Letter: School Board ‘Governing by Lawsuit’

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Recently our school board grudgingly stopped stonewalling years of public information requests and disclosed a 300 percent increase in legal costs for each of the last three years. This escalation reveals gullibility of School Board members taking bad legal advice to employ hardline tactics and “make an example” of aggrieved teachers, parents and students who dare to challenge board decisions. Not coincidentally, increased legal claims, litigation and settlements increase profits for board lawyers.

Legal bullying accelerated after a long-time LBHS science teacher was forced to seek protection in court against petty retaliatory abuse of power without evidence or due process. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and insurance claims later, the court ruled the school district violated the teacher’s legal rights. Although significant damages were awarded to the teacher, the school district ignored injustice done and declared victory because the award was less than expected.

Our school board again embraced political aggression under color of law by refusing to remove “hate incident” notations in school records of five students, after one student challenged that nationally publicized disciplinary action. Only the judge’s threat to hold our superintendent in contempt of court prevented the student from being punished pending LBUSD appeal of the court’s ruling in the student’s favor.

Now the school board just lost its appeal of that case, in a pointedly critical appeals court ruling affirming the trial court’s findings. The court held defendant superintendent and school board failed to afford due process, interview students, rely on evidence, or comply with state law on student rights.

Unlimited resources for legal costs enables the board to stubbornly refuse remedial solutions. That forces teachers, parents, students and even minority board members to accept injustice or bear the burden of seeking court oversight to stop abuses.

Legal costs also increase when the school board settles embarrassing cases it can’t afford to lose politically. We have called for annual reports on legal costs including all settlements, keeping identities sealed only as to parties who request it, not to protect the board from transparency.

For example, is it true as widely reported a senior educator was paid an estimated $200,000 to leave quietly and dismiss her grievance against the superintendent, alleging verbal abuse and behavior creating a hostile work environment?

Without transparency there is no accountability, and without accountability there is no integrity.

 

Howard Hills, Laguna Beach

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3 COMMENTS

  1. You missed the Elephant in the Room at the moment – the totally needless lawsuit against Boardmember Dee Perry. Their stance and actions are completely out of line yet they are playing chicken with her hoping that the legal costs will make her back down. She won’t. So how much money is down the drain on this one??? They know they are wrong but again, won’t admit it until they will be forced to by the court. What a monumental waste of money – AGAIN.

  2. Thank you Howard Hills for writing this LTE. Residents need to wake up to this abuse of power and public war chest of taxpayer dollars to pay for mistakes and intentional wrongdoing by the school board and school superintendent, and poor legal advice by law firms more interested in their profits than giving good advice. What a shame and what a waste of money unnecessarily. We teach out kids to admit when they have made mistake, so they can learn and understand that poor actions have consequences. With taxpayer funded war chest, the school board and overpaid superintendent don’t learn from their mistakes, because there is no personal consequence to them. Perhaps it is time to hold them individually personally financially responsible for their actions – make it painful personally. Without personal consequences they will never learn, and more funds will be spent outside the classroom, diverting money from our school children who should be their first priority.

  3. It’s amusing to hear people whine about “waste of money” and then eagerly demand that taxpayers throw billions more dollars at “education.” For fifty years, more and more money handed over to the professionals has resulted in a decline in educational achievement. The decline is well documented but never prevents the professionals from squawking for more.

    “In 1950, we spent (in 1989 dollars) $1,333 per student. In 1989 we spent $4931. As John Silber, the President of Boston University, has written, ‘It is troubling that this nearly fourfold increase in real spending has brought no improvement. It is scandalous that it has not prevented substantial decline.’ ” – William J. Bennett, former Secretary of Education, in The De-Valuing of America

    The sixth-grade textbooks of today are much less challenging than those of a few decades ago…” – Carl Sagan, Demon Haunted World, page 362

    It has been said that we have not had the three R’s in America, we had the six R’s; remedial readin’, remedial ‘ritin’ and remedial ‘rithmetic. – Robert Maynard Hutchins (also Maynard Hutchins) (1899–1977) educational philosopher, dean of Yale Law School (1927-1929), a president of the University of Chicago (1929–1945) and its chancellor (1945–1951).

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