The Lompoc Unified School District board president’s push to hire an attorney for unspecified legal services prompted strong opposition from administrators about the unusual proposal.
The agenda for the LUSD board meeting earlier this month included “approval of agreement to provide specialized legal services” and was proposed by board president Bill Heath.
He recommended that the five-member board approve a contract with Santa Barbara-based KVT Law Group LLP to provide temporary specialized legal services at a rate of $300 per hour for attorney time and $125 per hour for paralegal services.
Heath’s motion failed when none of the other four board members provided a second.
Copies of the contract were provided to board members but were not included in the agenda packet.
The contract sent to Noozhawk upon a request for the public document placed a six-month and $50,000 cap on the deal but remained vague about the scope of work.
“Attorneys shall provide specialized legal services related to ongoing issues and disputes regarding the conduct of district business,” the agreement stated.
While vague, it appeared the contract may be related to Heath’s — and some community members’ — displeasure with Superintendent Trevor McDonald.
Near the start of the item, John Karbula, assistant superintendent of business services, spoke out on behalf of administrators about the usual proposal undertaken without staff involvement, saying it “did not follow the usual well-honored path” to be considered as an action item.
He noted that the district already works with four other legal firms to provide various services and questioned the need for a fifth.
“It was developed entirely in secret by a single individual board member,” said Karbula, who will retire this month after 34 years in education. “This deviation from the norm and board policy is a significant concern. I was not consulted, nor was my input requested for an item that will add significant fiscal impact on the General Fund. It’s quite easy to imagine this item costing the district tens of thousands of dollars. There’s not one penny in the budget for this item.”
Karbula said the lack of communication with staff should raise concerns among the board, adding that an item that could cost thousands of dollars should be very specific.
“Shrouded in total secrecy and bound up in vagueness, the approval of this item would be a total violation of the oath of office to protect the public interest that each of you have taken, three of you quite recently,” he said.
Heath called the request “well within” board policies and said they could contract temporary specialized legal services without issuing a request for proposals.
While the policy says the board may contract for legal services, it notes that the majority must approve the deal. Additionally, the policy claims the superintendent or board president may contact district legal counsel to provide members with legal information or advice when so directed by a majority of the board.
After making the motion to approve the item, Heath asked, “Do we have a second?”
“I guess we don’t,” he said, after being greeted by silence. “We will not consider it then.”
Beyond wielding the gavel during meetings and signing some documents, board presidents have no additional powers from counterparts, with each having one-fifth of the vote on matters.
Near the end of the meeting, Heath defensively said he didn’t intend to offend any staff members with the item and said he didn’t know the proper process.
“I really haven’t been trained to be a president,” Heath said. “The Board of Education is the district. As a board, we have one employee as made known to us, but yet I think it’s important that we get on the agenda what’s the business of the district. There is no ill intent with regard to that.”
He said some items he submitted were altered without his knowledge, but didn’t spell out the details.
“We are the body that drives the district through our CEO, which is our superintendent. He takes direction from us. We are his boss as a unit. That needs to be understood,” he said. “It’s my feeling and experience there was a lot of control over the board in the past.”
After the meeting, Heath declined to comment about the purpose of the special attorney.
Per the bylaws, board members actually have a limited role.
“The board shall concern itself primarily with broad questions of policy, rather than with administrative details,” the bylaws stated. “The application of policies is an administrative task to be performed by the Superintendent and his or her staff.”
A special meeting on Tuesday centered on a workshop “to develop best practices for the board and governance team and vision, mission and measurable goals and core values for LUSD.” The facilitator was former LUSD Superintendent Jim Brown, emeritus partner with Leadership Associates.