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Saturday •  August 7, 2021

HCPSS Proposes to Spend up to $500K in COVID-19 “ESSER II” Funds on New Special Needs Litigation-Focused Attorney

By Steven Keller


During the FY22 budget talks, Superintendent Martirano convinced the Board of Education to drop its requested funding (~$150K) for a dedicated Board attorney. The Board had request this in order to be able to receive independent legal advice and not be limited to the advice of Superintendent/Central Office-controlled HCPSS attorney, who first and foremost represents Martirano and his staff.


Now, according to information obtained from a recent MPIA response, Superintendent Martirano is turning around and proposing to use up to $500K of COVID-19 funds (ESSER II) to bring in an ~$150K/year Assistant General Counsel (for at least a 2 year contract, after which time the position will be funded by the standard HCPSS Operating Budget) to “assist with research, interpretation, and compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAA), and related Federal and State regulations”.

A partial translation of that role is this: “Assist with providing legal ammo to fight the parents of Special Needs students who demand better supports for their children. “


The emergency COVID-19 federal funding (ESSER II funds) that HCPSS has received can be used for a variety of student and staff-focused supports, including addressing learning loss, preparing schools for reopening, and testing, repairing, and upgrading projects to improve air quality in school buildings.  However, instead of applying all of this funding to any of those important initiatives, Superintendent Martirano has chosen to apply a half million dollars of this funding for an attorney who will, as part of their duties, assist with fighting parents who request or legally demand better supports for their children.


Beyond this primary concern about how many better ways these COVID-19 funds could be spent, the fact that Martirano urged the Board to remove their $150K request to provide in-house independent legal counsel that would report directly to the Board and then turned around and proposed to spend up to $500K on an additional attorney for his own administration is just as concerning.  An in-house independent Board of Education counsel can help the Board to verify or counter the advice that Martirano’s in-house counsel (Mark Blom) provides, and allow for their real-time independent ability to maintain effective control over their singular employee, the Superintendent.


As it stands, during Board meetings when legal advice is needed, the Board is stuck with relying upon advice from counsel that reports directly to the Superintendent. This doesn’t seem like the best way to best ensure the Board’s ability to provide truly independent oversight.  

These are the sort of concerning executive decisions that the Board really needs to keep in mind when they consider whether or not to extend Superintendent Martirano’s contract for another 5 years beyond Spring 2022.


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