April 24, 2014

Elyria
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Wellington school board member criticizes attorney costs

WELLINGTON — A discussion during Tuesday night’s Wellington Schools Board of Education meeting became contentious at times, as board member Ayers Ratliff criticized the district’s spending.

Ratliff said the district stands to spend $250,000 if it continues to spend what it did last year on attorney’s fees. The district spent approximately $27,000 on attorney fees in December, according to Ratliff.

“This really concerns me because we don’t have any litigation pending in court,” he said.

Ratliff also criticized the district’s use of the Squire Sanders law firm for handling issues, such as a bedbug problem at the school earlier this year. Because of its frequency in using the firm, the district is on a “volume-of-work discount,” which is $300 per hour.

“Why would we call Squire and Sanders when we spot a bedbug? No wonder we’re on the volume-of-work discount,” he said.

Superintendent John Nolan denied that the usage of Squire Sanders is excessive. He told Ratliff that the bedbug issue was a small part of a larger problem involving a student.

“There were legal ramifications on what we could and could not do in regard to the issue,” he said.

Nolan said the hourly fee charged by Squire Sanders is on par with other large law firms, and the district uses Squire Sanders because it has attorneys specialized in school-related issues.

The district has used the firm for issues including contract negotiations, a bond issue and official statements, according to the district’s treasurer, Suzanne Wilson.

The debate on spending came before a vote on a resolution to proceed with the submission of tax levy renewal. The 10-year renewal of a 5-mill operating levy would help to offset an impending deficit.

During a work session Dec. 10, Wilson predicted that the district could face a $4.4 million deficit by 2018. The deficit would include the passage of a levy renewal.

The 5-mill operating levy, which brings in approximately $970,000 a year in funding, was passed in May 2011.

The school board will vote on the resolution to seek the levy renewal during its next board meeting.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaMillerCT.