Last week’s School Board meeting contained two legal contracts for approval. The first, a request to approve an annual contract for legal services from Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo “not to exceed” $170,000 annually. This is a 78.5 percent increase over last year for just one firm of four used last year. The second item, to increase an additional $50,000 totaling $100,000 to Rutan & Tucker, LLP, the firm contracted “for representation and defense in litigation threatened by Member Perry” identified in their initial contract dated Aug. 22, 2019.
These two approvals, 4-0-1 and 4-1, total $220,000. Shocking, considering these are only two of five firms used by the district since 2016-17. District reported legal fees for the 2018-19 year were $262,600. Fees for the 2017-18 were $290,900, 2016-17 fees were $116,400, and 2015-16 fees were 154,100, the highest legal expenses since 2010-2011 until the 2017-18 budget year.
President Peggy Wolff was asked status of legal expenditures and litigation fees, prior to approving an additional $220,000 to the district budget, which is funded 90 percent by taxpayer dollars. Both Wolff and Clerk Carol Normandin couldn’t answer and directed administration to forward the information. This information has been requested from administration multiple times and information through 2018-19 is all that has been made available.
Board member Perry asked similar questions, but included required yet absent performance reviews per Board Policy 9124. President Wolff, no answer. Normandin indicated “performance questions could be asked” but Member Perry “didn’t agree with the legal opinions received.”
Board majority approved $220,000 in tax payers dollars without performance review or knowledge of current legal expenditures status, on the heels of a three-judge state court of appeals ruling that our School Board and Superintendent abused power and violated the legal rights of a student in our school.
So I ask, does this Board and Superintendent really care about the kids? Board is admittedly a weak Board who defer to the Superintendent. One year without Board meetings live-streamed. New school calendar passed omitting promised breaks or community support. High School bell includes six different schedules. Multiple school households have two late start days and/or early release day. Parents struggling to get District student special needs met. Data driven actions that lack human connection but drive measurable, reportable results, that boost appearances without substance. Triple litigation costs, since this new administration. Are the administrators really in touch with the students and community they serve?
Sheri Morgan, Laguna Beach