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Written by Jeff Tucker Wednesday, 03 August 2011 14:12
The Wolf Point School board on Tuesday night, Aug. 2, brought an end — at least for now — to an ugly chapter in school history as the school board voted unanimously to terminate suspended superintendent Henry Hamill.
Several observers, however, including some former school board members, predicted the issue would re-emerge if Hamill were to file a lawsuit against the school district.
Hamill did not attend Tuesday’s nearly two-hour “superintendent disciplinary hearing,” nor the brief public session following the executive session.
He was represented in the executive session by attorney Laura Christoffersen of Culbertson, who declined to answer any questions about the controversy.
The Herald-News has been unable to contact Hamill in recent weeks.
The executive session was also attended by school board members and an attorney and investigator of the Montana School Board Association.
There were no comments from the public prior to the vote to terminate Hamill’s contract, and there was little public comment from school board members.
School board chairman Martin DeWitt said the board had heard from the MTSBA and “the employee in this matter” and called for a motion.
School board vice chairman motioned to terminate Hamill “for reasons discussed in closed session.”
School board member Janice Wemmer-Kegley seconded the motion.
DeWitt asked if there were any audience members that wished to comment, and no one spoke up.
The motion to terminate Hamill then passed 5-0.
Immediately following the termination vote, the school board took up administrative reorganization.
Douglas motioned to extend through the 2011-12 school year the appointments of co-interim superintendents Eileen Karge, the principal at Southside Elementary School, and Joe Paine, principal of Wolf Point High School.
Board member Tracy Juve seconded the motion.
After some discussion about compensation, responsibilities, and collective bargaining issues, the school board voted unanimously to appoint Karge and Paine as co-interim superintendents through the 2011-12 school year.
The board also approved the resignation of Northside Elementary School teacher Mike Watson, who had taught physical education at the school for one year.
“I think he’ll be a sorely missed individual, not only in our school district, but the community as well,” DeWitt said.
Immediately following the meeting, DeWitt and Douglas declined to disclose the basis for Hamill’s termination.
The school board voted unanimously May 20 to suspend Hamill indefinitely with pay, pending the investigation of him by the MTSBA.
The MTSBA investigation was initiated by the school board after retired teacher Sue Patch publicly accused Hamill of cheating in a recent college course at Rocky Mountain College.
MTSBA investigator Kerri Langoni began interviewing school personnel and others in early June. The investigation was still ongoing in late June, the MTSBA confirmed at the time.
DeWitt declined to disclose the nature of the MTSBA investigation, or the basis for Hamill’s termination.
The findings of the investigation were provided to the school board, but would not be made public, DeWitt said.
DeWitt said he voted to terminate Hamill based on information provided in Tuesday’s executive session.
“I guess based on what happened in executive session, it was the right thing to do for our district,” he said.
Douglas said he voted to terminate Hamill “due to what the investigator had found.” He said he could not be any more specific.
School board member Tracy Juve said she voted to terminate Hamill as a result of the investigation.
“With the allegations, I strongly feel it was the right decision,” Juve said.
School board member Scott Nefzger said he voted to terminate Hamill “basically due to the findings of the executive session.”
Nefzger said new information became available to the board in the executive session. Nefzger declined to further elaborate, saying he had been asked by DeWitt to observe attorney-client privilege and not comment on specifics.
A proposal to buy out the remaining three years of Hamill’s contract for $150,000 and two years of health insurance failed by a 2-2 vote at a May 9 school board meeting.
Nefzger, and former school board member James Murawski were the two school board members voting in favor of the buy-out, with Douglas and DeWitt in dissent.
Asked why he once voted to buy out Hamill’s contract, and then later voted to terminate Hamill, Nefzger said he was persuaded by new evidence.
“Yeah, that was before I was privy to the information that came out in executive session,” he said.
Wemmer-Kegley also cited the undisclosed evidence of the investigation.
“I just feel with the information we had received that that was the right decision,” she said.
Hamill was guaranteed $285,085 of base salary in his contract, plus benefits, through the 2013-14 school year.
The school board in January, by a 3-2 vote, approved a one-year extension of Hamill’s contract through the 2013-14 school year.
Hamill attended the May 9 school board meeting, following a profane outburst directed toward Douglas at an incendiary April 7 meeting.
The May 9 school board meeting was the last school board meeting Hamill attended.
Last month, Hamill told The Herald-News that he had given up his fight to retain his job. He predicted the MTSBA investigator would issue an unfavorable report, noting the MTSBA had been hired by the school board.
Hamill was hired as superintendent on July 1, 2010. His brief tenure as superintendent follows seven permanent superintendents and two interim superintendents that have served the school district since the fall of 1990.