Clarkstown School Board Looking To Make Some Changes

Deputy district clerk replaced and RFP for legal counsel approved


The new leadership of the Clarkstown Board of Education initiated some changes at Monday night’s reorganization meeting.  Board members voted to replace current Deputy District Clerk Maureen Sullivan with Jeff Sobel. They approved issuing a Request For Proposals (RFP) for legal services for the district, which are currently provided by Warren Berbit of Lexow, Berbit & Associates, P.C. of Suffern.

Sullivan handled the deputy district clerk responsibilities for the past year. Sobel will take over for the 2012-2103 school year.  Sobel, who is the district’s assistant superintendent for personnel, was appointed at the recommendation of Diane Hoeneveld, the newly elected board vice president.

Hoeneveld said the deputy clerk attends board sessions where confidential matters are discussed and she thought Sobel who already handles personnel issues was more appropriate for the position.  Sullivan works as the coordinator of business services for the district.

Board Member Kevin Grogan questioned the switch. The vote to appoint Sobel was four in favor, two against and one abstention.

The suggestion to solicit bids from other law firms for legal counsel came from newly elected board President Joe Malgieri. He said the district paid Berbit $600,000 last year.  Board member Robert Carlucci noted that an audit of the district had determined it was paying too much for legal fees.

“It’s our responsibility as a board to watch the money,” said Carlucci. 

Berbit’s current three-year contract runs through June 30, 2013. When Malgieri suggested keeping Berbit on a month-to-month basis, new board member Wendy Adolff asked that Berbit be kept through the end of his contract while the board looks at what other legal services are available. 

Malgieri said Berbit had a one-person law firm and was providing counsel for a multi-million dollar school district.  Grogan countered that Berbit has associates and is not a single-person law firm and said Malgieri’s statement should be retracted. He also brought up the possibility that the RFP was in response to previous events.

In their October petition filed with the State Education Commissioner by board members Malgieri, Hoeneveld and Carlucci seeking the removal of then board members Doug Katz and Philip DeGaetano, they referred to a document viewed in Berbit’s office which Malgieri and Hoeneveld were not permitted to copy or write notes about. 

The board voted six in favor of issuing an RFP with just Grogan in opposition.

Berbit is the general counsel and chief legal officer for the Clarkstown Central School District. He has served the district for 30 years and the law firm has represented it since 1949. According to the contract with the district, Berbit’s annual retainer is $263,400 with monthly payments of $21,950. The board can ask him to perform supplemental work for the district at additional cost.

Mike Hirsch July 03, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Holy cannoli, the hits keep on coming. This guy has a sweeter deal than both the superintendent and the chief of police. Good job Joe. Get rid of him asap.
Jonathan Swift July 03, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Amen Mike! Warren allowed the prior board to ignore policies and laws. This on top of his outrageous deal of 600k is reason enough to show him the door! Way to go Joe! Finally a president who can think and act on his own for the good of the district and kids!
Brenda M July 03, 2012 at 06:40 PM
I wrote earlier in the previous article that in this morning's Journal News <<< the legal counsel for the School Board is paid $21,950 per month plus expenses! That is a minimum of over one quarter of a million dollars per year. (What the expenses part are all about beats me!). Malgieri says he wants to "trim expenses" as his reason for getting rid of Lexow, Berbit & Associates and not the fact, according to the Journal News, that this law firm limited access to a document he wanted in last year's dispute. This is not a good omen! But if the knife has to be wielded with malice then let's be sure that these legal expenses are trimmed not by nine percent (9%) but CUT by NINETY percent (90%) and the money saved is spent where it is needed in fixing deteriorated school properties. The taxpayers will be watching just how much you save on this line item, Mr. Malgieri, and it had better live up to your "trim expenses" statement. >>> Now we learn it is $600,000 they paid him. Over twice my estimate.  And on top of this how many thousands did they pay Lynch? Get rid of him asap, Mike?  I say investigate him asap!     Taxpayers it is time to wake up.  You are paying for all of this!   The police ripped you off with a  <gimme what I want> contract and now we find the school board has been doing the same!
steve smith July 03, 2012 at 08:06 PM
no human is worth 600,000 a year!
Jonathan Swift July 03, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Brenda > you want an investigation into Warren? I do believe that is something the present board should seriously consider. There are some interesting connections that just might be discovered. The bottom line is he is NOT worth $600k per year and if I were Mr. Malgieri I'd put the RFP on the fast track and get rid of him ASAP! I'd love to see when he was given increases over the years and by what board presidents.
Sigmund Freud July 03, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Brenda, that is exactly what the Board is doing!!! Looking into other law firms due to the fact that that the previous board allowed this lawyer to bill our district and pay him this kind of money. The NEW Board is now watching the finances of this district to make sure this type of spending never gets out of control again. Kudos for a 6-1 vote on searching out another law firm to represent our district!!!
no alcohol July 03, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Remember the state audit that said CCSD spending on legal fees was exorbitant? http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/schools/2011/clarkstown.pdf
600,000 divided by say 50 weeks equates to...12,000 a week and 2,400 a day!!!!!!!!!!!so we need an accounting as to what issues did this school district have to allow for this amount of billing? imagine that 2,400 dollars a day was wasted ...very scary...and what a windfall !!!!!!!and no-one questioned the expenditures
Sam July 04, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Now maybe everyone really understands what has been going on for the past three years and why getting rid of the majority board members was the right thing to do. It was not about the superintendent that was just the headline grabber. 600 thousand dollars can fix a lot of broken things in our schools. disgusting!
Sigmund Freud July 05, 2012 at 02:39 AM
Spot on Sam! I wonder what else we will learn in the days ahead? More surprises like this one?
Sigmund Freud July 05, 2012 at 04:37 AM
Wow. This report is by the State Comptroller. It slams us for legal bills. It is dated January 2011 and demands a corrective action plan be submitted within 90 days. Was this done? Look at this: The Board has the responsibility to initiate corrective action. Pursuant to Section 35 of the General Municipal Law, Section 2116-a(3)(c) of the Education Law and Section 170.12 of the regulations of the Commissioner of Education, a written corrective action plan (CAP) that addresses the fi ndings and recommendations in this report must be prepared and provided to our office within 90 days, with a copy forwarded to the Commissioner of Education. To the extent practicable, implementation of the CAP must begin by the end of the next fiscal year
and why doesnt anyone address the states audit???
Jonathan Swift July 05, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Why doesn't anyone address the audit? The prior board had that responsibility. Did Phil Degaetano or Doug Katz do anything all last year about it when they were presidents? If they failed to comply with the State then they need to be held accountable. Was anything done? Does anyone know?
how about the board using their tax certori expertise in lowering the legal fees?
Jonathan Swift July 06, 2012 at 12:22 PM
I don't see how there is any argument to keep Berbitt's firm. The fact that Kevin Grogan is his lone supporter speaks volumes. There is no retaliation here. Severing the relationship makes economic sense and has to be done. End of story.
new city July 10, 2012 at 03:00 PM
which school board hired berbitt?
Robert Ward Kurkela July 04, 2013 at 10:23 AM
Berbit is still here. His contract expired June 30, 2013.


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