Because of my exuberance at Tuesday's Lake Placid school board meeting and Randy Richards' explosive response, I am worried that the point I was trying to make was lost. It is an important one, and I would like the opportunity to explain it again in a clearer and calmer tone.
The press release that was issued by Lake Placid Central School on April 4 and updated on April 5 both contain the final statement: "Dr. Richards also noted it is important for voters to realize that if this budget is defeated, the budget could be offered for another vote, with or without modification, but if it is defeated a second time, the district would have to reduce the budget by approximately $500,000 and this would hurt programs for students."
I took issue with the end of this statement because it is a subtle, yet direct threat to the voters. Randy Richards is threatening the voters to vote for his budget or else student programs will be hurt. He knows that most voters are concerned about keeping programs for the students. The reason that he would put a threat out like this is that he knows some voters are intending on voting no on the budget. Voting no not because of the details of the budget but because of who is in charge of allocating it. There is no doubt that he is trying to intimidate the voters from acting against his budget. The only question is whether his threat is credible and worth consideration or not.
Randy Richards, superintendent, Lake Placid Central School district
(Enterprise file photo)
I do not feel that it is credible. The first problem is the number, $500,000. I have spoken to the LPCS business manager along with multiple school board members who have told me that the contingency budget which would have to be adopted, after a second no vote on the proposed budget, would not equal a $500,000 shortfall but instead a $246,000 shortfall; $246,000 is the difference between a 1.8 percent increase in the tax levy and a zero percent increase over last year's tax levy. Under the new 2 percent tax cap law, this is automatic in a contingency budget. Randy Richards inflated the number by more than double.
Second, the fund balance (unallocated savings) can be used to make up the shortfall in a contingency budget. The proposed budget allocated $300,000 from the fund balance. The school is required to use this money to get the fund balance down to 4 percent of the current budget. By law, 4 percent is the maximum that it is allowed to carry over to the next budget year. If a contingency budget is adopted, the school will still be required to use this $300,000 and can use an additional $246,000 of the balance to make up the shortfall. Therefore, the school board would not be forced to "hurt programs for students" in a contingency budget. They would choose to hurt programs instead of cutting ancillary services or tapping into their savings.
To be clear, I believe that the school should get the 1.8 percent increase in tax levy as presented in the proposed budget, and I do not want them to use their savings to balance the books. This money can be used to save teachers' jobs as well as improve the quality of our children's education. However, as a voter, I expect to have accurate facts in order to feel comfortable with my vote.
On Tuesday night, I pointed directly at Randy Richards and called him a bully. If I were in the same situation again, I would say it again. Multiple teachers and parents have claimed that he frequently uses "bullying tactics." Here is written proof of it. It may be subtly offensive, but it is inexcusable to threaten the voters like this. There is a name for it. It is called voter intimidation.
As well, on Tuesday I said that Randy Richards should be terminated for "immoral character" or "incompetency." Section 17B of his contract states that he can be terminated for guilt of either one of these. The link to his contract is qvs.visiblegovernment.us/seethroughNY.net/contracts/school-contracts/LakePlacids063013.pdf.
If Randy Richards intended to bully us by inflating the number and mis-stating the facts in the press release, it is proof of immoral character. If he didn't, then his statement is a mistake, which made it through two published press releases. In that case, it is proof of incompetency.
Some have said that it would be too expensive to terminate him because he would likely sue the school district. With multiple examples of breach of contract like this one and worse, I think we have a strong case. As well, how much is he costing us in inefficiency, loss of teacher productivity and loss of morale of students? I would much rather pay an attorney to have him removed than pay him more than $150,000 annually in wages and benefits to stay.
As a voter, I now have a hard decision to make. Do I vote for the budget that was crafted by the board and I believe is reasonable and respectful, or do I vote against the budget because I have no trust in the person who is charged with allocating the funds? It is a lot think about.
Jeff Erenstone lives in Lake Placid.