Hey, Big Spender: Harrisburg Pays More Legal Fees Than Nearly Every School District in State

May 27, 2015 – In The News

Jeffrey Sultanik was quoted in the PennLive article, “Hey, Big Spender: Harrisburg Pays More Legal Fees Than Nearly Every School District in State.” Full text can be found in the May 27, 2015, issue, but a synopsis is noted below.

The Harrisburg School District consistently spends a significant amount more in legal fees compared to other school districts.

According to data from the Department of Education (2013), the Harrisburg school district ranks 28th in size in Pennsylvania, yet ranked second in legal fees.

The largest in midstate, Central Dauphin School District, spent less than half the amount of Harrisburg in legal fees despite having 70 percent more students.

Former president of the Pennsylvania School Board Solicitors Association, Jeffrey Sultanik, commented, “For the size of Harrisburg, it sounds really high. Usually there is a direct link between the size of a school district and legal costs."

He added that urban districts come in contact with issues such as higher rates of students with special needs which often increase legal fees.

Sultanik also noted that bills submitted over one month after the work was done makes it harder for district officials to analyze legal bills as they forget what work has been completed.

School districts should be promoting the use of caps, discounts, flat rates and negotiate for smaller legal bills, which the Harrisburg School Board did this past year, Sultanik noted.

He also said that school districts should “intelligently use” legal services by using standardized templates for forms to simplify attorney review.

The Harrisburg School District thinks that hiring an in-house solicitor (which only about 10 schools in the state have) will reduce legal costs; Sultanik warns that this is not guaranteed.

Sultanik notes that there are many extra costs associated with in-house counsel, and that one lawyer may not be able to handle all the legal issues that a school district might face.

"The days of the small-time local attorney being able to handle all the matters are few and far between," said Sultanik. "But if you have $1 million in legal expenses, then it might be a cost benefit to having one person do a limited scope of work."