LAKE PLACID - A local woman has filed an appeal with the commissioner of the state Education Department seeking removal of Lake Placid Central School District Superintendent Randy Richards.
Meanwhile, the Lake Placid Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to provide legal backing for Richards as the Education Department begins reviewing the appeal.
Linda Wallace of Lake Placid submitted her appeal to the Education Department on April 30, accusing Richards of "derogation of responsibility, neglect of duty and deliberate indifference."
Wallace said Richards mismanaged the budget process by providing "misleading, inaccurate and inflated figures" to voters in a press release that was distributed before the May 15 school budget vote. She also said Richards inferred harm to children and educational programs "should a contingency budget need to be implemented."
In an April 5 press release, Richards wrote that if voters turned down two consecutive budgets, the district would need to reduce the budget by about $500,000. The district's budget officer, Leonard Sauers, later explained that the actual shortfall would be approximately $246,000.
Wallace said documents containing information on the 2012-13 budget were also misleading because they contained information from the 2011-12 budget.
Wallace's appeal seeks immediate removal of Richards as superintendent, a determination that his actions weren't in the best interest of the school district and any other relief the commissioner deems "just and proper."
Wallace said that she put the appeal together herself and hasn't retained her own lawyer. The appeal cost her $20 to file.
"My major intent was bringing it to the commissioner's attention and having the commissioner look at it," she said.
The board's lawyer, Douglas Gerhardt of Harris Beach PLLC in Albany, said the appeal to the commissioner is a "quasi-judicial proceeding," not a lawsuit.
"In that process, a petition is filed, and anybody with standing can file," he said. "It's then answered, and a reply can be offered, and the commissioner decides it."
Gerhardt said most appeals deal with the discipline of a student by a school administrator. He said parents will sometimes file an appeal if their child is suspended.
He said residency issues for school board members also prompt many appeals. The last time the Lake Placid school district dealt with a commissioner's appeal was in 2003 regarding a discipline matter.
Gerhardt said a challenge to the appeal needs to be filed within 30 days, and it can take up to a year for the commissioner to make a decision.
Some board members, including Jill Cardinale Segger, Herb Stoerr and the newly-appointed Martha Stahl - who was sworn in Tuesday ahead of two other newly elected members because she's filling an unexpired term - said they were hesitant about voting for the resolution because they hadn't seen Wallace's appeal.
"Does passing such a resolution indicate any opinion on the part of the board?" Stahl asked. "Because obviously we haven't seen it yet."
"It's indicating you are, pursuant to law, defending this action," Gerhardt said. "And there's only one named party in this - the superintendent - but it's seeking removal of the superintendent, which has a direct action on this district and this board."
The board discussed the resolution with Gerhardt in closed executive session before passing it unanimously.
Lake Placid resident Doug Ridenour said that as a taxpayer, he finds Wallace's appeal frivolous.
"It's actually very hypocritical because they're wasting more money," he said. "We're paying an attorney fees right now on an action that's being taken on a budget that's already passed by a margin of almost 70 percent."
The school district still hasn't spoken publicly about former middle-high school Principal Katherine Mulderig, who left her job earlier this spring after the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission validated a gender discrimination complaint she had filed against Richards. Tuesday's resolution and Wallace's appeal had nothing to do with the Mulderig case.
There was a noticeably larger media presence Tuesday night in the Lake Placid Elementary School cafeteria than at past meetings, including WCAX television and WNBZ radio, who haven't been at past meetings. A reporter from the Plattsburgh Press-Republican was also present.
Fewer members of the public attended the meeting than in recent weeks, however; about 30 people gathered for the two-hour meeting.
Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.