OBSERVER Staff Writer
RIPLEY - Many know there is really no such thing as a free lunch. Officials in Ripley know that a lawsuit doesn't come free either - or cheap. According to new figures recently released, the school district is estimating spending more than $50,000 on the lawsuit brought against the school.
A lawsuit was announced in May by Steven Cohen of Hogan Willig Attorneys at Law, out of the Buffalo area, that he would be representing Wanda Bentley, Jason Bentley and unnamed Jane/John Does 1-22 in a lawsuit filed against the Ripley Central School District. The lawsuit was filed with the Chautauqua County Supreme Court, which was later withdrawn, and the New York State Commissioner of Education.
The lawsuit names the Ripley school and officials including Superintendent Karen Krause and the principal, the Ripley Board of Education, the towns of Ripley and Mayville, the Chautauqua Lake Central School District, Chautauqua Lake School Board, Chautauqua Lake Superintendent Benjamin Spitzer and principal, and BOCES District Superintendent David O'Rourke.
"Essentially it was more ... (Ripley's) issue because it was about tuitioning," Krause said.
The lawsuit was brought to challenge the tuitioning of students in grades 7-12 to Chautauqua Lake for the 2013-2014 school year. The petitioners proposed a stay for tuitioning but the commissioner of education denied the stay, so tuitioning did move forward.
"The school's attorney tells me that's a good sign for the district and tuitioning but the commissioner has to officially rule and that can take a number of months up to a year," Krause said.
The current state of the lawsuit is pending a ruling from the commissioner. Final paperwork was submitted late August by the district. Krause is estimating the costs, which cover hours of research, clerical work, meetings, compilation of affidavits, legal counsel and phone conferences, all required to submit the appropriate materials on behalf of the school district to be $58,418. Krause said these costs may continue to increase if more paperwork is necessary.
"It probably will (impact the budget) if the costs continue. I don't know if we're finished with these costs," said Krause. "It just depends if the costs continue to keep accruing or if we're done and the commissioner decides and we move forward."
Krause is anticipating that no more paperwork will be needed to be filed and will wait on a decision from the commissioner. She said a decision could take up to one year, saying she's "anticipating and hopeful" it will be sooner. The decision could impact budget planning which is scheduled to being early 2014. For now, if no further costs are accumulated, the district has money in the budget to cover the anticipated costs.
"I think we have the money in the budget to cover them for now. The truth of the matter is that's $58,000 that could have been spent for programs here for students or an additional way to plan a bus run or anything that we need here," said Krause. "Those are taken away (by lawsuit costs). In that regard, it does impact us."
Board of Education President Robert Bentley called the lawsuit costs a waste of time, money and emotions in a previous board meeting earlier this month.
"In a district that counts its pennies that's a lot of money for what I'll refer to as a frivolous lawsuit," he said. "The consequence is that the taxpayers pay the bill."
The estimated lawsuit costs are broken down as follows: $29,719 for legal fees from June 11 through Aug. 30; $16,748 for district personnel to conduct research, meetings, phone conferences, clerical work, etc.; and $11,951 for the 2011 petition to the commissioner (legal only).
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