Riverside Elementary School District 96 has hired a new law firm to work specifically on special education issues. At its Feb. 2 meeting, the school board voted unanimously to hire the six-person Oak Brook-based law firm of Engler, Callaway, Baasten & Sraga on an as-needed basis.
The big attraction of the firm is Teri Engler, a very experienced and well-respected attorney who specializes in special education issues.
District 96 Co-Interim Superintendent Patrick Patt said that he, fellow Interim Superintendent Griff Powell, Director of Special Education Pam Shaw and incoming Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye all have worked with Engler in the past.
“We all think very highly of her,” Patt said of Engler.
The much larger law firm of FranczekRadelet will continue to be the district’s main law firm. There was some dissatisfaction among District 96 administrators with how FranczekRadelet handled special education issues.
“We were hoping that we might find a more timely, I guess, response to things,” Patt said. “I don’t think it was necessarily a big dissatisfaction, except this is somebody who all of us in the past have felt very strongly about as being a really good person to deal with special education.”
Special Education issues are often complex and can be contentious with parents who often want more services and accommodations for their children while school administrators, trying to conform to legal requirements and serve children, have to be mindful of costs.
The threat of a lawsuit is something that administrators are always cognizant of although Patt said there are no special education lawsuits pending against District 96.
“That’s a pretty special category,” Patt said of special education. “In fact, going back in time I rarely ever called attorneys except for special education situations, because those can really blow up on you out of nowhere.”
Powell said that there is nothing unusual about using different law firms for different issues, because law firms have different strengths and weaknesses.
“Having another firm to work with will be to the administration’s advantage,” Powell said. “That’s something that I’ve always had when I worked in prior districts.”
close to resolution
Some school board members have also been frustrated about how long it has taken to resolve issues about the alleged overpayment of former Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson.
That issue is, and has been for months, close to being resolved with the only apparent holdup being to get the Illinois Teacher Retirement System to sign off on an agreement the district reached with Lamberson months ago.
“I would say it’s almost at the end,” Patt said of the issue with Lamberson’s alleged overpayment. “I think they’re pretty close. I think they have crunched all their numbers and I’m hopeful that maybe something might even happen at the next [school board] meeting.”
The apparent settlement is expected to involve Lamberson writing a check to the district.