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Howard schools expel in-house counsel

The Howard County Public School System eliminated its in-house legal department and will rely on outside counsel in the future.

The school system’s new superintendant, Renee A. Foose, announced the decision to the county’s Board of Education last week.

The decision will eliminate two in-house legal positions — General Counsel Mark Blom and Staff Attorney Daniel Furman — effective Oct. 1, said Rebecca Amani-Dove, spokeswoman for the school system.

The restructure is an effort to more clearly separate administrative and legal decisions, Amani-Dove said. The move will save the school system $200,000 in initial estimated costs, Amani-Dove said.

“One of the goals is seeing that legal services resources are spent on legal services only when a lawyer is required,” Amani Dove said.

Blom had been general counsel for the schools since 1998. Furman came on as staff attorney in 2009, a temporary position that became permanent in 2011.

Calls placed to Blom’s and Furman’s homes Tuesday were not returned.

Legal specialist Kim Clare will retire Oct. 1 and will be replaced, Amani-Dove said, but that position will now be part of Chief of Staff Susan Mascaro’s department.

The schools will use outside counsel in the future, Amani-Dove said. As major cases emerge, they will be brought before a four-member executive team, which includes Mascaro and Raymond H. Brown, deputy superintendant for operations; Linda Wise, deputy superintendant for curriculum, instruction and administration; and E. Grace Chesney, chief accountability officer. The executive team will decide whether the administration should handle the case or if it should be sent to outside counsel.

“We are providing a detailed procedure for handling legal questions to department supervisors,” Amani-Dove said. “Depending on the type of legal guidance, we may access different attorneys. In some cases, that may just be the administration rather than legal.”

While the school system has used outside counsel in the past, there is no structure yet for deciding which attorneys it will seek advice from in the future.

The elimination of the school’s in-house legal department is part of Foose’s plan to restructure the school system’s organization in her first 90 days. Foose started July 1 and since then has created a communications office and an accountability division. She also merged the special education and student services department under one executive director, Amani-Dove said.