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Written by Jeff Tucker Friday, 20 May 2011 16:27
The Wolf Point School board voted unanimously Friday afternoon, May 20, to indefinitely suspend superintendent Henry Hamill with pay.
Board chairman Martin DeWitt and board members Sonny Douglas, Tracy Juve and Scott Nefzger voted to suspend Hamill, pending an investigation.
New board member Janice Wemmer-Kegley did not attend Friday’s special meeting, held coincidentally at high noon.
The only item on the agenda of Friday’s special meeting was an executive session to discuss “possible suspension with pay pending investigation of superintendent.”
The motion to suspend Hamill, made by Douglas and seconded by Juve, calls for the school board to retain the investigative services of the Montana School Board Association to investigate allegations related to Hamill, while Hamill is placed on administrative leave with pay pending the investigation.
DeWitt said Hamill’s suspension was effective immediately. He said a letter would be sent to Hamill notifying him of his suspension.
While the board was not specific about the nature of the investigation, DeWitt and Douglas have been pushing efforts to investigate Hamill’s recent collegiate performance.
The school board voted 2-2 on April 7 to hire the MTSBA to investigate Hamill’s college performance for alleged cheating.
Douglas and DeWitt voted for the investigation, while Nefzger and former school James Murawski voted against it.
Former school board chairman Ron Jackson did not attend the April 7 meeting.
Hamill recently completed a course at Rocky Mountain College related to his superintendent’s certification.
He has presented statements from college officials in his defense.
An April 21 email from Dr. Stevie Schmitz, director of the master of educational leadership, said she was aware of “the controversy with the class at Rocky Mountain College.”
“We understand fully what you did in the public school finance course and recognize that you did not do anything wrong within the class,” Schmitz said.
Schmitz submitted a recommendation to license Hamill as a superintendent after his completion of the required course work this spring.
Asked why they voted to suspend Hamill, the four board members present at Friday’s special meeting said it was the proper step in the investigative process.
“I actually support it because policy has been followed and it’s been the next step,” Nefzger said.
“I just think we need to move forward considering the allegations,” Douglas said.
“It was recommended by our attorney,” DeWitt said of advice from the MTSBA.
“I just feel with all the information that we have, that it was the right decision,” Juve said.
Hamill did not attend Friday’s special meeting, which consisted of an hour-long executive session flanked by two brief open sessions.
Hamill was represented in the executive session by Herald-News publisher Darla Shumway, and Hamill’s friend, Bill Smith.
Hamill said after Friday’s meeting he could not comment due to the advice of his attorney, Laura Christoffersen of Culbertson, who could not be reached for comment.
Hamill has said he is proud of the school district’s accomplishments since he became superintendent on July 1.
At the May 18 special school board meeting, Hamill noted the school district’s accomplishments since he was hired.
He said many people have dwelled on the negatives and “passed over the positives.”
“It’s been a year of learning for a first-year superintendent,” Hamill said. “There’s been a lot of projects. Wolf Point probably accomplished more than any school in Montana.”
Hamill noted the buyouts of the contracts of 13 educators, the hiring freeze, cordial negotiations between school board and union representatives, savings implemented by the school principals and the transition to a four-day school week as accomplishments.
“All of these things are controversial, I realize that,” Hamill said. “I don’t think many schools have had that many accomplishments.”
Hamill also revealed a soft spot for the Class B state champion Wolves’ basketball team.
“The basketball team was, I have to say, one memory that will follow me a long time,” Hamill said. “That was a huge plus for our town and our school.”
Hamill also noted a new trophy case, banners for hall of fame inductees and new trophies he bought to replace those destroyed in the high school fire decades ago as other accomplishments.
Hamill said the school district’s budget woes could be solved by community cooperation.
“I feel we can make it,” he said. “It’s been an up and down year, but I don’t think enough has been said about the accomplishments and the budget cutting. I feel pretty good about that.
“I know there were hard feelings involved in having to move people and having to streamline. There was never any malice on the superintendent’s part. But the bottom line is we didn’t have to get rid of one person. The people that left left on their own choice. Good job. We need to do it again. We need to stay within our budget.”
Two days prior to the Friday’s special meeting, Hamill tendered a buyout offer to DeWitt.
His offer asked for $60,000 and three years of health insurance.
The board took no action on Hamill’s offer.
A prior contract buyout proposal made by Murawski at a May 9 school board meeting proposed buying out the three remaining years of Hamill’s contract for $150,000, plus two years of health insurance.
That vote failed by a 2-2 vote.
Murawski and Nefzger voted for the buyout, while DeWitt and Douglas voted against it. Jackson did not attend the May 9 meeting.
DeWitt has said the school district is not in a financial position to offer Hamill a contract buyout.
Hamill’s contract guarantees him $235,085 of base salary, plus benefits, through the 2013-14 school year.
The school board in January, by a 3-2 vote with DeWitt and Douglas in dissent, approved a one-year extension of Hamill’s contract through the 2013-14 school year.
During the public comment period prior to Friday’s executive session, Murawski broached the topic of an interim superintendent.
“Are you going to appoint an interim superintendent?” Murawski asked.
Murawski said school district policy obligates the school district to offer a pay raise to any current school district employee appointed interim superintendent. Murawski said the pay raise, by policy, should be equivalent to the difference between the employee’s salary and the superintendent’s salary.
“So, with the dire financial situation the district is in now, I don’t think that’s how the money should be spent,” Murawski said. “It should be spent educating the children.”
There was no other public comment.
DeWitt said Friday it was too early to determine who, if anyone, would be the interim superintendent while the MTSBA investigates Hamill.
“We’re seeking advice from our attorney as how to proceed with that,” DeWitt said.