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 Getting to Know SDCOE: Legal Team Keeps Money in the Classroom

It's well known that legal services aren't cheap. The San Diego County Office of Education's (SDCOE) recent investment to build an Office of General Counsel is helping SDCOE and the districts we support keep money in the classroom and away from the courtroom.

"A phone call to an outside attorney can easily cost $200, and an email $500, depending on the work involved," explained Legal Services Research Analyst Aaron McCalmont. "Allowing SDCOE and districts to access our Office of General Counsel for legal questions frees up resources that are better used helping kids."

The Office of General Counsel was established in July 2018 under the leadership of Adrienne Konigar Macklin, who is supported by McCalmont and Legal Services Research Analyst Jonathan Berry-Smith.

In their short time as a department, the team has supported SDCOE with legal questions around charter schools, uniform complaint procedures, the impact of new legislation, Public Records Act requests, and updating administrative regulations, board policies, and board bylaws.

Office of General Counsel staff members are also working to put protocols in place for use throughout SDCOE for situations when legal services are requested. Additionally, they review all legal invoices from outside lawyers to ensure that they align with standards and practices within the industry.

"These new procedures will ensure we are honoring our responsibility to taxpayers and to the students who benefit from our work to ensure our valuable resources are being used to further equity and excellence in education across San Diego County," said San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Gothold.

In addition to building a legal infrastructure for SDCOE so we can deliver services to districts and students in a cohesive fashion, the team's other long-term goal is to support districts and charter schools.

"Smaller districts don't have as many resources, even to address simple, straightforward legal questions," said Berry-Smith. "As we grow, we'll have more bandwidth and capacity to help districts on a more consistent basis with guidance and resources."

It's not only a matter of offering services, though.

"This isn't just about legal advice. It's about working with the team to deliver services to children," said Konigar Macklin. "Whether we're reviewing a contract, dealing with real estate transactions, or doing any other piece of legal work, the fundamental question we ask ourselves is, 'Will this help us provide more, greater, or better services to children?' If not, we need to revisit the issue with staff and redefine outcomes if necessary."