Attorney Suzanne D’Agresta’s long tenure as hired outside counsel for the Indian River County School Board seems likely to end this year after the board directed Superintendent David Moore to explore options for replacing her.
The board’s directive comes just days after D’Agresta was reprimanded by a federal judge for writing and submitting an unauthorized desegregation “progress” report.
U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams, who oversees the school district’s compliance with a federal desegregation order that has been in effect for 52 years, also sharply criticized D’Agresta for refusing to include in the report input from the NAACP and the district’s Equity Committee.
While D’Agresta’s solo report painted a rosy picture about the district’s progress in complying with the federal order’s requirements to reduce inequity in the schools, the NAACP and the Equity Committee say little progress has been made.
The board and Moore said the judge’s reprimand of D’Agresta was “embarrassing” to the school district.
“We’ve been dancing around this for the past year,” School Board chairwoman Mara Schiff said at the board’s Jan. 14 work session. “We need to make a decision sooner, rather than later. We need to do this.”
After serving unchallenged as the school district’s legal counsel for more than a decade, D’Agresta, who is paid $264,000 a year plus expenses, has faced sharp criticism from the board during the past year for earlier legal missteps and hefty fees. Her current contract expires in March.
Previous school boards never sought bids from other law firms that might be just as qualified or charge less for their services, current board members said.
“Ms. D’Agresta has a wealth of knowledge,” board member Jacqueline Rosario noted. “But we have been elected to be the voice of our constituents and be good stewards.”
The School Board is in agreement that the district should seek letters of interest from other law firms interested in representing the district – which would require D’Agresta to reapply for the position.
In addition, several board members want to know how much it would cost to hire an in-house attorney, who would be a district employee instead of an outside contractor.
Superintendent Moore said he would provide the board with more information on the two options at its Jan. 28 work session.
D’Agresta was present at the Jan. 14 meeting where seeking a new lawyer was discussed. She said little during the discussion, except to point out that the board is required to give her 30-days notice if they plan to not renew her contract.
If the board doesn’t give her notice of termination or offer her a new contract by March, her contract would automatically renew for an additional 30 days.