Wood BOE legal bills top $30,000

PARKERSBURG -Wood County Schools ran up legal bills of more than $15,000 over the last two months in dealing with issues surrounding employees.

At its regular meeting last week, the Wood County Board of Education was presented an invoice from Bowles Rice LLP for $7,464.66 for legal services for April. The firm billed the county almost $270 an hour for close to 28 hours of work.

The school system has paid more than $30,000 to the Bowles Rice law firm this year, including more than $15,000 over a two-month period. In April, board members approved an invoice for March from Bowles Rice totalling more than $7,500.

According to the invoice, the school system was billed $3,510 for services with regard to a disciplinary matter, $1,719 for miscellaneous legal advice and more than $1,200 for services pertaining to a transfer recommendation.

Last month, Finance Director Connie Roberts said the system typically pays $20,000-$25,000 a year to Bowles Rice for legal services. The money is above the $40,000 retainer the board spends on its attorney, Dean Furner, who handles a majority of matters pertaining to property and RIF and transfer hearings.

“We have had more hearings, which do require a lot of legal time to prepare for,” Superintendent Pat Law said.

He said matters involving Parkersburg High teachers Jesse Young and Amanda Terrell accounted for a large portion of the most recent bills.

Terrell served a five-day suspension in January after officials discovered she placed an Asperger’s-afflicted student in a box labeled “Bad Kid Fort.”

Young was given a 30-day suspension for his role in a Harlem Shake video filmed in his class that featured students involved in sexually inappropriate dance and included Young wearing hot pink spankies.

In March, school officials declined to offer continuing or probationary contracts to three educators, including Terrell and Young. A little more than a month later, school officials reversed field.

An attempt to extend Young’s suspension to 65 days fizzled. After a public hearing, attended by dozens of his supporters, many of whom had spoken at an earlier meeting, school system officials opted to offer Young a contract for next year.

Last week, board members did the same for Terrell, voting to add her name to the rehire list after a 40-minute executive session.

The recommendation to rehire both Young and Terrell was made by Law. He said the circumstances involving Young and Terrell warranted another chance. Law said the principal indicated both teachers have performed well without any problems.

“With that, and the result of the earlier meeting (on Young) I didn’t feel it was proper not to renew their contract,” Law said.

The superintendent said the third, unidentified Parkersburg High School teacher, will not be rehired by the school system.

The school system could have saved $15,000 in taxpayer funds by offering Terrell and Young contracts in the first place. Instead, officials plowed through months of legal proceedings before the board of education – at the request of Law – voted to extend the two teachers contract offers for next year.

“It was a situation and circumstance where the knowledge of what was occurring changed over a period of time,” Law explained.

The superintendent has faith Terrell and Young have learned and will grow from their mistakes.

“We certainly hope they go on to become outstanding teachers,” he said.