is known as a "transitional D certification" to be superintendent. She said he will soon complete coursework to meet the qualifications to receive a permanent certification.
"Right now, he has a provisional certification that's good for five years," Dietrich said.
Catania worked as a guidance counselor for the district for more than 10 years. He was also a member of the Committee on Special Education and helped to coordinate curriculum development. He currently works at Alfred University.
He said he looks forward to working with faculty and staff at the elementary school because his first stint at the district kept him mostly at the middle-high school. He said starting sooner than expected means he'll "have to hit the ground running."
Catania said the proposed budget for next year is "sound," and he hopes the community will approve it.
"It's a lean budget, it's under the cap, it still reflects positions lost due to attrition through retirements, but it preserves important and vital programs at all levels, programs that have helped LPCSD retain high standards of excellence within difficult financial circumstances," he said.
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or email@example.com.