At its meeting Thursday night, the local Board of Education is expected to approve another payment for legal fees in the Santa Monica-Malibu school district’s ongoing battle with activists over the testing and cleanup of chemicals at Malibu school sites.

The $500,000 payment to Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP adds to legal counsel expenditures that have ballooned into the millions since the discovery of polychlorinated biphenyls at Malibu campuses more than two years ago.

Activists have said they believe full remediation would have saved the district millions of dollars. SMMUSD contends it has followed federal Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. A lawsuit is ongoing.

The Pepperdine University Environmental Law Society on Tuesday night hosted a public forum about PCB-related concerns featuring David Carpenter, an environmental health sciences professor at the State University of New York at Albany. Also in attendance was Malibu parent Jennifer deNicola of America Unites for Kids, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“The district is spending millions and millions of dollars more than it would cost to simply remove these toxic chemicals banned by Congress,” deNicola said ahead of the forum. “These are tax dollars that should be spent on books and teachers, not lawyers to cover up PCB contamination.”

Board member Oscar de la Torre has asked district staff to draft a report “showing the feasibility of and costs associated with leasing and installing portable classrooms for all pre-1979 buildings,” according to an SMMUSD report. PCBs were banned that year, according to the EPA.

Meanwhile, the district’s scheduled payment to Pillsbury tops a list of purchase orders, totaling nearly $1 million, that is up for board consideration.

The list also includes a payment of more than $231,000 to Meridian IT for information services. The item comes amid ongoing updates to district technology and infrastructure with money from two bond measures over the last decade.

Other payment up for approval include $20,5000 to Dancing Classrooms Los Angeles for ballroom dance instruction; $18,000 to Santa Monica Academy of Music for music lessons; and more than $13,000 to STAR Education for a contract at Franklin Elementary School.

Facility upgrades

More than half a million dollars is set aside on the district’s latest list of expenditures for facility improvements.

The school board will likely make official its approval of more than $176,000-plus in payments to Intelli-Tech for technology upgrades, including laptops at John Muir and Juan Cabrillo elementary schools. Also on the list is a combined $146,000 to CDW-G Computing Solutions for Web infrastructure and Internet upgrades.

The district has been creating “21st-century classrooms” outfitted with interactive whiteboards, a dual projection screen, a document camera, an audio system with teacher and student microphones and a teacher laptop.

Fourteen purchase orders totaling more than $82,000 involve upgrades at Edison Language Academy, where the district is planning to launch a pilot preschool program called Seaside. In January, district officials unveiled a proposed early learning pathway that would include preschool programming at Edison and Grant Elementary School this coming fall.

jeff@www.smdp.com