Los Angeles Unified School District offered Wednesday to pay $17 million to settle 40 claims filed by students who say they were molested by two teachers at Miramonte Elementary School, according to the district's top attorney.
The offer, which is good for 30 days, pencils out to about $425,000 for each of the youngsters who claim they were abused by former Miramonte teachers Mark Berndt and Martin Springer.
That compares to a $30 million deal announced in March that will pay 61 other children about $470,000 each.
"We believe this is a fair offer that will provide for the health and welfare of the students for the remainder of their lifetimes," general counsel David Holmquist said during a morning news conference at LAUSD headquarters.
Attorney Brian Claypool, who represents 15 of the plaintiffs, said he would present the district's offer to his clients but felt certain they would reject it. His clients include 14 former students of Berndt's who are now 10-14 years old and a 24-year-old woman who claims she was abused by Springer.
"They are treating these families like crumbs that they can wipe off the table," he said.
Holmquist said the offer was made to plaintiffs who formerly were involved in mediation to settle claims related to alleged abuse at Miramonte. As part of the proposal, the district provided an analysis showing how the settlement could be structured to provide the youngsters with income to carry them through adulthood.
"We are optimistic that they will take a serious look at the offer and consider it seriously," he said.
Claypool disputed that, saying the money wouldn't even cover the costs of providing years of therapy that his clients will need.
Holmquist said the district has already spent upwards of $1 million on legal fees related to Miramonte. He estimated it could cost another $1 million if the abuse claims go to trial and any judgment is appealed.
"We would rather see the money go to students than to pay attorneys' costs," Holmquist said.
The five dozen cases involved in the March settlement are subject to a judge's approval. Two of the offers have been approved, which a district spokesman said is an indication that the judge believed the amount was comparable to what would result from a trial.
Holmquist said that any legal settlement would be covered by insurance, although one of the district's carriers filed suit last week, challenging whether it was liable for Miramonte-related costs.
Berndt was arrested in January 2012 on charges that he molested 23 students over a five-year period. Authorities said he put cockroaches on the faces of blindfolded students and played a "tasting game" in which he spoon-fed them his semen and gave them semen-covered cookies.
The district pulled Berndt from the classroom and tried to fire him, then agreed to pay him $40,000 so he would drop his appeal of his termination.
Berndt, 62, remains jailed on $23 million bail. He has pleaded not guilty.
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