KSN&C was slow picking up the story of how legal services came to be outsourced in Fayette County. But the board acted very quickly; like someone was in a hurry. We're working to catch up and thank KSN&C readers who have been sharing information and insights.
KSN&C has learned that board member Amanda Ferguson raised several questions about the study, but since there was only light coverage from the Herald-Leader on that particular board meeting, and it happened so quickly, few citizens were even aware of the dispute.
Ferguson complained out loud that the study was faulty, completed within two weeks, and that the board attorney and her staff were never contacted - or even given the basic respect of being informed there was an issue. Furthermore, Lyle Hanna of the Hanna Resource Group never spoke with any of the board members to assess their satisfaction or concerns with legal services in the district.
This has all of the trappings of a covert operation. Turns out, Board Attorney Brenda Allen was on double-secret probation and didn't even know it.
That explains the nearly complete lack of insight into Fayette County's particular legal needs as exhibited in the Hanna Report. The "researchers" did take the five minutes necessary to list the attorney's duties from her job description. And Hanna interviewed the superintendent and looked at Allen's calendar for the past thirteen months. But that was pretty much it.
Is anyone else bothered that a superintendent ordered up an expensive, quickie report, made himself the primary source of information for the report, and then (deliberately, it appears) kept the researcher away from the subject of the study?
Is this what passes for scholarly rigor in Fayette County?
Please tell me we aren't teaching our high schoolers that this is how research should be conducted.
According to meeting notes obtained from Ferguson, she questioned the Hanna report on several fronts asking,
- Did you ever speak to the board attorney or her 2 staff members during your analysis?
- Are you aware that the board alone employs the board attorney?
- Did you have any discussions with board members about the board attorney’s job duties?
- Did you ever consult the board on our satisfaction with our legal services?
- Did you ever consult any of the 6,000 employees who are also the customers of the board attorney?
- Do you know how many hours you spent on this analysis and over what period of time?
- How much will you be paid? ($10,000/80hrs=$125/hr)
- In calculating legal expenses, did you look at how many lawsuits were filed against each of the districts you contacted?
- So there’s no way to know if your numbers for Fayette County are a result of a greater number of lawsuits filed against FCPS?
Then, Ferguson asked her zinger:
- You praised this superintendent and credited him for current successes in Daviess County. Are you aware that the only trial the district went through last year was a direct result of the superintendent’s conduct?
In voting against the proposal to outsource legal services, Ferguson explained:
[Hanna's recommendation] was based on potential annual savings but I believe that the report is erroneous in its estimation of current annual expenses. One employee whose salary was listed as part of the board attorney’s office was actually performing most of her duties for another department in central office, so much so that she was eventually moved to that department during a restructuring last year.
The consultant did not once speak with the board attorney nor any of her staff concerning her, or their, job duties, nor, to my knowledge, did he speak with any board members about the services the board attorney provides. Again, the board itself is actually the employer of the board attorney. He cannot possibly know of all the services that are provided to the district through this analysis and I just don’t feel these numbers can be accurate.( The consultant only spoke with the superintendent, the person who approved the study but who didn’t even know whether the consultant had contacted the board. He didn’t seem to know what he was paying for.)
The board attorney is available to provide legal advice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to all 6,000 employees of the district. I have heard from several administrators who are concerned about the outsourcing of legal services because they will no longer have that person available to call, someone who is already in the central office building, on the clock and on the payroll. It seems to me that people will be much less likely to seek legal guidance if outside counsel has to be consulted at an hourly rate. I believe this move will only result in greater legal expenses since more minor matters will not be addressed and may even result in more litigation against the district. In other words, the value to the school district of having a full-time attorney on staff can’t really be quantified.
Anyone who knows me very well at all knows that I don’t like to spend one penny more than I have to for anything. In this case, I feel we are already getting far more than we pay for with our current legal services and think this move to outsource them is a grave mistake for our district.
KSN&C reader TNT40 claims to have been at the meeting and offers this:
I attended the school board meeting that night because I was curious about this and the redistricting plans. Board Member Amanda Ferguson had some insightful comments about how bad of an idea the elimination of legal counsel was, how biased Hanna was and was angry that the Superintendent commissioned this study without the approval of the full board.
For a minute, Ferguson and Becky Sagan (who, in my opinion, appeared to be nothing more than a Stu Silberman bobblehead) were arguing with each other about how the study was conducted and commissioned. Sagan tried to say that the study was her idea and attempted to shift discussion to other members. (Kirk Tinsley's comment that, "Well, you know me. I'm all about the kids." was hilarious to me because he said something and nothing at the same time! How did that guy get on the board?)
While I can't remember her exact words, Ferguson implied that axing Allen was simply retaliation for the legal decisions made with respect to the BTWA situation. I agree with her -- it appears that Brenda Allen is simply the next person to be tossed under the bus.
Now, I'd have to say I have a lot of respect for FCPS board chair Becky Sagan, but I do understand TNT40's point. Board members sometimes are torn between their strong desire to present a unified front to the public (which is lovely, but overrated) and their role as the superintendent's boss.
If the board is mature and focused on the needs of children, members may disagree, but they will vote and move on. But if it's really about adult egoes and motivations of a more political nature, I suspect we will begin to witness the marginalization of Amanda Ferguson.
Most observers believe that Becky Sagan, who originally asked Silberman to look into the district's legal expenses, sincerely intented to save the district money. But these same observers believe Silberman saw an opportunity to settle some kind of score with Allen, and jumped at the opportunity. Sources within district leadership tell KSN&C that Allen was that rare Fayette County employee who gave the superintendent advice he didn't want to follow and who challenged him.
KSN&C also hears that several Fayette County school administrators are very upset about losing the support of legal counsel - which I can attest is extremely valuable to principals wishing to keep their schools and themselves out of trouble. But don't expect to hear a peep out of any of them.