In Virginia, the school district of Richmond spends more money per student on legal fees than the three other large districts in the central portion of the state. Per data, Richmond spent $15.24 per student in the school year that ended on June 30. The data also explains that the cost per student is rising to $16.36 this year, which is based on a contract that the city has with a law firm that handles the legal work.
Three counties; Henrico, Chesterfield, and Hanover spent much less than the city of Richmond did alone. Henrico spent $4.27 per student, Chesterfield spent $4.83 per student, and Hanover spent $11.41 per student for the previous fiscal year.
“I think we’ve explored every possible way to do this,” said School Board Chairwoman Kim Bridges in a statement. “(The cost) is always one of the questions that comes up at budget time. Our friends in the counties have a lot on their plates, too, but our board utilizes a lot of work that goes beyond what’s done by other school board attorneys. From our legal services, we ask for training, policy analysis and consideration of a wide breadth of topics that other school systems haven’t had to consider. We’re the only ones in the region navigating a system-wide (handicap-accessibility) settlement with hundreds of projects, overseeing a charter school and implementing best authorizing practices, proposing improvements to the state charter law, examining the use of historic tax credits for school renovations, or determining the use of per-pupil funds for the charter’s construction loans, just to name a few examples. These are not issues facing Henrico, Hanover or Chesterfield, so I wouldn’t expect them to spend time or money figuring them out.”
The Richmond school system used the lawyers for various tasks over the past year, calling on them for an average of 266 hours per month. The work entailed routine examinations of contracts and making sure employees complied with federal regulations.
“With all of the difficult decisions we’ve had to make in the last three years, that reflects really poorly on our judgment,” said Kim Gray, who is a member of the school board. “Our teachers, our staff, they haven’t had a raise, and that makes this impossible to justify.”
The public schools in the Richmond school district spent over $357,000 in legal fees for the fiscal year ending on June 30. Of that total, a little over $347,000 went to the firm of Harrell & Chambliss. For a roof litigation project, the firm of Hirschler & Fleischer was paid $4,361 and four other lawyers were paid $5,373 for work on cases regarding special education.
The public schools in Chesterfield County boast twice as many students as Richmond schools, but spent only $287,746 on legal fees. Five years ago, the Chesterfield district decided to switch from using outside counsel to hiring an in-house lawyer. The lawyer was hired for two major reasons: to save the district money and to have access to the lawyer.