Often, behind runaway legal costs, is a culture of operational disarray.
COMPARATIVE NUMBERS for legal costs in the School District of Beloit and several other systems across Wisconsin are, to say the least, shocking.
Comparing the 2018-2019 period in Beloit with other districts - many larger in terms of student population - found Beloit paying many times more to handle legal matters. Beloit racked up $644,488 in legal costs, while Janesville had $56,554; Eau Claire had $176,548; and Sun Prairie had $129,358. Some substantial districts had hardly any legal costs, such as La Crosse at $30,000 and Fond du Lac at $22,000.
With an annual budget approaching $100 million, $644,000 may not break the bank. And, let's face it, Beloit is a troubled district with a long history of challenges. Nevertheless, comparing districts gives some context to the situation, and it doesn't look good.
WE'RE PLEASED THE school board is taking it seriously and searching for strategies to bring costs into line.
This, however, stands out.
It's a fairly safe bet if similar circumstances were occurring in the private sector, bright lights would be glaring on management practices. This would be the question: Why are so many issues requiring expensive legal representation happening? And: Why isn't management doing a better job heading off potential legal problems?
That's not to point an accusing finger, necessarily, at the current district administration. Many of those people, including Superintendent Stanley Munro, have only been in their jobs for six months or so. School board members, for the most part, have been around longer.
This, though, is worth noting: The Beloit district already has rolled up legal bills exceeding $150,000 for this 2019-2020 school year.
LARGE ORGANIZATIONS with big budgets and lots of employees cannot be expected to function without needing a lawyer now and then.
But large organizations piling up legal fees at rates way faster than others of similar sizes are doing something wrong on the management side. In the private sector, that would put accountability on the table very fast.
The school board and the administration need to get this cleaned up.