Fayette school board to consider cutting in-house attorney

Fayette County Public Schools potentially could save $250,000 to $360,000 a year by eliminating its in-house attorney position and farming out all of its legal needs, according to an analysis the superintendent requested.

The report by Hanna Resource Group of Lexington "strongly recommends" that the school system take that step, as well as other actions, to reduce its legal expenses during the next three years.

The proposal will be on the agenda for the 6 p.m. Monday meeting of the Fayette County Board of Education at 701 East Main Street.

Superintendent Stu Silberman asked Hanna to prepare the report after board chair Becky Sagan raised outsourcing as a possible way to save money.

"The board is looking for ways that we could best provide services most efficiently," Silberman said. "Some major private companies have done this same thing."

The Fayette schools for years have employed a full-time, in-house general counsel to provide legal advice, ensure that district policies comply with state laws and regulations, prepare contracts, help draft policies or legislative proposals, and assist in collecting delinquent taxes.

But the system also routinely hires private, outside lawyers for other needs, including personnel investigations and hearings, real estate transactions, bond sales and easements.

The cost of maintaining two legal operations adds up, according to the group's report.

It says the school district has been spending $500,000 to $600,000 on legal services each year for almost a decade. The annual cost is divided roughly evenly between supporting the in-house counsel's office and paying outside attorneys who are hired as needed, the report said.

Fayette is one of only four public school districts in Kentucky that employ in-house lawyers. The others are the Jefferson and Oldham county schools, and Owensboro Independent Schools.

Hanna's analysis notes that the Fayette schools' annual legal expenses are roughly equal to Jefferson County's though Jefferson County has almost three times as many students.

The report says Fayette County spends $17 per capita on legal services, compared with Jefferson County's $6 per capita, and Oldham County's $15 per capita. No cost was given for Owensboro. In comparison, districts that outsource legal needs spend an average of $7 per capita, Hanna said.

The report suggests that, in addition to eliminating its in-house counsel, Fayette County could save more money by using various free legal services available through organizations such as the Kentucky School Boards Association and Kentucky Association of School Administrators.