Update, Friday, Oct. 5:
In response to reader comments, Anna Kasprzyk, chief school business official, answered the following questions to clarify some information:
Could you confirm what the district spent (out of the budget) on legal fees for 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 (to date)?
FY 12-13 YTD $70,347
Are the legal fees what the district spends to consult the attorney (phone calls, e-mails, etc.)?
"Costs above include legal services provided by district legal counsel and include consultation on issues in areas such as personnel, labor relations, special education, student discipline, negotiations and general school law both on the telephone and in person."
Could you also confirm how much was paid by the district's insurance for legal settlements during these same years?
"I need to research this."
When the attorney is called upon to represent/defend the school district in court, is that paid by insurance or does that come out of the district budget along with other legal fees related to phone calls, e-mails, etc.? Does the district budget a certain amount annually for legal fees not paid through insurance?
"Sometimes, cases are covered by insurance. Not all. Yes, the district budgets for attorney fees," said Supt. Ellen Correll.
Another lively debate ensued at the Oct. 3 meeting of the Grayslake District 46 School Board.
This time it was over whether the board should hire an attorney experienced in school law to attend meetings to answer questions, give legal advice and ensure proceedings are on the up and up for the good of the district, which has had its share of lawsuits and formal complaints.
In August, the board voted 5 to 1 approving an RFP (Request for Proposal) for an attorney to attend board meetings. Board member Keith Surroz voted against it, while Sue Facklam abstained.
On Wednesday, Anna Kasprzyk, chief school business official, informed the board the district had received five responses to the RFP. She narrowed the choices down to two firms based on experience in school law, cost and references.
Having an attorney present at board meetings was anticipated to cost $8,000 to $12,000 a year.
"It is not money well spent," said Facklam.
"We'd have to be foolish not to move forward," said Michael Carbone, who argued that shelling out upwards of $12,000 a year to be proactive as opposed to paying a $100,000 legal settlement for violating the law would surely be a worthwhile investment.
Shannon Smigielski indicated she wanted the board to interview all five law firms who replied to the RFP.
Kip Evans agreed, noting he was "a little disappointed" that Kasprzyk, who admitted to having no experience hiring or dealing with attorneys, was prepared to present only two law firms. Kasprzyk said it was her understanding that's what the board wanted her to do.
Facklam interceded on Kasprzyk's behalf, believing it was inappropriate for Evans to launch what she described as a "personal attack" against an employee.
"It seems we can't make a move without calling our current representative (Kevin Gordon) at $235 an hour," said Smigielski. "The resistance on this is unheard of. We have an obligation to find better representation at a lower cost."
Keith Surroz said he didn't think it was necessary to have an attorney present at board meetings because most of the legal complaints against the district have come from the same source.
Lennie Jarratt, chairman of the Lake County Tea Party, recently took the district to court over its failure to release e-mails he asked for in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. During public comment, Jarratt's wife Lisa reported the judge in the case ruled the district was at fault.
Jarratt has also made formal complaints accusing board members of various ethics violations, which have resulted in investigation by the state's attorney's office.
"I don't agree we need someone here," said board president Ray Millington. "We've gone through training."
With the board's track record of violations, said Evans, "We need someone here that is an attorney that knows public laws. What are you trying to cover up here?"
Unable to reach consensus on whether to proceed with interviewing law firms, Facklam posed the question, "Are we going to move forward at all?"
"I say no," said Surroz. Facklam, Millington and Weinert agreed.
As Carbone, Evans and Smigielski were left shaking their heads, Surroz said of the 4-3 majority decision, "This is the way the board works."
"Keep on making the same mistakes," said Carbone.