Question 2 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: In-House Legal Counsel?

Written By: Robert Cox
  1. Would you support hiring an in-house legal staff to handle routine matters to reduce District legal expenses? Explain.

Adina Berrios Brooks: Our district’s legal expenses in the current proposed budget are $894,000, more than double that of the White Plains School District, which has a proposed 2020-21 legal budget of $400,000 despite that our two districts’ student populations are roughly proportionate. However, while this expense must be brought down, it’s not clear to me how in-house legal staff to the payroll would achieve this. In any event, I would recommend being more proactive to avoid entering litigation, and institute greater oversight to avoid the need for counsel.

Katie Castellano Minaya: Every school district throughout New York State is required to have a legal team to advise and handle many issues, from school board governance, employee rights, regulatory school law issues, and so on. We must constantly work in collaboration with the New York State School Boards Association to determine best practices and follow the most up-to-date education law. It is troubling to see that the line item for legal expenses in the budget increased from $630k to $894k between 2019/2020 to 2020/2021. It would behoove us as a school district to do a cost benefit analysis to determine if there are ways to decrease these costs, including the possibility of in-house legal staff.

Furthermore, compliance with legal mandates avoids costly litigation. Any decisions made should involve the coordination with the New York State School Boards Association and also the more local Westchester Putnam School Boards Association. I would advise our district to look at best legal practices in neighboring districts to help improve this situation.

Barbara D’Alois: This would depend on a cost analysis. I have to imagine this would be a significant savings. There is absolutely no reason this shouldn’t be explored ASAP as a matter of policy. Many organizations and city governments, (ours included) take advantage of this construct. If the analysis showed we could save by having an in house lawyer handle the day to day items, and use the big firms for the larger issues, then I would fully support in-house staff. Why this hasn’t been considered and acted on is a mystery to me.

Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.

Stephen A. DiDonato: More than open to it. I do not understand how and why we do not have in-house counsel already. It would be cost effective and guarantees that we have consistency and more control with our legal representation. There is an advantage of having council how works for us as opposed to representing us by virtue of a contract agreement. The bottom line is that we should do what is best for operations and what is most cost effective for our tax payers.

Sharon D. Footes: Yes. I would support a in-house legal staff to reduce the Districts legal expenses.This approach is the best practice to conserve funds.

Matthew T. Hirschman: I am open to that option. Having a firm does allow for more resources, but there are simple legal tasks that can be handled more cost effectively if we had some in-house legal at our disposal.

Michael Leone: Here again, the answer lies in the data and the results of a cost-benefit analysis. What kinds of legal expenses does the district have? Review basic contracts? Simple legal advice on bids? Yes, one in-house counsel, or maybe one attorney part-time or on retainer for these basic continuing legal issues. Litigation? No, the district needs outside counsel with expertise to help.

Timothy McKnight: Yes. I would support hiring an in-­house legal staff to handle routine matters. With the economic distress from Covid-­‐19 it’s important now to look at any ways we can save money. There is always legal counsel that can support our district in a variety of ways throughout the school year.

Mario A. Scarano: Yes. My fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers would compel me to seek savings wherever I could. This idea is a common sense approach to handling the district needs without the overspending which is often characterized by a lack of respect for taxpayers.

Julia Taylor: Yes, I would encourage transparency and community involvement. I am a firm believer that we should be presented with accruals instead of projections from previous years’ budgets. Taxpayers deserve to know how funding is allocated. The conversations around the budget need to happen frequently throughout the year.

Donald Vega: Yes, if that would both reduce overall expenses and maintain effectiveness. Just because we cut expenses doesn’t mean the overall results improve. You could cut legal expenses, and still have an outside firm. It’s about management of such a partnership. We don’t want to pay in-house legal staff that doesn’t do at least as better a job.

One thought on “Question 2 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: In-House Legal Counsel?”

Comments are closed.