Saturday, August 6, 2011

The cost of doing business?

We have already learned recently that the Amherst schools spent $200,000 in "settlements" with former employees over the past five years (not counting costly unemployment benefits); but with our municipal education machine being such a large local employer, maybe not such a bad batting average.

And maybe in the long run those settlements saved money or helped maintain the integrity of the system, as the women in charge would argue. In fact, they maintain it's usually a combination of both those rationals and that argument would probably be applied to any and all "legal expenses."

How unfortunate that a system designed to educate all our children spends tax dollars on litigation...but a necessary evil, perhaps.

After all, the Amherst schools account for over two-thirds of the entire town budget, or $49 million last year between elementary and regional high school.

Still, do they have to spend so much?

Legal Expenditures

Amherst-Pelham Regional School District:

FY09 FY10 FY11

School Committee 15,802 17,330 32,315
Human Resources (personnel) 5,123 5,714 6,446
Special Education - MHT&L 49,443 27,315 41,911

70,368 50,359 80,672
Amherst Public Schools:

FY09 FY10 FY11

School Committee 9,728 24,763 25,077
Human Resources (personnel) 8,255 5,464 5,854
Special Education - MHT&L 17,112 3,733 14,729

35,095 33,960 45,660


8/4/2011 9:48 AM

Could I please get Attorney Tate's current hourly rate and total amount paid in FY10 and FY11 by the School District?

And for clarification: was she terminated from handling school district SPED cases as of December 2010?

Larry K

To: amherstac
Cc: Maria Geryk ; Kathy Mazur ; Mary Wallace
Sent: Fri, Aug 5, 2011 11:22 am

Good Morning, Mr. Kelley:
I'm happy to provide the information you requested. The hourly rate for services provided by Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane (Ms. Tate's firm) is $220.00. The School Committee vote to hire Dupere and Dupere for the districts' Special Education services and Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane for the districts' general counsel was taken on September 22, 2010. I've attached the minutes for your convenience.

Debbie Westmoreland
Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent


Anonymous said...

So the question is  .....

What is the breakdown of those bills.  I would be really curious to see if some of the legal expense attributed to the SC is deliberately mischaracterized.  

That may be cynical, but I would guess that some of the bills attribute some of the billable time into the "wrong" categories - clerical error.  Just guessing here.  

How would it be possible for the SC to use legal resources equal to 75% of the SPED legal budget for the Region and 140% of the elementary SPED legal budget?  

Those stats have an odor - and perhaps some liability attached to them.

One gambit might be that ALL incidentals - like driving to and from the District from Quincy - are in the SC account.  Just guessing.

Or imagine this: the Honorable Atty Tate comes to visit for a day to deal with SC and SPED issues - 6 hrs billable, 5 hrs driving.  Even though 4 hrs are spent on SPED cases which are rich in complexity, only 1.5 hrs is attributed to SPED and 4.5 to SC business - at the request of administrators sensitive to their mounting SPED legal bills - with all the travel attributed to SC....)

Call it cynical, but observations of this administration put it easily into the possible.

Larry, Why not ask Irv Rhodes why he spent $25K on legal last year. Produce the invoices for public examination.

Please ask for the Dupere contract - i.e. is he hourly or is it a pre-paid contract?

Don't believe for a minute that these are honest numbers if they are coming from .... where ever.

Keep up the good work.You may have found a big lie this time.

Ed said...

Why is travel time to/from Amherst even billable? Why didn't the RFP clearly state "F.O.B. Amherst" -- or the legal equivalent of that?

What this type of arrangement does is allow a far-away firm to underbid a local firm and then turn around and charge a higher price for the actual minutes of legal advice given.

Wanna bet that the lawyer driving from/to Quincy is talking on her cell phone? Talking legal business (of other clients) on her cell phone? And why is that billable to ARSD?

Anonymous said...

How much cost for legal services can be attributed to the General Government line item (other Town departments)? Is that shown anywhere?

LarryK4 said...

The schools are completely separate from General Government.

Town legal expenditures over those same three years were in the $125,000 range.

Anonymous said...


That exchange at the end is curious. I think that Ms. Tate is still actively involved in at least one SPED litigation in the Amherst District.

Anonymous said...

Is Tate still working on SPED cases, even if another firm has been hired?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

What a true waste of money.

Anonymous said...

Why isn't Nick Grabbe writing an article about this and about the repeated refusals (contrary to the law) to provide requested information? Hello Hampshire Gazette--where are you???

Anonymous said...

Waste of money???? Every school system in the country incurs legal fees every year.

And Ed seems surprised that travel time is billed....welcome to the real world, Ed. Most if not all legal firms will bill you for travel time. Please note that Ginny Tate's firm has a Springfield branch and the travel time is probably often billed from Springfield.

Point of information - Dupere is being paid on the retainer system.

LarryK4 said...

I just asked under Public Documents Law for a copy of Dupere and Dupere's contract but since you seem to know so much, how much is the annual fee?

Irv Rhodes yesterday thought it was $30,000 but he was not sure.

He also said Tate's travel time being billed was a consideration for changing legal counsel.

Anonymous said...

I don't konw how much Dupere's contract is. I do remember the School committee discussion of the pros and cons of going with the retainer system with them.

Anonymous said...

Not sure you would call that "retainer" which implies if you exceed a certain amt more money must be put into the system. I think Duperes contract is a fixed cost. Whether you have 5 suits or 105, the cost for Dupere will be the same.

That is why it is shocking and fiscally irresponsible for the District to use someone other than Dupere.

This stuff is over Grabbe's head. My sense is that his job is easy as long as he placates the adminstration. Anon 11:02 dont count on him to do anything with this. We need to find someone not beholden to their subject. Nick would never write anything to upset the apple cart in a serious way.

Anonymous said...

To August 8, 2011 5:46 PM:

Sad but very true.

Ed said...

And Ed seems surprised that travel time is billed....welcome to the real world, Ed.

And in the real real world, public contracts are influenced by local issues -- one of which was to keep the money in the valley.

Accordingly, I am surprised that there wasn't pressure to put in a no travel charge clause.

Anonymous said...

Retainer is what Dupere and Dupere called it.

Anonymous said...

Then whoever negotiated this contract has no business sense.

One does not guarantee a minimum AND take the risk of additional fees.

That simply does not make business sense.

Who negotiated the contract?

Are they accountable ?

They probably have as much business sense as M. Geryk - i.e. NONE.

LarryK4 said...

I have a request in since yesterday for a copy of the Dupere contract.

Irv Rhodes seemed to indicate yesterday in a phone interview that it was indeed "fixed."

Anonymous said...

Dupere and Dupere called it a retainer AND it is a fixed amount for the life of the contract.

You just gotta watch SC meetings to learn all this. Its not rocket science.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

I agree that it seems very surprising that the schools would choose to give any additional business to Gini Tate, given that Dupere's retainer agreement covers all legal expenses related to special education. The retainer agreement costs $3,000 a month ($36,000 a year), per a memo from Rob Detweiler dated October 26, 2010. The SC voted to accept this agreement, since it was cheaper than the legal expenses related to special education paid in each the last four years (FY 2007 = $52,764; FY 2008 - $42,489; FY 2009 - $66,555; FY 2010 - $31,048). Alternatively, Dupere offered an hourly rate of $185, which is obviously cheaper than that paid to Gini Tate's firm ($220).