‘Factually related’ allegations expand HLCS investigation
After six weeks of an investigation of Houghton Lake Community Schools Superintendent Kevin Murphy, the Houghton Lake Board of Education has expanded the scope of its attorney’s investigation to include new allegations that have surfaced about another district employee.
The board placed Murphy on paid non-disciplinary administrative leave March 28 and asked its attorney, Ray Davis of Thrun Law Firm, to investigate the allegations against Murphy. In the process, Davis said new allegations came to light that are “related factually” to the ongoing investigation.
At Monday’s board meeting, attended by more than 100 people, Davis made his request based on “complaints concerning an employee that are related to the allegations concerning the superintendent,” according to a proposed resolution he presented to the board. Allegations against the district employee, he said, would normally be investigated by the superintendent.
Davis said with Murphy on leave and an interim superintendent -- Pete Injasoulian -- in place, for efficiency’s sake, it made sense for the board to expand his investigative authority. He told the board it needs to accept his word because none of the board members have seen a copy of the complaint that the factual matters are related to his pending investigation.
While the resolution did not name a specific employee, Injasoulian told the Resorter he placed Collins Elementary Principal Pam Akin on paid, non-disciplinary administrative leave May 6 at the close of the business day.
“That was my call,” he said, and was given that responsibility by the board of education. He noted that Akin sought permission to meet for an appointment Monday at the school that was previously scheduled at the school and was allowed to do so.
Title I Director Rob Urbain (and former Prudenville Elementary and Houghton Lake Middle School principal) was assigned to Collins and started Monday, Injasoulian said.
Ed Morris of Morris and Doherty, P.C., Southfield, who was hired by Murphy in mid-April, addressed the board Monday on Murphy’s behalf.
“Kevin is anxious to get back to work,” Morris said, adding he understands that with the additional investigation it may take more time.
He said Murphy wanted the board and the community to know that he is still committed to changes the board hired him to make, including enhancing the curriculum, using a new evaluation form for administrators, raising expectations and making the schools more “customer-friendly.”
Morris said Murphy also recommended the Response to Intervention literacy program that identifies gaps in reading. He said the move was not, as some people have suggested, “a way to get Mary Murphy (Kevin Murphy’s wife) a job.” RTI is a national program that is paid for with a federal grant, he said, and Mary Murphy is highly trained in her field and qualified to lead it. He noted it has started to pay some dividends in terms of testing data and teachers have asked her to continue the program.
“These were some of the changes that Kevin Murphy was trying to make in the school district,” Morris said. “They were positive changes.”
He said Murphy came to Houghton Lake not viewing it as a stepping stone to get somewhere else.
“Kevin wants to come back to work ASAP,” he said. “You’ve got a good and fully committed superintendent here... He wants to come back.”
Morris told the Resorter he thought the board would go into closed session that night to reinstate Murphy, but because of the spin-off investigation, it will take longer as there are more witnesses to interview. He is hoping a report will be ready in a couple of weeks.
Davis said at the meeting that it is premature to bring Murphy back and that the board is the fiduciary to the school district, not to public opinion. He said it would not be in Murphy’s best interest to come off his paid, administrative leave. It is “normal course,” he said, to place individuals, whether they be teachers or administrators, on leave during a pending investigation of allegations.
“It’s non-disciplinary,” he said, and is meant to protect both the employee and the district.
Mary Murphy, who said she was speaking as Kevin Murphy’s wife, an educator, a parent and a community member, also addressed the board. She said when her husband interviewed for the superintendency the board emphasized long-range plans and goals and was seeking someone to lead the district “through change and into greatness.”
“We are wholeheartedly Bobcats,” she said. “I am proud of the direction Kevin Murphy has set for our district.”
More than a dozen other community members addressed the board, including Lori Sajdak, a spokesperson for the Houghton Lake Committee for Better Schools group.
Sajdak reminded the board of the group’s meeting, set for May 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Denton Township Old Stone Hall. She said the committee supports school board members, administrators and staff who demonstrate a commitment to quality education. It intends to ensure accountability and professionalism at all levels, she said, and supports positive growth in the district.
The meeting became contentious at times, with Davis responding to audience comments in an attempt to clarify information.
William Trahan of Houghton Lake said Davis was wasting the board’s time by interjecting his personal opinion as a consultant to the board, but was right to say the board has a fiduciary responsibility.
“If there hasn’t been anything found, let’s move on and get him back in here doing his job,” Trahan said.
He said the district cannot afford to have lawyers working under unlimited scope.
Several other community members spoke of positive changes made in the district and praised Murphy for listening to parents and helping their children. Some questioned the cost of the investigation.
Richard Koupal of Houghton Lake, inquiring of Davis about how the expanded investigation is related to the first, said, “It’s breaking up the community. Maybe you can handle it, but we can’t.”
As an addition to the evening’s agenda, the board approved an overnight trip for the golf team. They also went into closed session to discuss contract negotiations. The school board’s next regular meeting is set for May 23.