Litchfield District Racks Up Legal Fees

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In the wake of a pre-termination hearing for Litchfield High School Principal Doug Hoster and the mutual separation agreement for Superintendent Debbie Poffinbarger, the Litchfield School District has racked up a large sum of legal fees, in comparison to previous years.

During one of the special meetings held in October, resident John Billick of Litchfield questioned the board about the amount of legal fees racked up by this administration.

The Journal-News reached out to the school district for a yearly comparison of legal fees over the last five years.

Less than $10,000 per year was spent in attorney bills for the fiscal years of 2013-2014 ($9,206.90), 2014-2015 ($7,743) and 2015-2016 ($8,033.50).

The next year, that number jumped to $30,980 for fiscal year 2016-2017, including $12,750 for personnel issues and $16,715 for negotiations.

Jeff Strieker was superintendent of the district for the start of that fiscal year. Former Superintendent Poffinbarger started her career in Litchfield on July 1, 2016, in an assistant superintendent position with a focus on curriculum. During Strieker's tenure, the district hired a new law firm, Guin, Mundorf, LLC of Collinsville. At the time, which was January 2016, Strieker said that law firm asked for a far less retainer fee than the district's current legal counsel, which was Tueth Keeney and Associates of Edwardsville.

In an article published Jan. 25, 2016, Strieker told the board that he already had a good working relationship with Guin, Mundorf, and that the firm offered a lot of free advice.

Strieker would leave the district later that year for personal reasons, and Poffinbarger was hired to replace him as superintendent.

In January 2018, the board extended Poffinbarger's tenure in Litchfield with a five-year contract through the 2022-2023 school year.

For the past two years, the board has amassed more than $40,000 in legal fees each year.

In the 2017-2018 school year, the district spent a total of $45,401.25 in legal fees, including $35,678.75 for personnel issues and $2,162.50 for negotiations.

Year-to-date for this fiscal year, the district has already spent $44,365 in legal fees up to this point. That includes $22,648 for personnel issues and $15,287.50 for negiotiations. Other legal costs this year include $200 for a retainer fee, $4,782.50 for board governance and $1,446.25 for student issues.

Poffinbarger resigned her post, effective Oct. 29, but will remain a paid employee of the district through June 30, 2019. LHS Principal Doug Hoster was reinstated to his position, following a 30-day unpaid leave of absence.

Currently, John Mullett, retired superintendent for the Litchfield School District, is at the helm of the district on a temporary basis for 120 working days.

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