At the May 7th Board Meeting a proposal for the new legal firm contracts was put before the Board. At that meeting school board member Melinda Baten Caswell inquired as to why the contract for the firm that handles the District's legal issues pertaining to Special Education had increased from $28,525 in 2009-10 to $140,000 projected for 2013-14. In this week's board packet Cathy Mak, Chief Business Officer for PAUSD, gives the following additional information regarding the large increase in legal expenditures by the district during the past four years: "district legal expenses can fluctuate from year to year depending on the situations that arise that require legal assistance." Web Link.
Academic year 2013-14 will be Dr. Skelly's seventh year with the district. During the past three years, and looking forward to next year, the District has had such need for legal assistance in the area of special education that it has spent over $100,000 in each year. In 2010-11 the district spent a high of $164,271 and next year the Dr. Skelly anticipates needing a $140,000 for legal representation. This is a significant increase from $28,525 in 2009-10. Despite this major change in expenditure since 2009-10, neither Cathy Mak nor Dr. Skelly, have been able to provide an explanation of any greater detail than the fact that legal expenses "can fluctuate....depending on the situations that arise.."
The firm that Dr. Skelly recommends the district contract with next year is Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost. Laurie Reynolds is the lawyer from FFF that has been advising the district and Dr. Skelly in the area of special education. In the March 1, 2013 Palo Alto Weekly editorial, As District Lawyers Step In, Disappointing Spin Begins, the editor commented that attorney Reynolds was incorrect in several points of her presentation to the school board and the public, and further asserted that she had deliberately "misled the board and the public and engaged in pure obfuscation."
This is the lawyer and legal firm that Dr. Skelly has selected to continue to represent the school district for the next academic year, 2013-14. Given that it appears that the district has major difficulties understanding and fulfilling their legal obligations to children in PAUSD's special education programs, one wonders if it is wise to continue to retain the same legal counsel that has been assisting them for the past several years. Tonight the School Board will have the opportunity to vote on this contract. Hopefully they will get more information from staff regarding the significant increase in costs over the past four years with FFF, and they will seriously consider changing firms in light of Ms. Reynolds failure to properly represent the facts at her most recent appearance before the board.