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LAUSD offers $17 million to settle Miramonte abuse lawsuits

City News Service | 6/5/2013, 10:16 a.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Unified School District offered $17 million today to settle lawsuits by about 40 students and their families alleging sexual abuse at Miramonte Elementary School.

Sean Rossall, a spokesman for the district, called the offers "reasonable" and "respectful" to the students, while taking into account the district's limited financial resources and protecting taxpayer dollars.

"We're trying to do what's in the best interests of the kids" while respecting the "finite resources available to settle the cases," he said.

The offers, which amount to about $425,000 per student, were greeted coldly by the plaintiffs' attorneys, Luis Carrillo and Brian Claypool.

Carrillo called the offer an "insult" that fell below the roughly $470,000 settlements the district reached with 58 other students in March.

"This offer is insufficient because the lifetime mental health care for these kids is about $576,000," Carrillo told NBC4.

Claypool told the station the offers were "offensive" and "completely absurd."

According to Rossall, the students have 30 days to respond to the offers. He noted that the offers were made only to students who went through an "early resolution process," and cases involving more than 20 other students were still pending.

He also said that under court rules, if the plaintiffs reject the settlements, proceed to trial and are awarded less money than the district is offering, they could be responsible for reimbursing the LAUSD for legal costs incurred since the offers were made.

Former Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt is accused of carrying out most of the alleged abuse at the school. He is awaiting trial on nearly two dozen counts of lewd acts with children. He allegedly took photos of children with semen-tainted spoons or cookies held to their mouths.

Another former Miramonte teacher, Martin Springer, is awaiting trial on three felony counts of lewd acts with a child.

The alleged abuses by Berndt occurred from 2002-11, and LAUSD officials knew as early as the 1990-91 school year that he was involved in sexual misconduct, according to the lawsuits.