MUNSTER | Munster schools Superintendent Richard Sopko has given the board notice he's retiring in June.
The School Town of Munster released a statement Tuesday saying the board "reluctantly" accepted Sopko's retirement effective June 30, 2014, giving the board almost a year to find a replacement.
Munster School Board President John Friend said Sopko has guided the School Town of Munster through a difficult time in history, including overseeing the passage of a general fund referendum in May. Voters approved a tax increase, raising taxes 19.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to generate $3 million a year for seven years.
When Sopko retires, he'll have completed 25 years of service with Munster. He became superintendent July 1, 2012, replacing longtime Superintendent William "Bill" Pfister, who retired. Before that, Sopko served as business manager and assistant superintendent for Munster for 19 years. He also worked 18 years in the Lake Ridge Schools and a year in the Griffith Public Schools for a total of 45 years in education.
Sopko's wife, Donna, retired from the Munster school district in 2012. His son Timothy Sopko was named principal at Wilbur Wright Middle School in Munster a couple of months ago. He replaced Dave Knish, who retired.
The former principal at Munster High School, Steve Tripenfeldas, was named assistant superintendent for the district. Munster High Assistant Principal Mike Wells moved up as high school principal.
Meanwhile, Sopko noted in the statement that he has many fond memories of the Munster schools. "It has been a pleasure to work with the excellent education community, and the professionalism of the school board has provided outstanding educational leadership to the community," he said.
This isn't the first time Sopko has retired from the school district. He was among four Munster administrators who took advantage of a provision in state law, now changed, that allowed them to retire, then return to work after 30 days at their same job and pay level — while also collecting their pensions. And because they retired and were rehired before the law changed, they were able to collect two checks until they retired for good.
Sopko originally retired in February 2009. Each of the Munster administrators were gone for 30 days, then returned to work.
After July 31, 2010, the law changed with House Bill 1546, prohibiting retirements in which an employee has a formal or informal agreement with an employer to become re-employed in the same position after the 30-day period.