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Miramonte school sex-abuse scandal could cost district millions

February 9, 2012 |  8:11 am

Poster
Allegations that teachers at Miramonte Elementary School committed lewd acts against students has cost the L.A. Unified School District the trust of many parents but will also likely carry a high price tag in dollars.

The school was set to reopen Thursday with an all-new slate of teachers and administrators, as well as custodians and cafeteria workers.

PHOTOS: Sex abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary

But L.A. Unified will continue to pay the old staff even as it waits out investigations that could take months to complete. The new hiring alone will run $5.7 million for the remainder of the school year, said district spokesman Thomas Waldman.

During the transition, the district closed Miramonte for two days. Every day of attendance is worth about $40 per student, according to state figures. Unless the lost schooling is made up or excused by the state, L.A. Unified would lose more than $100,000.

The day before the school closed, attendance dipped from a typical 98% to 72%, according to updated district figures. That difference alone calculates to about $15,000.

But those costs are likely to pale when compared to potential legal liability that experts said could run into the millions of dollars.

At least two dozen students at Miramonte Elementary have retained attorneys so far. The children allege they were victimized by teacher Mark Berndt, who was charged last week with 23 counts of lewd conduct.

Prosecutors allege that Berndt spoon-fed his semen to blindfolded students as part of what he called a "tasting game." Authorities last week announced that they had collected hundreds of disturbing photos Berndt had developed at a CVS pharmacy. 

On Wednesday, detectives announced that they had discovered 200 more photos from the pharmacy late last week. Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Sgt. Dan Scott said the new photos are similar to the original ones and were found after the drugstore performed a computer search.

Scott said there are unidentified children in those photos, raising the specter of additional victims and more legal claims against the school system.

A second teacher, Martin Bernard Springer, was charged Tuesday with three counts of committing lewd acts. He was arrested Friday after two students at the school accused him of fondling them. One of the students later recanted, according to a law enforcement source.

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-- Howard Blume, Sam Allen and Richard Winton

Photo: A poster of fired teachers Mark Berndt and Martin Bernard Springer is displayed as students  arrive at Miramonte Elementary on Thursday morning. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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