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Huron schools' secret agreement still secret

HURON -- The Huron School District still has not released a copy of a secret agreement that directed nearly $175,000 to an ex-superintendent, despite a judge’s ruling Wednesday that the district must provide a copy to The Daily Republic.

According to Jon Arneson, of Sioux Falls, the newspaper’s attorney, the district has indicated in the past it would provide The Daily Republic with a copy of an agreement between it and ex-superintendent Ross Opsal once a court of competent jurisdiction ruled the document should be open to public inspection.

On Wednesday, Third Circuit Judge Jon Erickson said in a written decision that the district’s agreement with Opsal is a public record and should be open to inspection. As of Thursday evening, though, the district still had not provided a copy of the agreement to the newspaper. The newspaper requested a copy Wednesday after the judge’s decision was issued and again Thursday.

“I cannot account for the district’s change of heart,” Arneson said. “The district is now apparently going to wait until the final order is signed by the court, which essentially is nothing more than a legal formality.”

The process will likely take several days, Arneson said.

The Daily Republic, acting on a tip, first asked for a copy of the agreement more than a year ago, hoping to learn why the school continued to pay Opsal after his employment ended and a new superintendent had been hired.

On Thursday, current Huron superintendent Terry Nebelsick said he was still awaiting instructions on the matter from attorney Rodney Freeman and the school board.

Calls made Wednesday and Thursday by The Daily Republic to Freeman were not returned.

The agreement had the district making monthly payments to Opsal after his resignation in March 2011, according to public payment information already obtained by The Daily Republic. The reason for the payments, which is presumably spelled out in the agreement, has never been made public.

Erickson’s ruling affirmed an earlier decision in favor of the newspaper issued in March by the state Office of Hearing Examiners. The school district, despite the two rulings against it, could still choose to appeal to the state Supreme Court.