Southern Hancock Superintendent Retires, As Talk Of Federal Lawsuit Festers
Halik says retirement was long planned; board member who secretly recorded conversations says she is ostracized
Dr. James Halik (Southern Hancock School Corporation)
The superintendent of Southern Hancock County schools is retiring in 18 months, but he says his sudden announcement of his forthcoming retirement has nothing to do with a federal lawsuit accusing the school district of wrongfully firing a bus driver.
Listen to Ray Steele's interview with Dr. James Halik
Listen to Ray's interview with school board member Meghan Morrison
Dr. James Halik announced at Monday night's school board meeting he would step down July 1st, 2014, saying he and his wife had planned for some time to retire soon. Halik says he is talking about it now to give the school board plenty of time to find their next superintendent.
But Halik's announcement also comes as Southern Hancock schools face a lawsuit from former bus driver Jeanne Plummer. Plummer sued the school corporation in federal court in December 2011 claiming her contract was not renewed after the 2010-2011 school year because her husband, Phil Plummer, was a former school board member who had butted heads with Halik. On Plummer's side is a conversation between Halik and school board member Meaghan Morrison that took place in the spring of 2011, a conversation Morrison secretly recorded.
Morrison was elected to the board in November 2010 and also campaigned against a school funding ballot initiative that failed - Morrison says it would have resulted in a tax increase. Since then, Morrison claims she has been largely ostracized by the other four members of the school board and Halik, all of whom she says favored the tax increase. Morrison says that, soon after taking office, she began personally recording every school board meeting as well as all her conversations related to school matters to protect herself.
Morrison and Halik say they each offered to call a truce to see if they could find common ground, and agreed to meet privately. But that is where the stories on the subsequent meeting diverge. Halik says he and Morrison both agreed not to take notes or record the meeting, and that their talk was candid and cordial. Morrison says no agreement on recording or lack thereof was made, though she did not tell the superintendent the conversation was being recorded. She claims that Halik "maliciously maligned" several of her supporters, including the Plummers. He also admits on the recording that he tried to fire Jeanne Plummer several years ago.
Halik admits to discussing personnel matters with Morrison during their meeting, though he would not give specifics. He maintains Morrison violated an agreement not to record their conversation, and says he was disappointed when he learned about two weeks after the meeting that it had been recorded. Morrison's side of this story matches Halik's, saying she asked for another meeting with the superintendent, told him of the recording and that she was disappointed in the way he spoke about her supporters.
After Plummer's lawsuit was filed, Morrison was named as a witness on her behalf, and Morrison gave Plummer's attorney the recorded conversation with Halik. Tempers flared at recent school board meetings when Morrison asked for the school district's attorney to assist her in giving a deposition in the lawsuit, a request denied by other board members.
Under Indiana law, Morrison's recordings are legal, and Halik says though he doesn't agree with it, there is nothing he can do about someone not liking him. He says he will focus on doing what's best for students during his remaining months as superintendent and says he is proud of the achievements of the school system under his watch. Southern Hancock schools currently have a grade of 'A' from the state education department, and New Palestine High School was named a National Blue Ribbon School last week.
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