Lessons in Lawsuits

Today CALA released a report on litigation costs to 12 of California’s school districts, finding that in just three fiscal years, these schools spent $98.7 million.

The report examined verdicts, settlements and outside counsel costs to Capistrano Unified, Elk Grove Unified, Fresno Unified, Kern High School, Long Beach Unified, Los Angeles Unified, Merced Union High School, Modesto City, Poway Unified, San Diego Unified, San Juan Unified, and Santa Ana Unified.

You would think at a time when a record number of our schools are in financial trouble and further education cuts are likely ahead, we would not allow these litigation costs to go unchecked. California continues to rank among the most litigious states in every study yet we rank at the bottom in many measures of student performance. The more dollars our schools have to pay in litigation costs, the less we have to improve our students’ performance.

California ranks 45th in 4th grade math and second to last in 8th grade reading. At the same time, the state 46th in the Institute for Legal Reform’s Lawsuit Climate 2010 report and 41st in the 2010 U.S. Tort Liability Index.

We hear story after story of activities schools are forced to cut, yet no one ever talks about one of the most unpredictable costs of all - litigation. These numbers reflect just 12 of California’s school districts. With nearly 1,000 in the state, there’s no telling what the total number is.

The $98.7 million spent in just three years could have been put to much better use across the state. That money could have paid the salaries of more than 1,530 teachers, purchased nearly 600 new school buses, more than 1.1 million school desks or 246,762 desktop computer packages.

Just like our cities, counties and the state need to be more accountable, so do our schools. There needs to be more transparency and the school districts needs to be more up front about these costs. If parents are being asked to pay more, at least the schools can be more accountable for how they are spending it.

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