Budget cuts are not a new subject for administrators at San Diego Unified School District. Over the course of several years, cuts have been made across the board except in one category: attorneys.
According to a new report from an anti-litigation group, despite laying off teachers, cutting programs, and relying on donations from boosters and students to pay for extracurricular activities, outside attorneys continue to rake in big money from the district.
The report found that from 2010 to 2013, the district has spent nearly $2 million a year on outside counsel. When factoring in the amount paid out in settlements and verdicts, San Diego Unified has paid $7,228,115 in the span of three school years.
It's no small amount when looking at the district's annual budget.
"In San Diego Unified School District, the nearly $2.5 million spent on litigation in 2012–2013 was nearly one quarter of the amount the very large district spent on all materials and supplies," according to the report from California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.
But the news isn't all bad. Despite being the second largest district in California, San Diego Unified has the fourth highest legal bills. In 2012–2013, Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest district in the country, spent $15 million on outside counsel. Long Beach School District and Santa Ana had the second and third highest legal costs.
"With schools already facing budget crunches, high litigation costs only siphon more money away from classrooms. There will always be legitimate lawsuits involving school districts so some litigation costs should be expected," reads the report.
"Too often, however, unscrupulous attorneys and litigants view school district budgets as a coffer to be raided, and file abusive lawsuits against school districts seeking a quick payday. Far from enabling California’s school districts to quickly handle abusive lawsuits, California’s civil justice system allows plaintiffs and their attorneys to drag out lawsuits, increasing the probability that school districts will choose to settle, providing a taxpayer-funded payout to those who abuse the law for their personal profit. As a result, California’s schools have fewer dollars to spend on educating their students."
A spokesperson for San Diego Unified did not respond to a request for comment.