Volusia County School Board is considering hiring an in-house attorney

The current contract with the Doran Sims Wolfe and Yoon firm is set to end on June 30.

School Board Chair Jamie Haynes. File photo
School Board Chair Jamie Haynes. File photo
  • Ormond Beach Observer
  • News
  • Share

Rather than put a contract out for bid, the Volusia County School Board is leaning toward hiring an in-house school board attorney.

The board discussed its options for legal representation at its workshop on Tuesday, April 9. The current contract with the Doran Sims Wolfe and Yoon firm is set to end on June 30. Aaron Wolfe, the current school board attorney, has represented the board since September 2022. He replaced former school board attorney Ted Doran.

Volusia County has historically retained outside counsel to represent the board. School District Attorney Kevin Pendley, an in-house position, and the Office of General Counsel, handle internal matters of the district administration and report to the superintendent. 

"For me, it's a matter of dollars and cents," School Board member Ruben Colon said. "I think for us, we're fortunate that Mr. Pendley has been able to carry a lot of these areas, but at what point ... are we going to have to add someone anyways?"

Colon said he viewed the in-house model as one that can alleviate the stress from some of the work under the Office of General Counsel, while still giving the district the opportunity to seek outside representation if needed for a specific legal case.

School Board member Carl Persis was interested in putting out both a request for proposals and a job opening. He said the benefits of hiring outside counsel include access to additional legal expertise, if the attorney is part of a firm, and that the attorney's time is solely focused on the boar.d

"I think it would be a little different if a person that's supposed to be the attorney for us is in the district, and Kevin or someone is assigning work to that person," Persis said. "Unless it was specifically stated in the contract that this person would expect that to be part of his or her job."

He then wondered what kind of salary an applicant would ask to represent the board and work on the district's legal cases. Persis said he wasn't sure how many people would be willing to do that. He also questioned whether having an in-house attorney represent the board if or when it's at odds with the superintendent would be in their best interest.

"I'm just not convinced totally that the internal route would be the best way, and when I say the best way, I'm not looking at it just from the money side of it," Persis said. "I'm trying to look at it like what would be in the best interest of the board, because there could be a time when the board and the superintendent are not on the same page, and the superintendent, he or she needs her counsel and we need ours."

Pendley said a quasi judicial situation — such as an impasse or student expulsion hearing — could mean hiring outside counsel, if the board has an in-house attorney, to avoid a legal conflict. While rare, it's a situation that could happen, Pendley said.

"They happen, and they happen frequently if the board and the superintendent are at odds," Pendley said.

Pendley said he wouldn't assign cases to a new in-house attorney in the legal areas, of workers compensation, fleet, or general liability — the areas the district does typically hire outside counsel for.

An in-house attorney, however, could help with updating the school board's policies, an effort Pendley and his office have been working on. In the last four years, Pendley estimated about 100 policies have been updated. Nineteen were on the agenda for the board's meeting that afternoon to be advertised for proposed amendments.

School Board Chair Jamie Haynes said the board should look at the legal representation model Brevard County uses. Brevard has an assistant general counsel that answers to the superintendent, and a general counsel that answers to the board. 

The board will vote and approve the job description at its April 23 meeting. At its May 14 workshop, the board will review applicants and narrow them down to a few to interview. 

"I am not going to push this decision to June 25," Haynes said. "This decision will have to be made by at least the June 11 board meeting. We're not going to the end of the wire on this one."


Latest News


Your free article limit has been reached this month.
Subscribe now for unlimited digital access to our award-winning local news.