A school district in Lansing, Michigan is under scrutiny after racking up close to $60,000 in legal fees this past summer. The district allocates approximately $200,000 each year in its budget for legal costs. Thus far, only about $1,800 has been spent on routine legal matters, such as the sale of district property. The bulk of the budget, and what is now being questioned, has been used for contract negotiations for the district’s top administrators as well as “bargaining sessions” with unions.
Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveal some disturbing charges that reflect a lack of billing judgment. For example, the district spent close to $3,600 on a contract dispute with its Superintendent. Similarly, over $4,500 was spent to “consider legal issues” in regard to a potential pay cut for the district’s top administrators. One task which was included in the fee was rewriting a job description.
The costs incurred this past summer come on top of nearly $20,000 spent earlier this year, also related to contracts for the district’s leadership. Some board members have expressed concern with the amount of money being spent on outside legal fees and the types of matters for which counsel is sought. The district currently employs an in house attorney who earns over $100,000 a year. Even though the district’s staff attorney also contends, “I do have concerns about the legal bills that are being racked up”, the district’s leadership feels that “money was well spent.”