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School Attorney Goes Full Time for $120,000

July 26, 2008

By Sarah Newell Williamson, Hickory Daily Record, N.C.

Jul. 25–NEWTON — As Catawba County has grown, the Catawba County Schools system has grown with it. With about 17,350 students now attending the system’s 28 schools, the school board decided it needed an attorney devoted to the school system full time to handle its growing legal needs.

Crystal Davis, who has been Catawba County Schools’ attorney since July 2003, will be the system’s full-time, in-house attorney effective Aug. 1. The school board approved her five-year, $120,000-per-year contract at its July 21 meeting.

“We’ve got 17,000 students and a $25 million budget,” said Tim Markley, superintendent of Catawba County Schools. “The legal work gets bigger as the largest employer in the county. We’ve had to contract an issue to another attorney before, because Crystal wasn’t able to take it on. The bills were increasing to the point where we needed an in-house attorney.”

Markley said Davis’ salary was determined after looking at other school systems the size of Catawba County Schools who have full-time attorneys, and after negotiating a fee with Davis.

The school system will also pay Davis’ N.C. Bar Association membership dues, as well as the $150 dues to join the N.C. Council of School Attorneys, the National Council of School Attorneys dues, liability insurance and her continuing education classes. Davis will receive $500 a month for in-state travel.

In exchange for her salary and membership dues, Davis will give up much of her private practice. Under her contract with Catawba County Schools, she will work for the system 32 hours a week, leaving her one full day a week to work at her private practice, where she focuses primarily on civil litigation, family law and estate administration and litigation.

With Catawba County Schools, Davis’ work runs the gamut from personnel issues, construction and acquiring land, admission, several constitutional and personal freedoms matters, drafting contracts, investigations into allegations and more.

“I found that you can’t do the amount of work you need to for the school and litigation,” Davis said. “This way will work better for everyone.”

Davis, who is also the attorney for the town of Catawba, will remain in that capacity.

Pat Hensley, assistant superintendent for human resources for Catawba County Schools, said with 2,100 employees with benefits in the school system and 3,000 total employees, that’s a lot of people for the school system to be in charge of in addition to the 17,350 students. Hensley said that’s why it’s so important for there to be a full-time attorney available whenever the school system might need assistance.

“Twelve years ago, the school system only had 12,000 kids and 21 schools. It’s grown a lot since then,” Hensley said. “I’m excited we have a full-time attorney, because this way, I know we’re covered. With a full-time attorney, we can keep up with general statutes and what the General Assembly’s doing, and make sure our policy lines up with it.”

DETAILS:

Number of hours school attorneys logged in a recent year: –NCCS: 11.5 hours* –HPS: 94 hours* –CCS: 662 hours *This is on top of what they’re required to do by contract. Fees for the year, which included attending board meetings: –NCCS attorney Bill Childs, for the ’07-’08 school year: $500 retainer per month, plus an additional 11.5 hours at $150 an hour, for $7,800. –HPS attorney Jeffrey Mackie, for the ’07-’08 school year: $4,000 retainer per year, plus additional 94 hours at $150 an hour, for $18,108. –CCS attorney Crystal Davis, for Jan. 1, 2007 to Dec. 31, 2007, worked just over 622 hours for $125 an hour, earning $77,862.

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