Omaha Public Schools keeping Baird Holm as law firm - Omaha.com
Published Friday, December 7, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 8:55 pm
Omaha Public Schools keeping Baird Holm as law firm

The Omaha school district's effort to save legal costs won't include changing law firms, at least for now.

A board committee charged with looking into attorney-board communication matters and cost-saving measures decided now wasn't the time for the district to seriously consider changing lawyers, as some had suggested.

Changing law firms or having the district hire its own attorneys could save money, and the board didn't rule out making such a change later.

But for now, the board has plenty on its plate, the committee decided. Omaha Public Schools plan to hire a new superintendent this month. Next month, a new session of the Nebraska Legislature begins, and one-third of the school board will be new.

“Now just isn't the time to walk blind,” Bambi Bartek, committee and board member, said at the board's meeting earlier this week.

Other board members had previously asked the board and the committee to look at how other districts use legal services and in what ways OPS can trim its bills with Baird Holm, an Omaha law firm the district has used since the 1960s.

Over the past five years, the firm has billed OPS more than $13 million for more than 83,500 hours of work, according to records The World-Herald obtained from the school district.

Other large Nebraska school districts don't spend nearly as much as OPS, either overall or on a per-student basis, for lawyers. Nor do some other major urban school districts, such as Denver's. Some large cities have seen savings by relying on in-house lawyers for schools.

“A wholesale change may be in our future,” Marian Fey, a member of the committee and board, said in an interview.

Earlier this week, the board met with the district's attorney, Elizabeth Eynon-Kokrda of Baird Holm, and Richard Putnam, Baird Holm managing partner, in closed session to talk about cost-containment strategies.

The board voted 6-5 to go into closed session to talk about that and other matters. After the closed session, board President Freddie Gray said those ideas would come before the board at a later date.

Opposing board members wanted more information, including what other firms could offer, and from other people, not Baird Holm attorneys.

“If we are considering changing, we need more information from more people,” said Shirley Tyree, board member.

Board member Justin Wayne said the board had time to look elsewhere. Wayne, a labor relations attorney with Union Pacific Railroad, said the board could ask other firms for legal services proposals and get that information within a couple of weeks.

“The whole committee was a joke,” Wayne said in an interview. “We didn't take a serious look at anything before making any decisions.”

In August, Gray appointed members to the temporary committee at the request of Fey, who wanted members to review board policy about how it gets and shares information with its attorney.

That call and board member frustration grew out of how Gray and Eynon-Kokrda handled the Nancy Sebring situation.

Gray and Eynon-Kokrda withheld information from other board members about why Sebring, who at that time was tapped to be the next OPS superintendent, had abruptly left her post as superintendent of the Des Moines Public Schools.

Sebring told Gray and Eynon-Kokrda that it was over her personal email correspondence with a lover, sent to and from a Des Moines Public Schools email account.

Sebring resigned from the OPS job on June 2 after newspapers published stories about the emails.

Both OPS officials say Sebring kept details of the sexually explicit emails from them, and they considered the situation a personnel matter requiring privacy.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1074, jonathon.braden@owh.com, twitter.com/jonathonbraden

Contact the writer: Jonathon Braden

jonathon.braden@owh.com    |   402-444-1074    |  

Jonathon writes about education, mostly the Omaha Public Schools, Nebraska's largest district.

Sioux City riverboat casino prepares to close, still hoping to be saved
Omaha high schoolers to help canvass for Heartland 2050
Mizzou alumni aim to attract veterinary students to Henry Doorly Zoo
Grant ensures that Sioux City can start building children's museum
Party looks to 'nudge' women into public office in Iowa
For birthday, Brownell-Talbot student opts to give, not get
Sole big donor to Beau McCoy says he expects nothing in return
Two taken to hospital after fire at Benson home
Grace: Pipe organ concert a tribute to couple's enduring love
Omaha-area jails and ERs new front line in battling mental illness
Convicted killer Nikko Jenkins might await his sentence in prison
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
Civil rights hearing to consider voting policies in Midwest
Firefighters battle brush fire near Fontenelle Forest
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
It's a pursuit of pastel at Spring Lake Park's Easter egg hunt
Financial picture improving for city-owned Mid-America Center
No injuries after fire at midtown's old Mercer Mansion
29-year-old Omahan arrested for 22nd time in Lincoln
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
Explosion near 29th, Woolworth damages vehicles
Omaha police arrest man, 19, accused in March shooting
Earth gets its day in the sun at Elmwood Park
Beau McCoy strikes Obama doll in TV ad; Democrats are not happy
Keystone XL pipeline backers blast 'political expediency' as foes hail ruling to delay decision
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
A World War II veteran from Omaha will return this week to Europe to commemorate a tragedy in the run-up to D-Day.
Dickson’s Week in Review, April 13-19
On Twitter some guy tweeted that the spring game isn’t taken as seriously as a regular-season contest. What was your first clue? When the head coach entered waving a cat aloft?
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »