Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest district and largest recipient of the Proposition 30 tax increases, figures to be writing a big check soon. Unfortunately, this check won’t be going to support math, reading or arts programs. Rather, the money, $30 million, would go to settle 58 legal claims filed against LAUSD related to the Miramonte Elementary sex-abuse case, where teacher Mark Berndt allegedly fed semen to blindfolded children and placed cockroaches on their faces.
When Prop. 30 was being promoted to voters, nobody said that that higher taxes might be needed to help pay for the misdeeds of adults overseen by administrators who seemed not to know how to protect kids from classroom sex predators.
And that $30 million is just the beginning. A total of 191 claims were filed against the district, representing 129 Miramonte students and 62 parents and guardians. 71 students still have pending claims.
In this first settlement, which still needs final approval, each victim will receive about $470,000. The crazy thing is that the state spends about $7,000 per year per student in our system. So, taxpayers pay an embarrassingly low amount to educate our kids, then are forced into a humongous payout because the adults did nothing to remove other adults who allegedly do heinous things to little kids.
Rumor was that LAUSD wanted to get out cheaply, but, ultimately, “did the right thing,” according to plaintiff’s counsel. Attorneys said the settlement “enables the children and the families to avoid the pains of litigation” and would enable the kids to put the “nightmare” of Miramonte behind them. LAUSD’s top attorney assured us that the district’s insurance policy would cover those amounts. Taxpayers, ultimately still pay the bills.
Absolutely, the victims should have been spared the litigation process. What happened to the children is horrific, and I support their receiving a lawful settlement. But I wish we would have forced the adults involved to publicly testify. Maybe their public mea culpa would finally lead to systemic changes.
The chain of responsibility starts with the California Legislature, for failing to change state law to enable districts to expeditiously remove teachers suspected of serious misconduct.
When a sensible bill to do just that reached the Assembly Education Committee last year, six Democrats voted with the California Teachers Association, which vehemently opposed the bill. Those six were Assembly members Betsy Butler, Das Williams, Mike Eng, Wilmer Carter, Tom Ammiano and Joan Buchanan, who this year is chairing the committee. The bill could have advanced if just one of them had taken the side of the students.
Taxpayers should be outraged – by the $30 million and the millions yet to come, and by the entire nightmare of Miramonte and failed leadership.
But the issue itself, and the lawsuits yet to be settled, won’t quickly go away. Senate Bill 10, a renewed version of the teacher-misconduct bill, has already been introduced. Only our vigilance can ensure it finally passes.
Gloria Romero is an education reformer and former Democratic state senator from Los Angeles.