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Secret-agreement amount confirmed for Huron's ex-superintendent

HURON -- The Huron School District paid ex-superintendent Ross Opsal nearly $175,000 following his resignation in March 2011, a district official confirmed Tuesday.

The district paid Opsal $10,916.51 per month from March 2011 to June 2012, for a total of $174,664.16, according to Kelly Christopherson, the district's business manager. The payments were made pursuant to an agreement that the district kept secret for more than two years.

The agreement was unsealed and read aloud Monday at a Huron Board of Education meeting. The board voted to unseal the agreement as the result of a recent court order won by The Daily Republic.

The agreement reveals that the board and Opsal agreed to part ways in March 2011 before the expiration of his contract. The board agreed to pay Opsal his base salary rate of $110,000 plus extra amounts for retirement and health care each month until June 2012.

While the agreement itself was sealed until Monday, Christopherson did provide The Daily Republic with the amounts of the monthly payments the district made to Opsal in emails sent March 13 and Feb. 2, 2012. The Daily Republic never knew for certain, however, whether the payment information it had was complete since the agreement remained sealed until Monday night. Officials questioned Monday night after a school board meeting did not immediately know the exact amount paid to Opsal.

The district did not have a superintendent from March 2011 to June 2011, according to Christopherson. Instead, an executive committee made up of Christopherson, then-high school principal Terry Nebelsick and middle school principal Mike Taplett, performed the superintendent's duties for no additional pay.

At the time, the only additional cost to the district was compensation paid to a former high school principal who helped out at the high school, Christopherson said.

Nebelsick, the district's current superintendent, took over in July 2011. That means the district paid two superintendents -- one who was working and one who wasn't -- for 11 months, from July 2011 to June 2012.

The agreement did not explain why Opsal's employment ended, which is what The Daily Republic sought to know. Scott Swier, Opsal's attorney, did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

Opsal cited "personal health issues" in a public letter released by the school district at the time of his March 2011 resignation. He was hired June 28, 2010, and had a three-year contract.

The unsealed agreement says Opsal would actively seek employment as a school administrator and would demonstrate his efforts to the district each month. If Opsal would have found employment as a school administrator elsewhere, it would have reduced or eliminated the payments from the Huron School District.

If he found employment at a salary less than $110,000 per year, the district would have continued to pay Opsal the difference between his new employer's salary and $110,000, but not beyond June 30, 2012.

After Monday's board meeting, Tim VanBerkum, a board member, said that Opsal was never hired as a school administrator elsewhere and was paid through the length of the agreement.