Saturday, May 19, 2007

PWC School Board Wastes our Money for "clarification"

According to Friday's Potomac News ("Schools, planners clashing, in the print version "School Board takes action on trailers"), the Price William County School board is confused about the scope of their power to ignore the democratic process:

On May 2, the Prince William County Planning Commission voted to deny the School Board's request to place seven additional trailers at Brentsville to help relieve overcrowding.

The School Board voted unanimously Wednesday to file litigation in Prince William Circuit Court to get clarification on the planning commission's legal right to do that.

The article shows the School board taking great pains to explain that the lawsuit is not meant to get a certain result, but is simply the only way the School Board could think of to learn how the law works:

Their goal is to "clarify the role of the planning commission in placing and relocating trailers on school property," Keith Imon (said)...

Imon and School Board members said the legal action is "not intended to be confrontational," but is meant to clarify the legal roles of the School Board, the Planning Commission and the Board of County Supervisors in making decisions related to the schools.
"The intent behind this particular action is not meant to be hostile," Occoquan District representative Grant Lattin said at Wednesday's School Board meeting. "It is an expression of a genuine need to clarify some things. … Hopefully we can all move forward with a little bit of better understanding of what we can and cannot do."

And what does the dictionary say about "lawsuits"? Are they "a means by which a body requests clarification of a law or other matter? " Well, not quite:

lawsuit - a case in a court of law involving a claim, complaint, etc., by one party against another;
lawsuit - a quarrel or disagreement taken to a court of law to be settled
lawsuit - an action brought in a court for the purpose of seeking relief from or remedy for an alleged wrong

By it's very nature, a lawsuit is confrontational and hostile. It seeks to acheive a certain outcome. In this case, the School Board is attempting to get a legal right to circumvent the Board of Supervisors (elected by us to defend our interests) and the Planning Commission (which in part provides citizens with protection from arbitrary and detrimental land use by other property owners).

But however you feel about whether the School Board should be allowed to use trailers without approval or not, the issue is using a lawsuit against the county to achieve the goal, if all they really wanted was "clarification".

A lawsuit is an expensive proposition, which involves high-priced attorneys, and likely staff work input for both sides. And guess what -- both sides are fully funded by OUR tax dollars. Yes, we are suing ourselves, fellow citizens, and we will be paying the legal fees for all the lawyers on both sides, for the staff work necessary to prepare the case, and for the judge and courtroom costs.

If all the School Board wanted was clarification, they could have simply requested an advisory opinion from the County attorney. According to that office's Mission Statement:

The County Attorney's Office provides counsel and advice in all civil matters to the Board of County Supervisors and all boards, commissions, departments, agencies, offices and officials of the general County government; drafts and prepares County ordinances and legislative proposals; defends and brings actions in which the County or any of its boards, commissions, etc., shall be a party; and in other matters, advises and represents the general County government.

So, if the School Board merely wanted clarification, they should have asked for it, rather than waste our money on a major lawsuit. Remember, this is the same School Board who a little more than a month ago went to the newspapers to complain that they didn't have enough money for teacher's raises.

Note: This may be a state legal matter, depending on the laws that set up school boards vs. county governments. If so, they should have requested an advisory opinion from the State Attorney General.

Of course, I suspect they don't want "clarification" at all, especially since there's never really been a question about this in the past. What they want is to WIN their lawsuit, so they don't have to bother getting permission for their activities. So it's not really that they were too stupid to know how to get clarification. They certainly know how to ask for legal advice, so it's much more likely that all the protests about "not being confrontational" are because they ARE being confrontational.

If the School Board wants direct control without government interference, they should go through the legislative process to get that control (assuming that the legal opinion they would get would be against their position). They have ready access to both local and state legislative remedies.

But instead, they decided to circumvent the democratic process, ignore the county and state offices that exist precisely to provide legal opinions, and instead waste our money by having us sue our selves in an attempt to win what they want in a court of law.

I'd love to be able to blame this on Lucy Beauchamp, who was the one who previously went to the papers to complain about not having enough money. But the decision to file a lawsuit against the citizens of Prince William was a unanimous one.

So every sitting school board member, including several who the PWC Republican committee just re-endorsed for office, shares the blame for this unecessary taxpayer expense. Each of them should be made to answer for this vote.


mom said...

This is so typical of Lucy's, err, the School Board's actions. Why shouldn't they waste money on attorneys, they waste it on other things and legal counsel isn't without precedent. Why not ask the School Board why they use private counsel instead of the County Attorney's office to handle FOIA requests and appeals. I would suggest the legal counsel they get for this issues is both expensive and often wrong.

With regard to the trailers, everyone seems to be missing the most important point, regardless who prevails in court, ultimately it is the building inspector who will hold final sway as the trailer occupancy and sanitary facilities capacity fall within BOCA and the determination of the building inspector is all but final.

Charles said...

I would suppose that part of their "clarification" lawsuit will request waiver from the building inspectors as well.

Frankly, I support the use of trailers at schools, and think the planning commission was wrong in this instance to block them.

But that's why the BOCS get's the last word, so we can appeal to our elected representatives to do the right thing.

When I was in high school my homeroom was in a trailer. It wasn't connected to the school at all, and it was just fine.

People LIVE in trailers, so I should think as a temporary solution the kids could put up with them for a coulple of classes. They should be air conditioned, my daughter mentioned that some aren't.

mom said...

It is not an issue of trailers or no trailers, it is an issue of sanitation/health requirements. The court can not (to my understanding) waive the provisions of BOCA, that is why the decisions of the building inspector can not generally be appealed. If it comes down to a pissing match, my guess is the School Board would lose in a contest with the Building Inspector.

Citizen Tom said...

I doubt a building inspector would have problem with the trailers. I watched the May 16 briefing a school official gave the School Board ( If the Planning Commission had received the same briefing, I believe the Planning Commission would have the approved trailers. I expect the problem is that school officials did not give the Planning Commission the information they needed.

As Charles said, this lawsuit is a waste of money. For all practical purposes, the county is suing itself. These people need to take the time to talk to each other.

Anonymous said...

This is what I have come to expect from overeducated people. That is people with a degree from a failed college but no real education, and no common sense. Time to fire and hire a new School board, and don't go across the country and hire someone that has failed or destroyed a school system already.
Firefighter 16