Board member says $200 million suit caused by ‘money hungry lawyers’

St. Charles Parish School Board member John Smith is calling the filing of a $200 million class-action lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Education by the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board and the Louisiana Association of Educators a maneuver by “money hungry lawyers.”

However, Smith said the Louisiana School Board Association (LSBA) will likely be filing a separate lawsuit in the matter soon that he expects St. Charles Parish and many other school districts throughout the state to join.

The action by St. John schools and the LAE comes after a Supreme Court ruling on Act 2 in early May. Act 2, which passed in 2012, diverted funds from public schools for private school tuition and was found unconstitutional. The LSBA was the lead plaintiff in the challenge of ACT 2 that was brought on behalf of nearly every school district in the state.

In their ruling, the state’s high court also found the funding program passed by the legislature, known as the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), was unconstitutional and had been so since the 2010 school year.

The foundation of the new lawsuit by St. John schools and LAE is the attempt to recoup MFP funds they claim should have been given to schools statewide based on the 2009 figures that allowed a 2.75 percent increase in funding, which over a three-year period would have amounted to around $200 million going to schools statewide.

Smith, the longest serving School Board member in St. Charles and president of the LSBA, said the move by St. John and the LAE would not have been possible without the LSBA’s success in the initial suit. He feels St. John is jumping the gun by filing their own lawsuit.

“First, they filed the lawsuit after LSBA had already won its lawsuit regarding the vouchers and what have you. So they are trying to piggyback on what LSBA has done already,” he said. “Secondly, those attorneys that filed the lawsuit are going to be getting a third of whatever amount of money is recovered.”

Contingency fee attorneys used by St. John and LAE in the case will take 33 percent of the award in a potential verdict or settlement, which would total about $66 million if they receive the entire $200 million.

In contrast, LSBA used a set formula when they filed the initial lawsuit that equals out to pennies per student, which Smith said will be used by the LSBA when they file a separate lawsuit on the matter.

“LAE filed a lawsuit which was a class-action lawsuit and LSBA, whenever they file a lawsuit, it will only costs the districts that are part of it 15 cents per child,” he said. “So why should we pay some other attorneys that much money to file a lawsuit on behalf of member districts?”

However, Smith said the two cases will likely have to be combined at a later date.

“The judge will probably rule that they will have to combine them, but right now we are not willing to turn this over to a bunch of money hungry lawyers to capitalize on work that the LSBA has already done,” he said.


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