Ex-Lake Placid school super hired in Hammond

HAMMOND – Former Lake Placid school superintendent Randy Richards has gotten a new job as interim superintendent of Hammond Central School in northwest St. Lawrence County.

Richards was the Lake Placid Central School District’s top administrator from July 2010 to May 2013, leaving because the school board had decided a year before to not renew his contract.

The Hammond school board decided to hire Richards Tuesday after interviewing him and the other finalist, Beverly Ouderkirk, the Watertown Daily Times reported Thursday. Ouderkirk resigned in late 2012 as shared superintendent of the St. Regis Falls and Brushton-Moira school districts. The two candidates were recommended to the board by its hiring consultant, Thomas R. Burns, superintendent of the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

Richards will lead the Hammond district for a year until a permanent superintendent is hired.

The board chose Richards for his experience, President Thomas Pitcher told the Times. Richards, originally from the Potsdam area, was an elementary school principal in Oswego for three years before coming to Lake Placid; before that, he had spent four years as superintendent of the Stockbridge Valley Central School District in Munnsville, Madison County.

Pitcher and Burns told the Times that the Hammond board knows about the Lake Placid controversies and discussed them with Richards before deciding to hire him.

Richards’ Lake Placid saga

Richards became a controversial figure in Lake Placid after the middle/high school principal at the time, Katherine Mulderig, filed a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against him. She claimed that in February 2011, he tried to reassign her to the elementary school, saying he needed someone “bitchier” to govern the “bitchy” teachers there. At an EEOC hearing that May, Richards admitted he had used those words but denied another claim Mulderig made: that he had told her, because she 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. The EEOC later validated Mulderig’s complaint.

Soon after the Enterprise broke the story in December 2011, Richards apologized to faculty and staff for his comments to Mulderig, but throughout the winter and spring, school board meetings overflowed with community members angry with him, and at the school board for not firing him. The protests included students picketing outside of the district offices and a petition with nearly 600 signatures calling for Richards’ removal.

Richards also clashed with some faculty, parents and students on other matters, including budgetary and personnel decisions. These included his addition of large video screens in the schools and an $8,500 conference room with $300 chairs and a Smart Board, which some said was unnecessary at a time when the faculty roster was being trimmed.

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.

That April, Linda Wallace of Lake Placid filed an appeal with the state education commissioner, asking for Richards to be removed for allegedly giving the public misleading figures about the district budget.

The school board was overhauled in the election that May. The following month, the board opted not to renew Richards’ contract but let him work another year.

Mulderig has since opened a chocolate shop in Lake Placid.

Roger Catania replaced Richards as Lake Placid school superintendent this May.