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Expansion of School District's Legal Staff Comes Under Fire

 

PATERSON, NJ – City school board members Wednesday night raised objections to the district’s plans to create the new position of deputy counsel in the legal department.

Board members said the plan to hire a high-salaried in-house lawyer caught them by surprise. They asserted that state-appointed superintendent Donnie Evans should have given them an explanation for creating the new job and they wondered whether the money would be better spent on other needs in the district, such as student assistance counselors or parent coordinators.

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“This is like a runaway train,’’ said school board member Errol Kerr. “There’s absolutely no justification or internal documents (on the position). We have to stop this.’’

“I don’t know if what we need is a deputy,’’ said board member Alex Mendez, suggesting that the district should consider hiring a staff lawyer with a lesser title and a lower salary.

In face of the criticism, Evans agreed to hold off on the hiring a deputy counsel until after the situation could be discussed with the board at a special meeting on January 30. Lisa Pollak, the district’s general counsel, said the district had not yet picked someone for the position or even published an advertisement seeking applicants for the deputy job.

Officials did not say what the deputy’s salary would be. Pollak’s salary is $170,000. The district recently created another new position in the law department, hiring a paralegal, board members said.

Paterson Public Schools currently uses a combination of salaried in-house legal staff and outside law firms that are paid by the hour. Evans told the board members that the district could handle its legal work more efficiently and more cost effectively by hiring a deputy.  Evans said he would provide the board members with data on how much is spent on outside counsel.

“You may find that to be a very interesting figure because we don’t have enough coverage in-house for many of the activities for a district of our size,’’ Evans said.

School board president Christopher Irving said it’s possible that the hiring of a deputy is justified. But, he said, the board has no way of knowing that because Evans had not provided the necessary information. Irving objected to the fact that board members learned of the proposed hiring “through happenstance.’’

 Board member Manuel Martinez said the situation provided another example of the “lack of communication”” between the district’s administration and the board.

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