Two Orange County School Districts Spent $15 Million on Lawsuits

On Wednesday, California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse released a report entitled “Lessons in Lawsuits,” which details the litigation costs of 12 California school districts. Included is information about Santa Ana Unified (SAUSD) and Capistrano Unified (CUSD).

According to the report, those two districts alone spent more than $15 million on lawsuits (the cost of outside counsel plus settlements and jury awards) in 2006 through 2009. Not included are the costs the districts pay for liability insurance.

Other districts detailed in the report were 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, and San Juan Unified. The 12 districts, which presumably represent those with the highest lawsuit expenses, spent a total of $98.7 million over the three year period.

As the report says, “The amount spent on these lawsuits could have funded much needed items for our state’s schools, such as supplies, student services and teachers’ salaries, to name a few.” It notes that “Capistrano Unified School District could have prevented the $1.5 million budget cut to buy core textbooks.

A certain number of lawsuits are justifiable, and in many cases they are unavoidable. Districts can’t stop parents and others from bringing suits against them. But in the case of CUSD, where the 7 board members refer to themselves as “The Reform Trustees,” one of the lawsuits was brought by one of the district’s own board members, Mike Winsten. Another suit was brought by the board to stop an election that would have allowed trustees to be elected by area rather than at large.

The report concludes by remarking that “by taking responsibility for our own actions and demanding reform at every level, we can all do our part to give lawsuit abuse a failing grade.”

Apparently the CUSD trustees have a different definition of “reform” than the one the California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse are using.