PEPPER PIKE — The Orange City School District Board of Education is expected to discuss legal counsel in the coming weeks to ensure that it has selected the right team at the right cost.
From July 1- Dec. 31, the district has spent $146,645 in legal fees and workers’ compensation, according to Treasurer Todd Puster. On Monday, the school board approved the appointment of six law firms for 2020 including Squire Patton Boggs; Mansour Gavin; Frantz Ward; Walter Haverfield; Brindza, McIntyre & Seed; and Smith, Peters Kalail Co.
“We always want to make sure that we have the right counsel in place,” board member Melanie Weltman said.
In the past, the district has used special counsel for specific issues that arise and an expert is needed. Board of Education Vice President Rebecca Boyle brought up an idea that Superintendent Lynn Campbell initially proposed that was using in-house counsel rather than a multitude of attorneys who work as special counsel.
Dr. Campbell said that it is not as common in Ohio for a district like Orange to have a law director who attends board meetings or to have an attorney on retainer to answer day-to-day legal questions.
“We’d have to find a breaking point [for] how much the service would be to have an in-house counsel, a generalist if you will, and would that be enough savings over time to offset their costs,” he said.
Board member Jeff Leikin said that he would like to discuss that option further, calling it “a very dangerous move.” Mr. Leikin said that specialized lawyers who give specialized legal advice are “worth their money in gold.” He advised that if a general practitioner starts to guess, the district could find itself in trouble.
Board member Deborah Kamat said that the district could probably use a general attorney for some tasks but would still need specialized advice in other areas. This would result in the district paying for a general attorney and specialists.
“My concern is that we’d be paying for both,” she said.
Mr. Puster said that Orange is in a unique situation because the district’s largest member community is a chartered city, Pepper Pike. The villages of Woodmere, Orange, Hunting Valley and Moreland Hills also attend the Orange schools in addition to parts of Solon, Bedford Heights and Warrensville Heights. If the city were statutory, Pepper Pike would be obliged to provide the school district’s general counsel, Mr. Puster explained. That is not the case because Pepper Pike is a chartered city.
Mr. Puster said that there are other options for general legal advice available, such as the Ohio Schools Council Legal “Hotline” Service, which offers 10 hours of consultation for $2,400.
Board of Education President Beth Wilson-Fish asked if other districts in Ohio have in-house counsel. Dr. Boyle did not know of any. Mr. Puster said that he only knows of larger districts with in-house counsel, such as the Warren City School District.
In other news, Mrs. Wilson-Fish was re-elected by the board to serve as president through 2020 and Dr. Boyle will serve as vice president. The next board meeting is on Jan. 27 at 6 p.m. at the Pepper Pike Learning Center, 32000 Chagrin Blvd.