Fort Sumner superintendent retires

By Ryan Lengerich

Superintendent Lecil Richards will retire from Fort Sumner schools in February with his replacement likely to be one of three current administrators.

Richards said he will retire Feb. 1 after 12 years overseeing Fort Sumner and more than 30 years in education. He said he’s retiring for health reasons and to help the district cut costs. He said the decision has nothing to do with the state Public Education Department’s recent investigation into his failure to administer state-mandated tests last year.

The board is interviewing high school Principal Crit Caton, elementary school Principal Scott McMath and Assistant Superintendent Jerry Birdwell for the position, school board President Nick Cortese said.

Cortese said the board plans to announce a new superintendent at the Jan. 17 meeting and will decide whether that person will work on an interim or full-time basis.

“It will probably be more of an interim position until we see what we are looking at in June,” Cortese said.

Richards said he will work as a paid consultant to the school following his retirement. He plans to work with his replacement through the transition and budgeting process.
Cortese said the board has discussed paying Richards about $1,300 per month as a consultant.

Richards said he decided to retire to help the district financially. The district will not have to pay the remaining portion of his $74,000 salary.

While the district currently operates with four top administrators, Cortese said the board has plans to slice that number to three, thereby freeing up money to pay for improvements to the high school.

He said the two principals and an assistant superintendent may have to shuffle duties based on who is chosen.
Richards taught science in the Dora school district for two years before teaching, coaching and working in administration for 17 years in Lovington. He took over as superintendent in Fort Sumner in 1993.

In July, Richards accepted blame for failing to order a new, state-mandated test this year for fourth- and eighth-grade students. Two Fort Sumner elementary schools were rated as not meeting standards by the state because of the oversight.

Richards said the state has contacted him and the 2005 tests will function as the baseline for future tests. Public Education Department spokesperson Ruth Williams said the state has implemented an “exhaustive process of checks and balances so there is never an oversight like that again.”

Secretary of Education Veronica C. Garcia issued a press release on July 9 claiming Fort Sumner schools “appeared to have disregarded various state and federal mandates” by not issuing the test.

In July, officials said consequences of the error include possible suspension or revocation of Richards’ license or the licenses of other school officials.

Williams said she did not know if any punishment was issued for Fort Sumner or the Moreno Valley Charter School in Angel Fire, which also did not order the test.

Richards said he will not endorse anyone to fill his role.
Also among the reasons for retiring were health issues that left him lacking strength at work.

“They need somebody with a little more energy,” he said, “a little more juice and a little more drive.”