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Manchester school board votes to hire in-house attorney

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 12. 2013 12:06AM

MANCHESTER - The Board of School Committee voted to hire an in-house attorney Monday after district officials acknowledged legal costs this year will exceed $350,000, due in large part to the investigation of the former principal at Manchester High School West.

The district had budgeted $120,000 for legal costs this fiscal year, which will result in a projected "over-expenditure of $230,000," according to Business Administrator Karen DeFrancis.

These charges include more than $100,000 paid to the Employment Practices Group through December, the Massachusetts-based firm hired to investigate former West principal MaryEllen McGorry and her secretary Denise Michael, both of whom were suspended in September.

The district has also paid $138,000 through February to attorneys from three separate firms. Not all of the invoices were related to the investigation at West High; the district has been involved in several other legal matters this year involving personnel and the sending towns of Hooksett and Candia.

McGorry had been on paid leave until late January when she resigned, with the board agreeing to pay her through April and cover health benefits through June. Michael remains on paid leave. District officials have refused to disclose the reasons for the dismissal.

Unlike the city, the school district does not have a full-time legal counsel.

The vote to seek an in-house attorney was 11-2. The Coordination Committee will determine the salary range and consider other aspects of the position.

The motion was made by school board member Art Beaudry.

Member Christopher Stewart was among the supporters of the motion, saying, "350,000 on legal fees this year is outrageous. We're a large enough school district that we should have our own attorney at the administration building," he said.

Board member Sarah Ambrogi also voted for the motion but she noted, "This doesn't mean we don't have outside legal counsel. This may help the problem, but it won't solve it."

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