The Pasco County School Board has authorized a new position to help the school district with day-to-day legal issues.
The board voted unanimously to support the district staff’s request to add the position, which they said is needed to handle day-to-day legal questions that arise.
Prior to the vote, some members in the audience questioned why the district is adding the position now — when it hasn’t had a staff attorney for years.
They speculated that the district may find itself in greater need of legal help, noting that it has been the subject of legal challenges.
They also questioned the use of taxpayer money to cover the costs and complained that the district has not done a good job in listening and responding to the public on a number of policy matters.
The item had been included in the board’s Nov. 16 consent agenda — meaning it would have been approved without comment.
But Megan Harding, who was named the board’s vice chairwoman at the same meeting, pulled the item, but vice chairwoman Megan Harding pulled it for public discussion.
She asked Betsy Kuhn, assistant superintendent for support services and Melissa Musselwhite, director of student support services and programs, to address the issue.
Kuhn said “the recommendation of the job description for staff counsel is intended to do day-to-day work.”
She said this attorney is not intended to handle the work performed by the school board’s attorney, but instead is needed to address timely issues that require legal expertise.
For instance, a legal interpretation may be needed on a contract, or on a memorandum of understanding that the district is doing with another agency.
The idea is get a quick turn-around, she said.
Musselwhite told board members: “On a daily basis we deal with custody issues, with families. So, families may come in with custody paperwork that needs to be interpreted. You might have Dad standing there a Mom standing there waiting to pick up the student. And, many times we need immediate access ti somebody who could really give us some guidance of what the language is, in the custody agreements.
“In addition to that, we have staff that gets subpoenaed for various reasons, and a lot of times staff just need a quick conversation with an attorney to really feel OK about their role that they’ve been subpoenaed for, and really what their responsibilities are, during that session,” Musselwhite said.
She also cited the need to have an attorney provide advice regarding contracts and to provide assistance on charter school contracts.
“So, there’s lots intricacies that we answer quickly every day — just make interpretations. So we are looking for that ‘in-time’ resource that will be able to assist with some of that work, that we currently perform each day,” Musselwhite said.
The job description lists duties that includes providing a wide range of legal services.
Harding noted: “We’re growing exponentially right now. We have over 83,000 students right now.
Kevin Shibley, the district’s assistant superintendent for administration, added: “To interject, as a matter of perspective, you know the district is the largest employer in Pasco County.
“Just to compare the single position here. The county proper actually has 13 staff attorneys, on staff. The Sheriff’s Office has five.
“This is just a request for a single person who can help us do our day-to-day work,” he said.
The school board unanimously approved adding the position.
Job description for Pasco Schools staff attorney
The role involves a broad array of duties, that include:
- Provide legal services for all departments, divisions and offices of the school district
- Conduct and oversee direct legal research
- Assist in the drafting, review, and/or negotiation of board policies, administrative rules, contracts, proposed legislation and other legal documents
- Prepare and render oral and/or written legal opinions when requested
- Cooperate in the coordination and directing of investigations of claims or complaints by or against the district
- Assist in the evaluation and settlement of liability, workers compensation, and other claims or complaints against the district
- Cooperate in the preparation of materials and/or testimony for records requests, subpoenas, depositions, and any other legal processes involving the district
- Assist in the representation of the district in litigation and/or administrative claims brought by or against the district
- Aid in the preparation of materials and implementation of staff development in relevant legal areas as requested
- Maintain confidentiality of privileged attorney-client matters
- Assist with preparing and presenting litigation reports to the school board.
- Be responsible for self-development and keeping abreast on current research, trends, and best practices relevant to the area of responsibility.
- Assist the superintendent by providing counsel and leadership during emergency or crisis situations
- Work collaboratively with the School Board Attorney on any assignments where responsibility may overlap
- Perform other duties as assigned
Published December 01, 2021