Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Money or Kids- which matters

Money or Kids?  Your choice

A Maryland school district known for its wealth and excellent school system has just produced a report showing how much money it has saved by investing almost a million dollars in what it calls the “expert legal services” model.  The translation for this is that the system does not use in-house counsel; instead it hires outsiders who are expert at winning cases against families with children with disabilities.  Now that is something to be proud of!

Howard County Public Schools has projected that by using the outside counsel it could save 2.88 million dollars in tuition and transportation over the next several years.   For FY ’15 the school system saved $493,029 in tuition and transportation at a cost of $825,000 in outside legal fees.  So it is clear the real savings mount up over several years not in the year the money was spent for the outside counsel.  The report is three pages long, not including the title page.  Nowhere in the three pages of charts and text is there any mentioning whatsoever of benefit to children.  It is also not noted that the bulk of this money is going to one law practice that is known for the way it attacks parents at mediation and due process hearings.  The lead attorney of the firm routinely brings parents to tears and brags about how many times he has whipped the families.  School personnel actually threaten families that if they do not back off advocacy for their own children, they will have to go against the Board’s attorney. And you KNOW how tough he is! Families are reminded of how hard an emotional experience that will be.  The attorney is known for his tactics of subpoenaing every record of the parents and school.  These are hearings to determine an appropriate educational program for a kid with a disability; they are not trials of serial killers.

This is a school system. This is not corporate America where success is measured in stock prices and monetary gains.  This organization is supposed to be about the well being of children.   The residents of this system are above average in income and education levels.  Spokespeople for the district routinely brag about what a great school system it is and how every one loves it.  One question that I have is, if the school system is so great for kids with disabilities why does it have to spend almost one million dollars to keep kids within the system rather than pay a lesser amount in tuition for an outside the system placement. 

There is no mention of any money spent to investigate the parents’ claims of the inappropriateness of the program for their child.  Nor is there any discussion of the cost to the child and the child’s family for the child to be in an inappropriate educational program.

No this report to the Board of Education is all about a cost benefit analysis.  I would like a report on the cost to the kids and the benefits to the law firm that is reaping all this money.   Now that would be a cost-benefit analysis of a different ilk. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing about this important issue, Dr. Jacobs. It is a real travesty when a school system hides behind, takes pride in, and seeks out scorch and burn legal tactics that would not be tolerated in a court of law but rules the day in the quasi-judicial world of educational due process, a system supposedly designed to protect the weakest and most vulnerable among us.