With a 4-2 vote Tuesday, board members approved fee increases ranging from 2-10 percent for two of the seven legal firms that serve the district.
Board member Karen Bolsen abstained from the vote, saying her husband is a partner in one of the law firms, although he does not do work for the district.
At the board's last meeting, secretary George Gurrola asked to see justification for the requested increases, which he feels are inappropriate given the district's current financial challenges. Officials in June approved a budget for the coming year that uses more than $11 million of the district's fund balance to offset declining revenues and increased expenses.
"I know our attorneys are excellent … they all deserve a raise. But that's not the environment we are in right now," he said. "The first rule of holes is that when you find yourself in a hole, you stop digging."
Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Support Services David Ruhland said the law firms have, in the past, frozen and lowered their fees to reflect the times.
"I understand the concern for fees," he said. "At the same time, working with these firms, and especially the nature of the work that's being done, I feel the fee increases are modest and appropriate."
Board member Dr. Murray Kahn voted no because he objected to the work done by one firm, which he did not name. He said the firm gave the district poor advice with regard to an appraisal on the Eagle Elementary School building, because it was initially kept confidential.
"There's no reason that the appraisal of one of our properties should be done in secret," he said.
Ruhland countered that, in his experience, making an appraisal public can interfere with getting the highest possible price for a property. He said the appraisal was made public in the closing documents for the sale.
Firms that do work for the district include Freeman, Cotton & Gleason PC and Lusk & Albertson PLC, both of Bloomfield Hills; Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone PC, Detroit; Secrest, Wardle, Lynch, Hampton, Truex & Morley PC, Troy; Thrun Law Firm PC, East Lansing; Clark Hills PLC, Grand Rapids; and Oakland Schools Legal Services, Waterford.