Friday, January 03, 2014

TOP STORY >> Hopson’s estate will get $75,000

Leader senior staff writer

Former and fired Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Charles Hopson’s $500,000 lawsuit against the district was settled days before Christmas by the district and Hopson’s estate for $75,000.

Hopson alleged that he was entitled to a judgment, damages, attorneys’ fees and costs because the district had breached his contract.

A former deputy superintendent of Portland, Ore., public schools, Hopson was working as a high school improvement officer for the Houston School District when he died Oct. 9, 2012, from an illness.

District Judge D. Price Marshall authorized his widow, Patricia Hopson, and the estate to substitute for Hopson as plaintiff in the suit against the district.

The settlement was reached days before the case was set to go to trial, according to Allen Roberts, one of the PCSSD attorneys.

“It was primarily Jay Bequette’s case,” Roberts said, and Bequette got a pre-trial ruling from District Judge Price Marshall Jr. that the district could go into the reasons for firing Hopson and whether or not there had been cause to terminate.

“Jay furnished documents from the state Department of Education,” to Hopson’s attorney, Ricky Hicks, and “Hicks felt that his hand was diminished,” Roberts said Thursday.

In exchange for the award, the Hopson estate agreed that the matter was settled and there would be no further suits or appeals.

Central Arkansas Risk Management Associates was to have paid the award to the Hopson estate within 10 days of the Dec. 20, 2013 agreement.

“The payment burden eventually falls on the district,” Roberts said. “It’s figured back into the rate (the district pays for membership) the next year,” he said.

The settlement was signed by Patricia Hopson for the estate, Superintendent Jerry Guess for the district and lawyers Hicks and Bequette.

After a professional search, a troubled PCSSD hired Hopson as superintendent with a three-year contract April 2010 at $242,000 a year plus benefits.

At the time, the district already had financial and academic problems. Hopson said he received assurances from Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell before taking the job that the state wouldn’t take over the district.

But that’s exactly what happened in June 2011, when the state Board of Education put the district in fiscal distress and took it over. Kimbrell dissolved the school board, fired Hopson and hired Guess.

Hopson alleged that the state and district illegally voided his contract, which had about two years left on it, hired Hicks and sued.

Agents arrived at Hopson’s office, told him to clean out his desk and escorted him off the property, which Hopson later described as “humiliating.”

At the time he was hired, Hopson worked for the progressive Portland, Ore., School District, and he tried to implement at PCSSD some of the forward-thinking ideas he learned at that district.

He was met with both enthusiasm and skepticism from a school board that had been dysfunctional for many years.

Hopson was a Prescott native who worked as a special-education teacher at Northwood Junior High.

His father was a Jackson-ville-area minister. His mother was a district cook. His brother, Tim Hopson, is an assistant principal at North Pulaski High School, according to PCSSD spokeswoman Deborah Roush.