A divided Jefferson County Board of Education voted Monday night to approve Superintendent Donna Hargens' central office shakeup that includes outsourcing legal services, despite a heated debate and numerous questions that were left unanswered.
The board voted 4-2 to allow Hargens to eliminate the office of general counsel, which includes four positions and has a budget of $600,000 annually. Board members Chris Brady and Linda Duncan voted against the measure, while Diane Porter, David Jones Jr., Lisa Willner and Stephanie Horne supported it. Board member Chuck Haddaway was absent.
The district will now put out a request for bids from law firms and hopes to have one in place by July 1, Hargens said. She noted current general counsel Rosemary Miller will retire and help with the transition. Miller makes $175,200 annually and has been with JCPS since 1984.
Hargens told board members the move will “build capacity in the district” to best serve the district's students, teachers and employees. She told board members it will be their discretion “on an annual basis” to review the outsourcing of legal services.
Each of the board members – with the exception of Jones – asked Hargens a multitude of questions about the proposal, in terms of how much it would cost and how it would be managed.
Hargens never answered how much it would cost, only to say she was familiar with the approach because of her previous experience in Wake County Schools in North Carolina, her previous district.
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“It's very frustrating to receive this proposal without understanding what the problem is that we are trying to fix,” said Duncan.
Duncan also noted that the peer districts referred to State Auditor Adam Edelen's report have an in-house legal services department. Those districts include Baltimore County Public Schools (Maryland), Pinellas County Schools (Florida), Austin Independent Schools (Texas), Cobb County (Georgia) and Charlotte-Mecklenburg (North Carolina).
Brady said the timing of the proposal has been "poorly managed" and noted that it's a growing concern of his.
“No clear plan has been submitted,” Brady said. “I'm concerned about the increased cost and delayed access that could have a chilling effect.”"If I have to call and talk with an attorney's secretary, then get passed to a paralegal and then eventually the attorney themselves...the tax payer will get charged for the time of the secretary the paralegal and attorney," Brady said.
Porter, Willner and Horne also asked questions about cost and indicated that they'd like more time to consider the proposal. However, moments later, they approved the proposal.
Jones said he didn't think more time was needed, saying the school board has asked Hargens to figure out this “uncomfortable corporate reorganization stuff and that is what she is trying to do.”
“We need to let the people do the jobs we've hired them to do and then hold them to account,” Jones said.
Brady said if the board's job is to “take her (Hargens) word for everything, then that's a rubber stamp and that's not something I can get behind.”
Jones said he was “not recommending that the board be a rubber stamp, I'm recommending that the board follow through on its good decision to hire Dr. Hargens.”
Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, told school board members his organization was in favor of the proposal.”
“The current legal structure we have in place tends to bottleneck,” McKim said, noting that some teachers wait years on legal matters.
But Helen Haverstick, an orchestra teacher in JCPS, said she had “grave concerns” over the proposal, asking who would be able to call for legal advice and support and also asked how much money this will cost the district.
Hargens said “171 of 174 school districts in Kentucky” outsource legal services. However, Brady noted that Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington, the second largest district in the state, outsourced its general counsel in 2010, but has since returned to having an attorney on staff.
Aside from Miller, assistant general counsel Stephanie Malone, who makes $148,000 annually, will lose her job. Two other legal department positions that total about $95,000 will also be eliminated.
In addition to agreeing to outsource legal services, the school board also approved Hargens' request to create a new cabinet-level position called Chief Business Officer to oversee Cordelia Hardin, the district's chief financial officer, and the new human resources director.
The position is expected to pay between $150,000 and $170,000, and a national search will be conducted.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Divided JCPS school board approves Hargens' proposal to shake up central office
This from Toni at WDRB: