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Commissioners approve schools’ request for outside counsel


Staff writer

The board of education now can move forward with outsourcing its legal representation after the county commissioners approved an inter-categorical budget adjustment for the entity this week.

On Tuesday, the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a $200,000 inter-categorical budget adjustment in this fiscal year for the Calvert County Board of Education in regard to outsourcing legal services. The Maryland Annotated Code requires such transfers to be approved by the county commissioners.

The money for the legal services is being reallocated between categories where the BOE expects to realize savings in the current year, according to the memo from the board of education. To account for the $170,000 increase in administrative legal fees, $15,000 is being allocated from property insurance, $58,000 from worker compensation, $7,000 from vehicle insurance and $90,000 from fund balance. A $30,000 increase in special education legal fees also is accounted for in the budget adjustment from special education service contracts.

Previously, the school board’s lawyer was deputy superintendant of Calvert County Public Schools Robin Welsh. Interim superintendant Nancy V. Highsmith explained to the county commissioners Tuesday that those services now will be outsourced.

“Unfortunately, the legal representation from the previous administration and the previous … board of education was legal advice from someone that was on the executive team of the superintendant, which to me kind of really mired that down into what kind of legal advice is being given out,” Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) told Highsmith during the meeting. “There’ve been some pretty tough issues that you’ve stepped up to and taken on and straightened out. I’m sure you find new ones every day. But we want to thank you very much for that, and my assumption would be that you are going to be coming through with legal representation from an outside firm as opposed to someone at the board of education now. So, I would assume that this money here is for past legal representation?”

Highsmith concurred and acknowledged that the outsourced legal cost will be factored into the next budget (fiscal 2015).

Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said he, too, appreciates Highsmith’s work as interim superintendant, and he acknowledges the difficult budget with which the school system is dealing.

“We’re very much in the same boat. I commiserate with you from the standpoint of the budget build that we’re in right now,” he said. “Collectively we’re all directly impacted by a horribly prolonged, depressed economy that is directly attributable to horrible economic policies from Washington, D.C., and Annapolis, Md. Our board has been struggling to make ends meet as we build the budget for this coming year — I know that you are equally strapped in trying to make ends meet.”

Clark said he believes Highsmith brings both an educator’s perspective to the position as well as an administrative perspective, and “I think that you’re there for the good of the students and the good of the parents and the taxpayers of Calvert County. Obviously, when you have a change in management anywhere, there’s different managerial procedures and routines that are in place that need to be undone ... [to] bring some efficiencies back over years of things being done a certain way. We thank you tremendously for that.”

He said there also is a “refreshing” sense of cooperation between the county commissioners, the board of education and the school system.

“It’s a refreshing era of cooperation back and forth,” he said. “And it’s gone from a sense of what’s best for the children to be able to educate the kids and not as much, as I kind of felt in the past, the management was more geared and their mindset was what they were entitled to as opposed to what’s good for the kids.”

Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said, “I also appreciate the new sense of cooperation and openness between our two entities. It’s just — it’s tough. It’s very tough right now, and I appreciate your willingness to take on such tough issues.”

In other business, the commissioners:

• Unanimously approved to purchase a 10,000-square-foot property in the St. Leonard Town Center adjacent to the Dowell House for $160,064;

• Unanimously approved a $34,650 budget adjustment to this fiscal year to account for an Emergency Solutions Grant from Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. According to staff, $45,000 was budgeted for the grant in fiscal 2014, but the grant ended up totaling $79,650. The grant is passed though to nonprofit agencies that provide emergency shelter and homeless prevention services. Project ECHO, Community Ministry of Calvert County and SMILE Ecumenical Ministries will each receive $26,550 from the county through this grant, according to staff;

• Unanimously approved a $360,000 budget adjustment for this fiscal year from the defunct Appeal Landfill vehicle area project to the Appeal Landfill waterline extension project;

• Unanimously approved to reappoint Maurice T. Lusby and Carolyn McHugh to the Calvert County Planning Commission; and

• Unanimously approved to sign a letter of support for an adult drug court to be submitted with federal and state grant applications.