School Districts and Legal Bills

California has over 1,000 schools districts and governing boards. Some of these districts represent just a small number of students, while the largest, Los Angeles Unified School District, represents nearly 800,000 students. Managing a school district is a big and difficult job, but California’s legal climate makes one aspect of that job much more difficult: keeping legal costs at a reasonable level. Every dollar spent on legal costs is one that can’t be spent on books, classrooms and teachers.

One school district in particular, Twin River School District in the Sacramento area, indicates how litigation costs can affect a school district’s budget. The district is involved in myriad lawsuits, and the costs to the district have been astounding: $2.6 million and counting since January 2012, and $1.3 million for the months of June and July alone.  The leaders of the district, the superintendent and the trustees, have all expressed frustration at this situation, and I don’t blame them.

The story of Twin Rivers School District is just another example of why our state badly needs legal reform. Every aspect of California’s economy, from our private businesses to our public agencies, faces higher costs due to the state’s legal environment that encourages more lawsuits.

A few years back, CALA looked at how much school districts pay in verdicts, settlements and outside counsel, and it was not a pretty picture. CALA’s report found that between 2006 and 2009, 12 of the state’s 967 school districts (the number of districts has since increased to more than 1,000) spent a total of $98.7 million on verdicts, settlements and attorneys. That amount – almost $100 million – is mind-boggling. And the situation in Twin Rivers indicates that it’s getting worse, not better.

What can you do to help? All citizens and taxpayers should ask their candidates for election offices at all levels – local, state and federal – where they stand on legal reform. This situation won’t end until our elected officials take a stand against allowing this sort of abuse to occur.

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