The state Department of Education has provided more information about how school district legal costs will be tracked.
Here's what was provided:
NJAC 6A:23A-5.2(a)(3) is part of the Fiscal Accountability regulations, Subchapter 5, titled "Additional Measures to Ensure Effective and Efficient Expenditures of District Funds".
Districts must establish policies or strategies to minimize the cost of public relations and professional services. If a district's legal costs exceed 130% of the statewide average per pupil amount, the district should establish procedures for the reduction of costs or provide evidence that such procedures would not result in a reduction of costs.
If the district's audited 2009-10 per pupil legal cost exceeds the 130 percent threshold as calculated using statewide audited data (to be published in the 2011 Comparative Spending Guide), then the district will be required to implement the efficiency procedures.
There is a warning edit in the 2010-11 budget if the district's 2009-10 budgeted per pupil legal costs, revised as of February 1, 2010, exceeds 130 percent of the statewide average (using original 2009-10 budgets). This is to provide districts planning time for the implementation of the new procedures if the actual costs for year ended June 30, 2010 remain above 130 percent of the statewide per pupil average.
No action is required at this time. The procedures will be required if a district's actual audited 2009-10 per pupil cost exceeds the 130 percent threshold unless evidence is provided that such procedures would not result in a reduction of costs.
Procedures to be established if a district's actual audited per pupil legal costs exceed 130% of the statewide average unless the district can provide evidence that such procedures would not result in a reduction of costs:
· A limit on the number of contact persons with authority to request services from legal counsel
· Criteria to prevent using legal counsel unnecessarily for management decisions or for information readily available in district materials, administrative regulations or professional source materials
· A provision that requests for legal advice are made in writing, and maintained on file at the district, and a process to review whether legal advice was necessary.
· Maintain a log of all legal contact including name of legal counsel contacted, issue discussed, date and length of contact.
· Contracts for legal services must comply with payment requirements and restrictsion pursuant to NJSA 18A:19-1 - advance payments are prohibited, services to be provided are to be described in detail in the contract, invoices for payments shall itemize the services provided for the billing period, and payment shall only be for services actually provided.
And if a district does not comply, the commissioner does appear to have the authority to withhold state aid.