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School Board to Authorize $140,000 for Law Firm Accused of Misleading the Board and the Public

Original post made by Curious on May 4, 2013

The Board of Education at its May 7 meeting is scheduled to authorize a $140,000 contract for legal services from the law firm of Fagen Friedman and Fulfrost (for details, see Web Link).

Fagen is the firm of Laurie Reynolds, the attorney who spoke at a January school board meeting on the federal civil rights investigation of PAUSD that resulted in a finding of noncompliance with federal civil rights law. Reynolds gave a presentation that was described by the Weekly as "incorrect, misled the board and the public and engaged in pure obfuscation." See Web Link.

The Weekly reported that Reynolds' statement contained several incorrect characterizations of the law and the facts. For example, "Reynolds also did the board and public a disservice by suggesting the district had no ability to settle the case with OCR prior to the issuance of findings because the family of the bullied student wouldn't agree to a process called Early Complaint Resolution, which is available when a complaint is first received. In fact, OCR rules clearly state that at any time during an investigation, the district can opt to enter into a resolution agreement and avoid formal and possible damaging legal findings."

Reynolds also falsely claimed to the school board that OCR wanted the district to provide staff training at only one middle school, but that the district wanted to provide training at all schools. In fact, the Weekly report that a public records request revealed that OCR wanted training at all middle and high schools, and that the district negotiated to reduce requirements for annual training.

Reynolds subsequently called public discussion of the district's failure to protect the civil rights of a disabled child "tiresome" and "distracting," advising PAUSD not to "rehash" the issue any further in public. See Web Link. School board president Dana Tom has followed Reynolds' advice, and the OCR investigation and compliance have not been discussed at any open sessions of the school board since January. Tom was, however, forced to cancel a closed session meeting, apparently on the topic of civil rights, because it would have violated the open meeting provisions of California's Brown Act.

According to the board agenda item, PAUSD has paid Fagen $115,000 so far this school year, including for Reynolds' work in negotiating with OCR and her appearance at the January school board meeting. Over the last four years, PAUSD has paid Reynolds' firm $420,000. Fagen leads in total billings for PAUSD this year and over the last four years.

Comments (12)

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on May 4, 2013 at 10:19 am

Curious - THANK YOU!!! Am I correct assuming that advice was involved also to prior to OCR? For example, do you think that legal advice, and $, was involved in moving CF carrier, also made national news?
Also - do you know if there is a way to figure out if any any $ was allocated for quiet legal settlements? If so, how much? how many settlements?


Posted by Curious, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 4, 2013 at 10:33 am

Village fool, those are good questions, and they seem relevant to the school board's decision about how to spend the district's money vis-a-vis legal fees. I don't know the answers myself. School board members probably do know, but they do not seem to see their role as providing information to the public.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Barron Park
on May 4, 2013 at 12:38 pm

A $150k for PR spin, and now $140k more for a lawyer that lies to us? Come on school board get a grip. Those are our tax dollars.


Posted by Alice, a resident of Professorville
on May 4, 2013 at 2:11 pm

On we go further down the rabbit hole. If the board approves this contract that will either confirm their complicity or that they are accesories after the fact in the OCR cover up. I think the district should look to hire an ethics officer ahead of hiring a PR manager. Where have all the leaders gone?


Posted by Duveneck 3rd grade dad, a resident of Duveneck School
on May 4, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Wow, this is shocking. Did the school board know they were getting lied to by Reynolds and wanted to fool the community? Or are they so passive that they don't mind it, and will just roll over and reward this bad behavior with a big bag of taxpayer money?
Weekly reporters, can you please follow up on this? (I assume that Curious is not part of the Weekly staff, or is this a blog?)


Posted by Not Suprised, a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2013 at 8:21 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Quokka, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 5, 2013 at 8:57 am

Yeah, well, the CC has always been penny-wise and pound-foolish.


Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 5, 2013 at 10:51 am

Thanks for the reporting, "Curious". Here are some points that you did not mention but that help to put this in context.
- The school board met with Laurie Reynolds, the Fagen partner, in a closed session earlier the same day to discuss litigation associated with the OCR investigations. If school board members were informed that she was going to make misleading statements in public, that is where it might have happened.
- The point of Reynolds' presentation was to spin the OCR investigation as no big deal. You should ask, "who benefited from Reynolds' spin?" There are plenty of candidates. Superintendent Skelly presided over the failure of district staff, and then concealed the finding of violation of civil rights law. Charles Young is the compliance officer who did nothing to ensure compliance. Holly Wade is the special ed director, who withheld appropriate services from this child (only after this became public did the student receive an appropriate placement, as reported in the Weekly).
- School board members themselves knew about the situation, had been asked for help by the family, and never acted to ensure that district procedures and the law were followed.
- Even Barb Mitchell was skeptical of the claim that the OCR investigation, finding of noncompliance with federal law, and settlement agreement combined with threat of prosecution for failure to comply was "collaborative," and that OCR found PAUSD a delightful partner. She asked Reynolds to get a statement from OCR to that effect, and Mitchell herself tried to get such a statement from OCR. None has been forthcoming, of course, because it isn't true.
The most likely outcome? Reynolds' willingness to put her own reputation at stake on behalf of PAUSD staff and board members will be rewarded with $140k from Palo Alto taxpayers.


Posted by Eileen 1, a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Eileen 1 is a registered user.

As many have noted, during this Tuesday's School Board Meeting the board has scheduled an item to give a $140,000 contract to the law firm, Fagen Friedman and Fulfrost for $140,000. This is the law firm that the Weekly concluded mislead the board and the public when they spoke at an open board meeting on the topic of the OCR report.

Here is the link to the memo that Kevin Skelly wrote to Cathy Mak, the PAUSD Chief Business Officer: Web Link

According to this memo the firm of Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost provide the district legal services in the area of special education. Dr. Skelly came to the district in 2007. According to his memo the district spent $28,525 with Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost for the school year 2009-10, but every year since then the district has spent over $100,00 per year for the law firm that advises them on Special Education cases. Tuesday night Dr. Skelly will be asking for a budget of $140,000 for Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost for next year's academic year.

Again referring to this same memo you can see that the total the district spent for legal services with all three of the firms they use in 2009-10 was $124,326, but next year Dr. Skelly anticipates that he will need $280,00 worth of legal expertise from all three firms.

That's more than a 100 percent increase in legal fees to the district in just 5 years. For Special Education legal advice it is much much more. I find this alarming, and, as a taxpayer, I would like an explanation as to why this huge increase has been necessary.


Posted by Special Ed parent, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 5, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Under Dr. Skelly and Holly Wade the district has been very antagonistic to special Ed kids. Meetings often have a lawyer and we have had to fight for everything, sometimes over and over. That costs money that should really be spent on kids who need support.


Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on May 5, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Possibly, the lawyer choice represents those who pay the legal bills. Seems that this law firm is not new to PAUSD. There are many law firms out there. Possibly, those deciding on extending the legal contract, were satisfied with prior legal results that did not make it to the Weekly.

Possibly, the lawyer reflects the PAUSD personnel deciding in the past few years to extend the legal contract, and vice versa.


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2013 at 8:21 am

"According to his memo the district spent $28,525 with Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost for the school year 2009-10, but every year since then the district has spent over $100,00 per year for the law firm that advises them on Special Education cases. Tuesday night Dr. Skelly will be asking for a budget of $140,000 for Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost for next year's academic year.

Again referring to this same memo you can see that the total the district spent for legal services with all three of the firms they use in 2009-10 was $124,326, but next year Dr. Skelly anticipates that he will need $280,00 worth of legal expertise from all three firms."

Nice to see our experience validated in numbers, but alarming that the board continues to do nothing about this.


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