Setting an example for school administrators throughout the north country, officials with the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services devised a new department through which legal services can be shared by local districts.
BOCES recently created the Office of Intermunicipal Legal Services. This came about through an agreement between five of its school districts: Copenhagen, General Brown, Thousand Islands, Town of Webb Union Free and Watertown City.
The agreement will allow legal counsel associated with the district to represent school administration and board of education members in court and provide more technical legal services, according to a Friday story in the Watertown Daily Times. Before the agreement was made, [BOCES Superintendent Jack J. Boak Jr.] said, an outside attorney had to be hired if an administrator or board member had to go before a judge for a matter involving the district.
Right now, our legal team can only handle employer relations such as contract negotiations and grievances, but [BOCES lawyers] havent been able to represent a member of our districts before a judge, and this will allow them to do that, Mr. Boak said in the story. Our attorneys are here in Watertown, and they better understand the needs of the districts where an outside attorney might need to spend a lot of time researching our district.
The lawyers from BOCES represent clients from the districts on disciplinary issues such as lawsuits involving dismissal of a teacher or employee, where before they would have had to hire an outside attorney, the story reported.
By using in-house resources, collective legal expenses should be lower than if the districts had to repeatedly hire their own legal counsel for a variety of reasons. This is the very mind-set local school districts must adopt as their budgets continue to feel the pinch from dwindling sources of revenue.
This pilot program will be evaluated at the end of the academic year to determine its effectiveness. The 13 other school districts in BOCES may participate in the program if they choose.
Hopefully, officials from BOCES will have good news to report after they take stock of how well the program met their goals. This could be the beginning of additional sharing among districts of vital services in a time of declining resources.