School Districts Spend Millions on Fees

January 18, 2010

Investigative Reports

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The NerveJanet Frazier
Citizen Reporter

The need for transparency has never been greater than it is today. As a taxpayer, are you aware that millions of taxpayer dollars flow through school districts into the bank accounts of attorneys? That’s right – Buyer Beware!

Between Fiscal Year 2002 and Fiscal Year 2007, South Carolina school districts collectively expended $26,457,296 in attorney fees and another $6,690,300 for claims and/or settlements.

In all, legal-related expenditures totaled $33,147,596, according to information posted annually on the South Carolina Department of Education website here.

Each of the following four school districts racked up more than $1 million in expenditures for attorney fees between FY 02 and FY 07: Beaufort County, Charleston County, Horry County and Richland School District One.

Their combined outlay of $6,617,940 equated to about 25 percent of the total amount of funds that were spent for attorney fees by all South Carolina school districts during the six-year period.

By comparison, the remaining 81 school districts spent $19,839,356 on attorney fees.

The Beaufort County School District spent $1,854,508 for the period from Fiscal Year 2002 through Fiscal Year 2007, or approximately 7 percent of the total amount expended on legal expense for all school districts in S.C.

In addition, Beaufort’s expenditures have increased approximately 56 percent for FY 08 and FY 09, for a combined total of $1,197,191, compared to the previous two years when it spent $667,392.

During Fiscal Year 2008, the Beaufort district made payments to the following law firms: Childs & Halligan PA for $554,057.35; Duff, White & Turner LLC for $22,378.87; and Tupper, Grimsley & Dean PA for $24,034.05. The total outlay for the year was $598,042.

During FY 09, payments were made to Childs & Halligan for $596,720.81; Duff, White & Turner for $694.27; and Tupper, Grimsley & Dean for $1,734.45, for a grand total of $599,150.

And in the current fiscal year, which began July 1, Beaufort is following the spending pattern of the previous fiscal year by racking up another $101,120.73 in legal fees during the first two months of the fiscal year (July and August) to Childs & Halligan.

Additionally, Beaufort has expended almost $5 million for claims and/or settlements over the past six years. The following expenditures were reported for claims/settlements: $83,000 paid during Fiscal Year 2003 and $4,550,000 paid during Fiscal Year 2007.The claims/settlements totaled $4,633,000 for the two fiscal years. Beaufort County School District alone spent $6,487,508 for attorney’s fees and claims/settlements combined during the six years.

Charleston County School District expended $1,030,013 for FY 02 through FY 07 in attorney fees. This equates to approximately 4 percent of the total amount expended for all school districts in S.C.

Additionally, during this time frame, there have been more than $1 million paid out in claims and/or settlements by Charleston County School District. The following expenditures were reported for claims/settlements: $591,474 paid during Fiscal Year 2007, $151,868 paid during Fiscal Year 2006 and $278,965 paid during Fiscal Year 2004.

The claims/settlements totaled $1,022,307 for the three fiscal years. Charleston School District alone spent $2,052,320 for attorney’s fees and claims/settlements combined during the six-year period.

Horry County School District expended $1,916,186 between FY 02 and FY 07 in attorney fees alone. This equates to approximately 7 percent of the total amount expended for all school districts in the state. There were no claims/settlements reported for Horry County School District during this period.

Richland School District One expended $1,817,233 in attorney fees for Fiscal Year 2002 through Fiscal Year 2007, equaling approximately 7 percent of the total amount expended for all Palmetto State school districts. There were no claims/settlements reported for Richland School District One during the six-year time frame.

Do you feel like you have been cheated of the truth when you look at these expenditures? The taxpayers of South Carolina are entitled to know the truth. When school districts are furloughing teachers and expending millions on attorney fees and settlements, transparency enables taxpayers, elected officials and all South Carolinians to better understand where our state’s scarce public resources are being spent.

We must have transparency in this state if we are ever going to improve the economy and productivity in South Carolina.

Janet Frazier is an education activist who lives in Lexington. She works as an advocate for children with special needs.