Huron paying two school superintendentsFormer school leader receiving more than $10,000 per month as part of sealed agreement. How long the payments will go on is known only to those who approved the deal.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
HURON — The Huron School District has been paying two superintendents since July and had paid them a total of at least $184,248 through January.
As part of a sealed agreement approved by the school board, the district has paid former superintendent Ross Opsal $10,916.51 a month since his March 7 resignation, which became effective on that date. Opsal’s final contract with the district was for $113,246 annually. At the time, Opsal publicly cited health reasons for his departure.
Terry Nebelsick, who initially was appointed interim superintendent and later was hired as district superintendent, has been paid at the rate of $110,000 a year since July 1. Prior to that, he was receiving a lesser salary as a high school principal in the district.
All this occurred during a time of fiscal difficulties for the district. The school board at its Jan. 23 meeting unanimously approved a $750,000 opt-out resolution, and also voted not to schedule an election on the issue.
District officials refused to release the sealed agreement with Opsal and declined to discuss the issue.
“It was a personnel issue, and I really can’t comment any further,” said School Board Vice President Tim VanBerkum.
The Daily Republic was unable to contact Opsal for comment. There is no telephone listing for him in the state.
Just how long Huron will pay Opsal is known only to those who approved the agreement with the former superintendent. School District Business Manager Kelly Christopherson said the full payout term is part of Opsal’s sealed agreement with the school board, and he was told by district attorney Rodney Freeman that the terms of the agreement may only be made public by an agreement of both the district and Opsal, or by a court order.
When The Daily Republic requested information from Freeman regarding the sealed agreement, Freeman wrote the following in an e- mail: “The information your reporter requested is protected from disclosure pursuant to South Dakota Codified Law 1-27-1.5, subsection 7 and subsection 20.”
That section of state law lists types of documents that governments are allowed to keep secret. Subsection 7 covers “personnel information other than salaries and routine directory information,” and subsection 20 covers “any document declared closed or confidential by court order, contract, or stipulation of the parties to any civil or criminal action or proceeding.”
Because the district must publicly list some financial information, Christopherson confirmed that, starting in March 2011, Opsal was paid $10,916.51 a month and will be paid that same amount this month.
That means Opsal has received 11 payments since his resignation, totaling $120,082 through January. Meanwhile, Nebelsick has been paid $64,166 since he switched from interim to full-time superintendent in July.
On Jan. 1, just a few months before Opsal’s resignation, the Huron board approved a three-year contract with him, ending July 1, 2013, at a pay rate of $113,246 a year.
Research by The Daily Republic shows this was not the first time Opsal resigned and reached an financial settlement with a school board.
According to a May 15, 2007, article in The Globe Gazette, a Mason City, Iowa, newspaper, Opsal resigned his position as superintendent of the Algona Community School District on May 14, 2007, at the request of the Algona School Board. He had nearly completed the first year of a two-year contract.
Under terms of his agreement, Opsal was paid the majority of his salary and insurance benefits through April 30, 2008, said Algona Superintendent Marty Fonley.
Prior to his time with Algona, Opsal worked as superintendent of the Sac Community School District in Sac City, Iowa, from 2002 to 2006. District business manager John Kraft said Opsal completed his final $85,600 contract with that district and left in good standing.
Opsal was hired as Huron’s interim superintendent in June 2008. In November 2008, the school board made Opsal’s appointment official and approved an initial contract, which ended in July 2009, according to Christopherson. The board later approved the three-year contract ending in July 2013. On March 7, he resigned, and that resignation was accepted by the board and was made effective immediately.
During his time at Huron, Opsal was part of major grade-level reorganizations in the district that assigned various grade levels to specific buildings to reduce costs.
Cost-saving efforts continue, Superintendent Nebelsick said, including the closure of one building to reduce expenditures.