Updated: Grayslake D46 Won't Hire an Attorney to Attend Board Meetings

The Grayslake District 46 School Board found itself divided once again, this time on the issue of whether it was cost effective or even necessary to hire an attorney to attend board meetings and provide on-site counsel.

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)?

FY09-10 $111,016

FY10-11 $121,841

FY11-12 $154,956

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.


Original Post

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."

Blame game

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.

Brad Faxton October 04, 2012 at 12:57 PM
Hey Carbone - tell Lenny to stop with the legal actions and you won't need to do dumb stuff.
GuitarMan October 04, 2012 at 01:58 PM
@ Brad Faxton. I can see some of your logic. When a board member thinks that they will continue to violate the law in the future, and be sued its sounds like a drunk who can't stay on the wagon. I mean is it that hard to stay out of trouble?
Nightcrawler October 04, 2012 at 02:12 PM
Is having a paid attorney on hand for Board meetings standard procedure in other districts?
GuitarMan October 04, 2012 at 02:12 PM
After reading this article its apparent to me that the board functions more like a group of play ground children. For example, questioning whether someone is able to select an attorney is not unreasonable. On the other hand, the reported ethics violations seem to be more of an axe to grind, rather than improving education. We all probably have made decisions in our careers that cross the line, the final conclusion is did we learn from it, or did we choose to become unethical? Again, this sounds more like marginally qualified local public servents and a Tea Party with an axe to grind. Unless significant amounts of money or effort are being wasted maybe everyone should take a step back.
Jose Cuervo October 04, 2012 at 02:38 PM
According to the article over $100,000 is spent a year on legal fees. That averages $8,333 a month. If having an attorney present at board meetings at a cost of $1,000 a month helps prevent the monthly cost from rising to that $8,333 then it would seem like a great opportunity to save money and as Brad suggests, stay out of trouble. There is a big hole in the budget. Spending $100,000 on legal fees is a waste of money. If there is the chance to reduce that cost by preventing violations and opportunities to file lawsuits, then those monies could be put toward education.
Sandra Sims October 04, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Millington, Weinert and Surroz need to GO next April. They, along with Sue "Felony" Facklam are everything that is wrong with this board. Incompetence and arrogance, never a good combination.
Angela Sykora (Editor) October 04, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Mr. Carbone was not saying the district spends $100,000 per year on attorney fees. His point was if the district ends up having to pay out a court settlement of $100,000 (as a result of being sued, which has happened), that is far more money than spending upwards of $12,000 per year to be proactive by hiring an attorney to be right there at the meetings to help prevent violations and subsequent lawsuits from happening in the first place.
Angela Sykora (Editor) October 04, 2012 at 04:30 PM
It's standard for municipalities (village board, city council) but not so much for school districts. However, Mr. Carbone pointed out at Wednesday's meeting that perhaps it should be given the fact that it is often the school district that is the greatest taxing body when it comes to property taxes.
Brad Faxton October 04, 2012 at 04:59 PM
I fully agree and support your motion to have Carbone removed.
HAL E BERGER October 04, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Attorney's at a Board meeting - NONSENSE !!! When I was on this board I heard the same request, at that time from the Administrative leader. The attempt was to stifle a lively debate and try to remove debating board memebers. Nothing new!!! The goal then, was to silence free speech, same as now. Having an attorney will foster the concept of not discussing anything of meaning without the attorney's approval. Here is a better idea, hire and attorney when you need one and let the firey debates continue they are good for democracy. Each of you should be coming to a board meeting to listen to each other and have a debate. By the way if the people don't like a few of you, well, they can vote for change every election. Let me assure you when they get stirred up enough they will do just that and that is majority rule. It is my view that the board should be challenging the district and doing oversight for the students, for the community, and to support good teachers and teaching standards. The board was not voted in to just be friends of the leadership team. SO!!! Let the firey debates continue and when your on the silent side, and each of you will be from time to time, how about taking a look at what they are talking avblut and consider eactly what you were elected to do. Remember another point of view these are tough times that need tough choices and you were elected to actually make the tough choices reducing expenses.
HAL E BERGER October 04, 2012 at 06:55 PM
As for board members violating a law, anyone, i repeat, anyone - citizen or other can report them to the states attorney who will open a case if they agree.
Angela Sykora (Editor) October 04, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Thank you for your insight, Hal.
GuitarMan October 04, 2012 at 07:27 PM
@ Jose Cuervo. Jose, like Angela mentioned no settlements of 100K. Recently, a Tea Party political operative made several FOIA request for emails that contained statements construed as electioneering, and something akind to giving a voter a coupon for a free coffee. As a tax payer I'm concerned about the big issues like kick-backs to a contractor. Not a possible misuse of email, something everyones does in the corporate world, and probably the public world. Like I mentioned above, this makes the board look like children.
Nightcrawler October 04, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Hey Hal - By "Administrative leader," exactly who do you mean? The superintendent?
Jose Cuervo October 04, 2012 at 09:32 PM
I went onto the district website, called an former board member, did some math. The lawsuits are paid through insurance. That money doesn't come directly out of the budget. In 2009 the district spent roughly $200,000 on legal fees. In 2010 the district spent just short of $90,000. In 2011 spent over $130,000 on legal fees. These are fees paid to the legal firm the distirct uses. These are not settlement fees. It does sound like the district doesn't make a move without using their counsel. Angela, I took these numbers from the packets on line. Is there a way to check them with the district? Hal lively debate doesn't seem to be what is costing the district. Constant communication with counsel seems to be what is running up the bills. Angela can you confirm that?
Angela Sykora (Editor) October 05, 2012 at 12:10 AM
Jose: I am looking into the numbers you found regarding legal fees for 2009-2011 to help confirm it. I have sent an e-mail inquiry to the district business manager, superintendent and each board member. I'll post what I learn.
HAL E BERGER October 05, 2012 at 12:40 AM
I'm not getting into the daily politics of this board - Whatever the relationships are betweeen the administrative team and the board both have different duties and responsibilities. Although they teach that the board should cooperate with administration, the board is the peoples representatives first and that includes all of the people and all of the children.
Tim Froehlig October 05, 2012 at 08:26 AM
There wouldn't be people wanting an attorney for the board if so many legal matters didn't keep occuring or being violated. A lot of people may be fuming that Lennie sued the district, but conversely the district has no right to withold information citizens are legally entitiled to via FOIA requests. Sorry but it's the law. And perhaps if Sue Facklam wasn't found by the state's attorney to have committed a crime, even if she wasn't formally charged, the state's attorney did issue her a stern warning that is well-documented. Perhaps if that hadn't happened, there wouldn't be so many people who want an attorney. Too many people here are trying to kill off the symptoms of the problem rather than the root of it. It's sad some of you prefer having taxpayers foot the bill for legal issues the district brought about through its own wrongdoing to the tune of an alleged $100,000 rather than paying a competent attorney $12,000 a year instead. By my math, that's a savings of $88,000 to taxpayers through preventative measures and having someone who understands the law, is it not?
Tim Froehlig October 05, 2012 at 08:30 AM
Also, not picking on Angela, but it would be wonderful to see a story on here about these D46 schools that involve some things the kids are doing for a change. At Avon this week there were tons of people who donated new books to classrooms at the book fair, myself included. Always tons of wonderful activities at these schools to be written about or documented.
Angela Sykora (Editor) October 05, 2012 at 12:42 PM
We always appreciate a heads-up about especially noteworthy school events and activities, such as the book donation you mentioned, but I can't consider covering it unless I'm aware of it, and with the number of schools we have, that's not an easy task. Readers and school sources themselves are most welcome and encouraged to send me an e-mail (angela.sykora@patch.com) or give me a call (847-643-6001) if they have an idea or information about an upcoming event, such as the great little story I got from a St. Gilbert board member about students releasing butterflies for a class project. And GCHS theater students e-mailed me the other week to invite me to their dress rehearsal this afternoon. Though I try to keep up with happenings on my own, it is even better if we can share information. So, if someone has an idea or something to share, just let me know. Thanks!
HAL E BERGER October 05, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Not to be a pain but that is what elections are for -- when the community feels a citizen has outlived their position I say VOTE and work on the campaigns for a new members. That is what many of us did and when the community agreed - as they did for my group, we won. - new elected members are a breath of fresh air because sometimes the old ones forget who they represent or when exactly it is time to leave. So if you feel a change is needed, start now, run for the board and then VOTE !!! I ran for the D46 board and won with a mind set of one term only. As an uncompensated volunteer position I feel a person can have a lot of lofty goals and dreams for a community but at best two terms and they should let fresh members in. Sometimes when I look at elected offices in places like Congress I see people who stay so long it isn't about the community anymore it is about themselves. This isn't good for anyone.
Angela Sykora (Editor) October 05, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include information on what the district spends in legal fee.
Jose Cuervo October 05, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Thank you Angela for aquiring numbers. Not including 2012, the average spent per month from 2009-2011 = $10,772. If even half of that goes to consultation not litigation or settlement, then why wouldn't the district meet with all five firms that provided RFP to see about saving costs. It sounds like the highest cost was $1,000 a month. Assuming half of the dollars spent go toward basic functions of the board then lets assume $5,000 a month for lbasic egal costs. The board voted against reducing that cost to $1,000 a month. I am shaking my head too. No sense in not capitalizng on this. Hal I agree that term limits should be in place for every public body. Since its not, I hope that this election isn't uncontested like the one in 2008. The board needs a lot of fresh new air.
ConcernedParent46 October 05, 2012 at 07:17 PM
I am sorry but the entire board needs to be replaced! All of them act unprofessional and from what I have read and witnessed they do not seem qualified to make the right decisions for the district. Vote out those up for re-election out and the other should just resign...what has this group accomplished? Also the outsiders worried about the mystery emails etc...move on! YOU are wasting the boards time and our tax dollars! Let's concentrate on the district current business!
Tim Froehlig October 05, 2012 at 11:05 PM
Send an e-mail to D46 I am certain they'd give you a ton of events that are available to cover.
HAL E BERGER October 05, 2012 at 11:46 PM
It sounds like whoever Jose Cuervo is, and I suspect he isn't the Tequila, he should run for the board next election -- he has strong views. However, an interesting point every non board member might consider is the world looks much different when your on the board constrained by contracts, Federal and Illinois law -- you would be surprised, there are many more legal issues and reasons to retain an attorney than one might think. However, having one at the board meeetings, I say no it would restrict free speech by not only the board but by the community members during open response periods. Do you really want that?
Jose Cuervo October 06, 2012 at 12:19 AM
Hal, I do have strong views and opinions. Fortunately I would not qualify to run for a seat (thankless, unpaid, frustrating, stressful). I do understand that spectators have very little actual knowledge, me included. I do pay attention and have concerns about what is going on. I don't have answers, Thank you for having the courage and strength to be involved and serve your community.


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