PEORIA, IL -- I was not at the Peoria District 150 School Board meeting on June 12. But Sharon Crews was there and submitted this provocative comment, below, which was so far ignored by the Journal Star.
Comment by Sharon Crews: The time has definitely come for this board to think of ways to find money to entice and keep good teachers and to acknowledge that students need teachers much more than they need administrators, lawyers, or miracle cure computer programs. I am currently working to compile data about the district’s obsession with lawyers. School district lawyers are essential in representing the district in litigation matters, but please seek ways to cut down on their current role as advice givers and researchers. I believe that there are administrators on Wisconsin Avenue whose credentials include courses in school law. Why can’t their duties include some of the advice and research issues currently handled by very expensive lawyers?
Since the district is not at all transparent when it comes to parting with information about issues handled by lawyers, I can only guess at some of the issues for which their advice is worth up to as much as $275 an hour. I believe that using taxpayer money to pay lawyers that much is outrageous. The data indicates that rarely a day goes by without a lawyer being consulted about something. .
First of all, I would like to know who is considered the client for each of the many issues handled by lawyers. My opinion is that the district is the client and it is represented by the board, and that individual employees are never represented by these lawyers. When I made my FOIA request, I facetiously asked that no information that the public has a right to know be withheld. I learned that we have the right to know how much lawyers are paid, the length of time they work for that fee, and the general tasks they perform. However, I was not allowed to know which district employees solicit the aid of lawyers and, most of all, I have no right to know what specific issues require legal action, research, or advice. Why not? For instance, if lawyers have been hired to give advice about year-round school, I expect to know how much that advice cost.
I assume that I would be told that information is withheld from the public because of attorney/client privilege. Therefore, who is the client? My opinion is that the Peoria Public Schools is the client. My opinion is that no person is the client—the district is the client represented by the board or a district employee. Therefore, there is no reason for protecting the identity of the employee(s) with whom the lawyers communicate regarding any issue. Yet those names were all redacted on the data I received. Why?
I am quite curious to know how much of this information is offered to or is readily available to board members who actually employ the lawyers and are elected by taxpayers.
I have given you my compilation of the data showing the legal fees paid to attorneys for advice regarding the PFT Teacher Negotiations for 2016. District 150 paid attorneys $53,257 for work done during all twelve months of 2016. All the specific data was redacted. The data blotted out includes the names of the employees or outside sources with whom the attorneys had conferences, had phone conferences, consulted with, etc. Why is that information withheld? I believe that all this money was spent to advise the board’s negotiating team how to avoid yielding to the proposals presented by the teachers’ union.
Spending so much money on attorneys is bad enough, but the added expense paid for travel expenses to attorneys who do not live in our area is outrageous. For their work related to negotiations, these attorneys were paid a total of $5,239 for travel expenses and hotel costs. That money alone could have given fifty-two teachers $100 to spend on supplies for their classrooms. Please put these issues on your agenda for discussion. Please consider hiring local attorneys who will spend their money in Peoria, thus contributing to the local economy. - 30 -