It’s the issue that seemingly won’t go away.
The discovery of potentially harmful chemicals at Malibu schools more than two years ago has spurred dueling accusations of misconduct between Santa Monica-Malibu school district officials and activists groups as well as ample discussion among local Board of Education members and an active lawsuit that has received significant media attention.
Now the school board is set to consider another massive expense in legal fees, according to a Daily Press review of purchase orders.
The board on Wednesday is expected to approve a $1.5-million open payment to Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, the law firm hired to represent the district since polychlorinated biphenyls were found at Malibu High School in 2013.
Including the aforementioned open payment, the district has set aside more than $10 million for consultants and legal fees throughout the process, according to figures provided by SMMUSD spokeswoman Gail Pinsker. That number includes more than $5 million designated for Pillsbury.
The $1.5 million slated for board approval is in anticipation of future expenses and does not reflect processed invoices, Pinsker said.
The board’s forthcoming action comes about a month and a half after a lawsuit over the district’s handling of chemical cleanup had its day in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The plaintiffs, America Unites for Kids and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and the district were expected to file post-trial papers this month following a brief trial May 17 in Downtown Los Angeles.
A decision could be handed down within the next couple months, officials have said.
The open payment to Pillsbury makes up nearly half of the $3.1 million in purchase orders up for board approval Wednesday. The list also includes money for high school textbooks, iPads, literacy coach materials, frozen and bakery items and produce, among other goods and services.
The board will also consider an additional $1.5 million for facility improvements, the bulk of which includes computer technology upgrades at Roosevelt and Franklin elementary schools as well as Apple computers at several district sites.
After weeks of deliberation, the school district appears ready to hire two interim replacements for Sandra Lyon.
The school board on Wednesday is expected to name temporary superintendents to lead the district from July 1 through the end of the calendar year.
Former superintendents coming out of retirement are being considered for the position, but the district’s 6-month interim window could jeopardize their retirement benefits, officials have said. It’s believed that hiring two temporary leaders for SMMUSD would solve that potential problem.
The board on June 4 met with consultants from Leadership Associates to discuss the search process, interviewed interim candidates June 16 and revisited the issue in closed session June 22.
An interim deputy superintendent will also be appointed, according to district documents.
Lyon is leaving SMMUSD at the end of June to take over as superintendent for the Palm Springs Unified School District. The search for her long-term replacement continues.