A Hummel Report Investigation
Three years ago North Kingstown's school superintendent was forced out by the school committee under a cloud of controversy. The state Department of Education determined his administration improperly spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars of restricted special education grant money. Now, James Halley is back, asking the voters of North Kingstown to send him to the General Assembly. This week, Jim Hummel catches up with the candidate.
Click HERE to read the Department of Education Final Audit Report.
Click HERE to read the North Kingstown School Committee minutes shown on the video.
Hummel Standup: ``More candidates than ever are running for office this year, including a three-way Republican primary for the House seat in District 31. One of those candidates may be a newcomer to campaigning, but he is no stranger to the people who live in North Kingstown.
Months ago the word around town was that former school superintendent James Halley was contemplating a run for office. In June, he made it official, and now finds himself running in a primary against fellow Republicans Doreen Costa and Ann Marie Marshall. The winner takes on 18-year incumbent Democrat Ken Carter.
It is the same Jim Halley who oversaw the School Department here for 12 years, leaving in a cloud of controversy in 2007 after the state Department of Education determined he misspent nearly a quarter of a million dollars in federal special education grant money.
The expenditures included thousands of dollars for an administrator's retreat at this seaside house in Jamestown. On the menu that weekend: steak and lobster - courtesy of the taxpayers.
The School Committee suspended Halley, and later voted to buy out part of his contract. The total settlement came to $167,000. The district appealed the Department of Education's findings, but even with some adjustments, taxpayers still had to pay back the state $217,000.
So we decided to ask Halley about his record as superintendent, now that he is asking the people of North Kingstown for their vote.
Hummel: ``Dr. Halley how are you?''
Hummel: ``How are you doing? Long time no see...''
On his campaign website, Halley lists dozens of accomplishments. His biography, though, makes no mention of the misspending or the buyout.
Hummel" ``You didn't discuss anything about the circumstances leading to your departure as superintendent. Did you leave that our specifically?''
Halley: ``Basically I spent 12 years as superintendent of schools in North Kingstown, which is about four times the normal time amount that superintendents are in office.''
Hummel: `` You were also asked to leave by the school committee, were you not?''
Halley: ``No, I wasn't asked to leave by the school committee. ''
Hummel: ``Did you leave voluntarily?''
Halley: ``Yes, I left voluntarily.''
Hummel: ``And they had to pay you the balance of your salary, didn't they?''
Halley: ``Yes they did.''
Hummel: ``So that was in excess of $100,000?''
Halley: ``I got paid for six months' salary, I don't know what the exact amount was, it certainly wasn't $100,000.''
According to minutes of a May 3, 2007 closed session the North Kingstown School Committee voted 4 to 3 to approve a $167,300 buyout agreement for Halley, who had been suspended with pay a month earlier. The settlement included $73,000 for unused sick and vacation time.
The committee voted to buy him out, in part, to avoid protracted litigation with Halley.
Hummel: ``But there was no pressure for you to leave?''
Halley: ``There was pressure from some people and there are some people who are sorry that they actually did that.''
Hummel: ``You mean they actually wished you had stayed?''
Halley: ``People have said that to me. Some people who were on the school committee.''
Hummel: ``What about people in the community?''
Halley: ``People in the community, a lot of people in the community say they wish I had stayed, because they talk about high test scores at the time, how the schools were well-run. I can't tell you how many times people have said they wished I was still there.''
Hummel: ``What about the $250,000 the taxpayers had to pay back, that the Department of Education had determined your administration had misspent that money?''
Halley: ``The Department of Education was incorrect in their assessment and the school committee never appealed that.
Hummel: ``But the fact was they ordered taxpayers to shell out $250,000.''
Halley: ``That was the decision of the School Committee at the time.''
Hummel: ``But it was under your administration that that money was misspent.''
Halley: ``No, the money was not misspent.''
Hummel: ``So you still maintain it was a matter of interpretation.''
Halley: ``That's correct.''
In fact, the Department of Education issued a 14-page report, detailing not only the cost of the administrators' retreat, but improper school renovations, computer software, consultants, equipment and travel - all using the tightly restricted federal special education grant money.
Hummel: ``So you don't feel you owe the taxpayers of North Kingstown an apology for being on the hook for a quarter of a million dollars?''
Halley: ``I don't...I think that was a decision the School Committee made and I think the School committee needs to live with that decision.''
Hummel: ``38 other communities districts didn't have that same misinterpretation. That it was only NK. Because you know the review they did...''
Halley: ``38 other communities probably did have that same interpretation, they weren't subject to you...making an issue out of it.''
Hummel: ``Do you think it was not an issue to made of, did you think there was nothing there?''
Halley: ``There were probably some things that were not completely proper and in actuality according to the current requirements, or state requirements, what we spent was mostly authorized.''
Now it will be up to voters to make the final decision on how much the past plays into the future, on Election Day.
In North Kingstown, Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.