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Holland School Board is told that legal fees far exceed budget

Legal fees incurred by the Holland School District in the first 3 1/2 months of the school year have exceeded the annual budget by more than 50 percent, the superintendent told the board at its meeting Monday.

Fees of $20,000 to Hodgson Russ were spent as a result of two petitions brought against the superintendent and several board members by Frank Kolbman and Paul Rowe over issues ranging from a football petition to the handling of the district's fund balance.

An additional $13,000 was spent by board members as they squabbled among themselves over the same topics.

School Board President Stephen Welk blamed the overexpenditures on attorneys he felt were "milking" the school district. He also suggested that board members may have overreacted in seeking legal assistance for what some termed "frivolous" petitions that, in most cases, sought their removal from office.

Board members Ronda Straus and Michael Liddle, both among the group who were served petitions, took offense at the insinuation.

"Maybe you can't stop some of these loose cannons, but you have to answer them. How do you defend yourself against this kind of thing? I'm not going to say, 'Hey, come on over, let's discuss this,' " Liddle said.

The petitions from disgruntled residents were sent to the commissioner of the state Education Department and require a response from those served within 30 days.

In a related matter, a grass-roots group calling itself "Support Our Schools," or "SOS," brought a petition of 550 signatures to the board to acknowledge and show their support for the current administration's accomplishments.

The group was formed in the past month as a response to what it called frequent negative letters to the editor in a local newspaper and the legal action recently taken against the superintendent and some board members.

"We solicited about 40 percent of the district's residents for signatures and were quite heartened by the positive reception," said spokesman Mike Sheehan.

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