Yesterday Education Law Center’ Executive Director David Sciarra sent a formal complaint to the Office of the Attorney General in Trenton. The letter is addressed to Director Michelle Miller and references “Lakewood BOE [Board of Education] Legal Services Contract: Request for Investigation.”
Click on this:: Lakewood BOE Legal Services Miller Letter
For those of you playing catch-up — a large cohort, no doubt, given the histrionic dysfunction of Lakewood Public School District — the Board recently approved a contract with attorney Michael Inzelbuch for the astounding sum of $600,000 per year plus a bevy of extras. For complete background, read this post from last week.. There I catalogue the Lakewood Board’s disregard of lawful Board governance by conceding to Inzelbuch’s list of “contingencies,” or conditions upon which he’ll deign to stop suing the district on behalf of ultra-Orthodox parents who rely on the public district to pay tuition to unaccountable Jewish day schools, and instead serve as Board Attorney and “Non-Public Special Education Consultant.” (See here for the typical “course content” that Inzelbuch facilitates for families that shun secular education and instead rely on the district to pay $32 million a year in tuition payments to unaccountable yeshivas that teach Torah in lieu of math, English, social studies, and science.)
Education Law Center bases its complaint on specific provisions in New Jersey statute that Lakewood’s Board ignored in approving Inzelbuch’s contract. These include a school board’s mandate to minimize costs of professional services, including legal services. “Further,” writes Sciarra, “districts with legal costs in excess of ‘130% of the Statewide average per pupil amount’… must establish procedures to reducing those costs,'” which Lakewood fails to do. The contract also “appears to conflict with the prohibition on advance payment contract for legal services,” especially noteworthy because Lakewood’s legal costs are 262% of the state average. “It remains unclear,” writes Sciarra, “how this contract meets the regulatory mandates, guidelines, and prohibitions requiring the Lakewood BOE to minimize and reduce the district’s excessive spending on legal services.
The letter concludes, “we request that you recommend the State monitor take all necessary corrective action, including rescission of the contract and a directive to the Lakewood BOE to secure cost-effective legal services in a manner consistent with legal requirements.”
One further note: Three years ago the New Jersey State Auditor conducted a thorough analysis of Lakewood Public Schools, discovering a plethora of violations of state law, misallocations of Title 1 money, peculiarities like the District paying rent for yeshivas, and, most pertinently, spending way too much on legal fees. When districts undergo an audit, they are required to respond to each finding.
In response to the Auditor’s finding that “the district should develop a plan to reduce legal costs and “continue to utilize competitive bidding procedures to procure all future legal services.” Lakewood responds on page 44,
The Lakewood School District will utilize competitive bidding procedures to obtain the lowest possible bid for attorneys every November.