Local School Districts Caught Up in New Study Showing Millions Blown on Litigation

The Peabody-winning educational program South Park aired an episode the other night that took lawsuits against public school districts to despicably hilarious new heights.

The real-life cartoon plays out publicly--and locally--in the Capistrano, Santa Ana and Long Beach unified school districts.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse today released a report on litigation costs to those and nine other school districts across the state that found, in just three fiscal years, they spent $98.7 million on lawsuits.

"At a time when a record number of our schools are in financial trouble and further education cuts could be looming ahead, we cannot afford to allow these litigation costs to grow unchecked," said Maryann Maloney Marino, CALA's executive director, in a statement about the study.

"California continues to rank among the most litigious states in every study yet we rank at the bottom in many measures of student performance," Marino continued. "The more dollars our schools have to pay in litigation costs, the less we have to improve our students' performance."

She pointed to figures that show among the 50 states, California ranks 45th in 4th grade math, second to last in 8th grade reading, 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," Marino said. "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 number in Santa Ana is $2.3 million. That's how much SAUSD spent on litigation costs just in fiscal year 2009.

"To put that number in perspective, the district could have bought 22,928 chalkboards," reads the CALA statement, which also quotes Orange Juice blogger and SAUSD school board candidate Art Pedroza.

"Our local school district has already had to severely slash its budget, due to state funding shortfalls," he says. "There are times when lawsuits are necessary, but frivolous suits do nothing more than hurt our students--we need to take steps to stop abusive lawsuits and keep our funding in the classrooms, where it belongs."

Here is the link to the full study, "Lessons in Lawsuits: The Impact of Litigation on California's Schools." 


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