April 26, 1997 in Nation/World

Howman’s Stories, Behavior Come Under Fire

By The Spokesman-Review

Robert Howman stunned staff at Sandpoint High School last year when he listed his credentials as the new special education director.

He claimed he played professional football for the Buffalo Bills, was an Olympic weightlifter and a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, according to people who attended the meeting. He also said he once killed someone.

The only problem is much of what Howman has said is untrue, according to other teachers and a written statement from Howman.

“He’s a joke, in my opinion, and someone needs to take a serious look at him,” said Ray Miller, a 24-year teacher at the high school who also is a Sandpoint city councilman.

Miller and other teachers are questioning why Howman’s behavior is not being checked by administrators. Howman earns $55,000 annually and ran his budget into a $180,000 deficit this year.

“As a taxpayer I’m not pleased he overspent that much and even less pleased with those who allowed him to do it,” Miller said.

Miller heard Howman’s original talk to staffers. When he got to the part about working with Rehnquist, Miller walked out of the room in disgust.

“If you are clerking for a chief justice you have to be a Harvard graduate at the top of your class, and you sure as hell aren’t coming to work in Bonner County,” Miller said.

Howman has not returned repeated telephone calls or answered faxes sent to his office seeking comment on claims.

Teachers asked the union to investigate Howman’s background. Union president Joan Head said staff members were becoming frightened and fed up with his tales, which included finding a pipe bomb under his desk, having his car’s brake lines cut and receiving written death threats.

Complaints about Howman have been taken to some school board members and Superintendent Max Harrell. Harrell didn’t return calls Friday, but in a letter to the union he verified some of Howman’s stories.

A device designed to look like pipe bomb was found under Howman’s desk, his brake lines were cut and he did receive death threats, Harrell wrote.

“All of the above incidents were turned over last year to the police department. It is my understanding the investigation is still open,” Harrell wrote on March 21.

Police Chief Bill Kice said he has no reports from Howman or the school district and there is no investigation. The only report related to Howman was filed by his secretary. She reported a harassing telephone call and finding a headless dead rat in her car when she stopped for gas on the way to work.

After the union started checking Howman’s background, he sent a letter to his staff and principals that backpedaled on his earlier claims, Miller said. The letter included these explanations:

In 1971, Howman’s lift totals qualified him for the Olympic weight-lifting team, but back and knee injuries kept him from competing.

From 1976-79 he trained for professional football and was invited to try-out in New York. He became ill in Buffalo and couldn’t train.

In 1987 as a graduate student at William and Mary College he conducted legal research at the U.S. Supreme Court. The research was arranged by a professor and an aide for Justice Rehnquist.

Howman also said that before age 15, he was charged with murder. “A charge of homicide was dropped due to a finding of self-defense,” Howman’s letter said. He claimed to have defended an elderly couple from a gang and had a “spotless” record since age 16.

Board Chairman Rebecca Hawkins said trustees were aware of some complaints about Howman. Some issues were brought to her attention by the public, including the report of the pipe bomb.

“All the board is concerned about is what is going on in Special Services both for students and employees,” Hawkins said. She declined to say if anything was being done because it is a personnel matter.

A tort claim also has been filed against Howman by Sandpoint High School Principal A.C. Woolnough. The claim alleges Howman made defamatory remarks about Woolnough, but gives no details.

Teachers also challenged Howman when his girlfriend, whom he later married, was hired and placed under Howman’s supervision in the Special Education Department.

That violated the district’s nepotism policy, Head said. Administrators later ordered Howman’s wife to report to the Sandpoint Middle School principal instead of Howman.

“We are very concerned about Mr. Howman and wonder why all this isn’t being looked into more closely,” Head said.

, DataTimes

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email