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Teacher in Miramonte scandal was paid $40,000 to end fight over firing

 The Los Angeles Unified School District paid Mark Berndt, the teacher at the center of the Miramonte Elementary child-abuse scandal, $40,000 to drop a challenge to his dismissal last year.

The payout consisted of four months of back salary plus reimbursement for the cost of health benefits. Berndt was fired by the Board of Education in February 2011 after officials learned that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department was investigating him for alleged lewd acts against students.

He was arrested last week. The firing took Berndt off the district payroll, but he fought to keep his job through an appeal process that lasted until he settled with the school system and resigned in June.

PHOTOS: Parent uproar over sex-abuse claims

The settlement with Berndt came in the face of a dilemma, said L.A. Unified general counsel David Holmquist. A hearing on the dismissal was pending and the district didn't have evidence to justify the firing because the Sheriff's Department investigation was ongoing.

"We were told we could not do any investigation," to avoid interfering with a law enforcement probe, Holmquist said. "We didn't have any evidence, and we couldn't put on any witnesses. We didn't have anything to successfully defend a challenge."

Berndt was charged last week with 23 counts of lewd conduct against children; another teacher, Martin Springer, was charged this week with three counts of lewd conduct. Berndt is alleged to have taken photographs of blindfolded children being spoon-fed his semen. Springer is accused of fondling a girl in his class.

The Berndt and Springer cases are believed to be unrelated.

News of the $4,000 payment was first reported on KPCC radio.

RELATED:

Parents struggle to regain trust in system

Troubled Miramonte reopens with new staff

New Miramonte principal wants to help school return to normalcy

-- Howard Blume, Angel Jennings and Richard Winton

 
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