As an education law attorney, navigating relationships within the district can be challenging. I normally deal with the superintendent (or CEO, principal, head teacher, depending upon the size of the district and the inclination of the governing board) of a school district, responding to questions or concerns that may arise. The comfort zone of dealing with one individual that I come to admire and respect is one which must always be tempered with the fact that the superintendent, although the face of the school district, is not the client. Nor is the client the Board president or any one person on the school board. The client, for purposes of representation, is the school district, and the will of the school district is ultimately determined by a majority of the Board members acting in a regularly noticed Board meeting under the requirements of the Open Meeting Law.
This dichotomy is extremely important for attorneys representing a school district to recall; no matter how much the attorney may personally like and respect a superintendent, if the Board, as a whole, wants to terminate the superintendent, the role of the attorney for the District is to make sure that the superintendent is terminated in a legal manner. If a settlement can be worked out–always the best solution–the Board and the District’s interests, again, are the concern of the attorney for the District, not the interests of the Superintendent.
On the other hand, the attorney for the District must also be constantly willing to say “no” to the Board if the action the Board is attempting to take is illegal. If there is a legal way to accomplish as similar result, of course the attorney for the Board should be able to recommend that as an alternative. Some Boards, of course, are hell-bent-for-leather to do something that is illegal; in those instances, the attorney for the District needs to explain, preferably in writing, why the action is illegal, the ramifications of taking an illegal action, and providing advice against taking the illegal action. If a majority of the Board takes the action against legal advice, at least the client school district is protected as the brunt of the legal response will be against the individual Board members who supported the illegal action against legal advice.
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please feel free to contact Candyce B. Pardee at 928.373.3409, log on to udallshumway.com, or contact an attorney in your area.