Monday, September 16, 2013

Carlsbad Unifed cancels FFF contract; Is it time for the school attorneys at Fagen Friedman Fulfrost to change the name of their firm again?

What did Fagen Friedman Fulfrost law firm do to cause the Carlsbad Unified school board to cancel its contract? The explanation can be found right here. I am impressed with the community of Carlsbad for drawing a line regarding the ethical behavior of school law firms. I don't feel so alone anymore in my quest to get schools to hire lawyers who will advise them to honor policies, laws and contracts instead of hiring lawyers who will help them get away with violations.

The question now becomes, who will end up doing the $100,000 worth of legal work that was going to go to FFF, and will the new firm behave any differently than FFF? Or will the district simply approve a new contract for FFF when no one is looking? After all, a law firm with two former Carlsbad Unified officials working for it could offer some special advantages. Communication could be more easily accomplished through back channels. I'm hoping Rachel Stine of Coast News will keep watching.

CUSD cancels contract with law firm...
By Rachel Stine
Coast News
Sep 12, 2013

“How did this get so far and missed?” Trustee Lisa Rodman, right, asked staff members... Photo by Rachel Stine

CARLSBAD — The Carlsbad Unified School District (CUSD) Board of Trustees voted to cancel its contract with the law firm that hired a former trustee and prioritized Prop P infrastructure projects at its Sept. 11 meeting.

The Board was presented with the opportunity to continue, scale back, or cancel its $100,000 annual contract with the law firm Fagen, Friedman, and Fulfrost LLP after the firm hired former trustee Kelli Moors. Fearing conflict of interest accusations, the Board had decided to re-vote on the firm’s contract after realizing that Moors had voted to support the contract 12 days before announcing her resignation to accept her position with the firm.

The Board had contracted with the law firm to handle special education and personnel matters since 2006.

The four current trustees voted unanimously to cancel the contract without discussion at the meeting.

Board President Elisa Williamson had previously expressed that she intended to recommend that the Board reduce the scale of the firm’s contract with the district to only current cases that would be too costly to transfer to other firms.

After the meeting she explained that she had changed her mind to recommend canceling the contract with the firm after learning from Superintendent Suzette Lovely that the firm was not working on any cases that would be difficult to transfer to another firm, and that numerous alternative firms had been identified.

After voting on the law firm contract, the Board considered how to prioritize its remaining $33 million in Prop P money for building projects throughout the district’s campuses.

Projects up for consideration were split between infrastructure improvements at various CUSD campuses and a new aquatics center or performing arts center at the new Sage Creek High School.

District staff primarily presented information regarding the cost of building and operating an aquatics center or performing arts center, and some details about potential revenues for each facility.

They ultimately concluded that the performing arts center would be the least costly to operate and most likely to be used by more students.

But they also mentioned that the funds could be used to update several sites throughout the district that do not meet current building standards set by the Division of the State Architect, including safety and handicap accessibility criteria.

William Morrison, a senior project manager for Gafcon, explained that while all buildings in CUSD meet the standards that existed at the time of their construction, any buildings that are remodeled would have to be improved to meet current codes. So while all buildings are compliant with state regulations, any infrastructure improvements would be accompanied by most likely costly adjustments to meet the newest standards.

He cited the district’s Cultural Arts Center, which was built in 1980, as one of the primary sites in need of safety and accessibility upgrades.

“Basically when you walk into the entrance, that’s about as ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant as it is,” he said.

He explained that there is almost no way for a person in a wheelchair to get into the orchestra pit, the counter height of the ticket booth needs to be adjusted, and the fire suppression system is in need of some upgrades.

Board members expressed shock that these upgrades were not included in the facility’s most recent interior remodel.

“How did this get so far and missed?” Trustee Lisa Rodman asked. “I’m surprised we’re here.”

Morrison said that those in charge of the last project maintained that compliance issues did not fall within the spectrum of what they were upgrading.

The trustees voted to send out a request for applications from architects to address the building safety and access issues at current facilities and asked for staff to come forward with more information about the revenue earning potential of a new aquatics center and performing arts center at Sage Creek High School.

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