LAKE PLACID - The school board has approved a settlement agreement in what could be one of the final steps in parting ways with middle-high school Principal Katherine Mulderig.
Meanwhile, several members of the school community gave impassioned speeches before a packed room during Tuesday night's regular board of education meeting at the Lake Placid Elementary School cafeteria. Many of those speakers once again called for the removal of Superintendent Randy Richards.
The settlement agreement was approved after an hour-long executive session which involved two lawyers who are representing the school district: Jacqueline Kelleher of Stafford, Piller, Murnane, Plimpton, Kelleher & Trombley PLLC in Plattsburgh, and Douglas E. Gerhardt of Harris Beach PLLC in Saratoga Springs.
Residents fill the room Tuesday night during the regular meeting of the Lake Placid school board.
Board President Phil Baumbach read the resolution on the agreement aloud after the board returned to regular session. It states that the district and a "particular employee have reached a tentative agreement" to part ways. That agreement would resolve "disputed claims."
The agreement is subject to a "legally required waiting period of up to 29 days."
The resolution was moved by school board member Janet Smith, seconded by Jill Cardinale-Segger and unanimously adopted. The meeting was adjourned immediately after the vote.
Baumbach said he could not name the employee in question, but a district employee told the Enterprise last week that Mulderig, who has been involved in a dispute with Richards over an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint, had agreed to accept a settlement offer and leave her job permanently.
The employee spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of getting fired.
On Monday, Richards told faculty, staff and the school community that Mulderig was on a paid personal leave of absence, although Mulderig said she was not being paid.
"Just do it"
Earlier in the evening, former middle-high school Principal Robert Schiller gave the board a list of reasons why he thinks Richards has failed in his job as superintendent, and renewed his call for the board to remove Richards from his post.
"The community would support this board in its effort to remove the current superintendent of schools," Schiller said. "Like Nike says, 'Just do it.'"
Schiller said Richards has exhibited "behavior unbecoming of a school leader, flawed decision making, retribution in the workplace, lack of respect for work environment, lack of effective communication, disregard for parents' needs and concerns, and lack of long-range planning designed to return the district to a place of excellence in the North Country."
In February, Schiller presented the board with a petition with 600 signatures calling for Richards to step down. Schiller said the board's response, "We will take it under consideration," was a non-response.
Schiller cited issues he has with Richards and the school board that go beyond Mulderig's EEOC complaint, which was later backed up by a ruling that said Richards did engage in gender discrimination and retaliation, and created a hostile work environment for Mulderig.
"Hiring retirees back whose positions were reduced or eliminated, broken promises to the teaching staff, arbitrary and thoughtless decisions such as changing the contribution for health care for retirees, that's since been rescinded by the board of education," Schiller said. "Changing the CSE (Committee on Special Education) chair to director so only an administrator with a school leadership certificate can fill the position. Giving this position, which is a full-time position with enormous time and legal responsibilities, to the elementary school principal, who already has a full-time position."
Schiller said he had problems with spending money on Board of Cooperative Educational Services, and the proposed spending of $45,000 on a public relations service which he said "should be initiated and led by those in charge of this school district." That line item has been removed from the 2012-13 budget.
He also accused Richards of removing "competent teachers from positions of district-wide importance in an arbitrary and retributive manner."
"The challenge is great, and time is of the essence," Schiller said. "The board cannot ignore the above-mentioned incompetency."
Schiller said the budget is in danger of not passing, not because of its cost to taxpayers but due to failed leadership.
"It will be the first time that I vote no to a school budget," he said.
Other community members, like Linda Wallace, questioned why the board often votes to approve personal leaves during public session, but no discussion of Mulderig's leave ever occurred at a board meeting.
"It's an important issue to the community, and there's obviously money being spent," she said. "The details aren't necessary, but if we're paying for a leave of absence, we have a right to know. I'm not here supporting Mulderig; it just has to do with the facts. You typically vote on that."
Lake Placid resident Jeff Erenstone said statements by Richards that voting down the proposed budget could hurt students were akin to bully tactics. Erenstone said he, too, wanted to vote against the budget because he doesn't trust Richards.
But Richards responded emphatically. He said Erenstone was out of bounds by attacking his character.
"Vote this budget down, go anti-Randy Richards, whatever you want to do; vote this budget down, your kids will suffer," he said. "It has nothing to do with me."
Judy Waldy of Wilmington, who has two children in the school district, said she is embarrassed that Richards is the district's superintendent. She said her children have seen their grades drop, and she attributes that to the atmosphere at the middle-high school.
"This scares the crap out of me," Waldy said.
Waldy asked Richards to step down for the good of the children and the community.
Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.