The Lawsuit Game in Public Schools: Don’t feed the dogs at the table, send them outside and chain them on a short leash

The word on the street is that Lakota is a soft target for lawsuits because they are all too happy to settle, so they do not reveal how little responsibility they take for anything on the school board. And that is clearly a strategy Matt Miller, the superintendent who just resigned, planned to utilize as he called the school board itself a hostile work environment attempting through the media to set up his case through his lawyer, Elizabeth Tuck. I know a bit about Elizabeth because she ostentatiously threatened to sue me. But more than that, as a small army of ground soldiers have reminded me over the last several weeks, it looks like Elizabeth Tuck is the same person who represented another big settlement case at Lakota schools for Laura Kursman, the former public relations handler. Back in those days, she went by the name of Lisa Loring. So the plot thickens considerably when the dogs start getting around the dinner table looking for some table scraps to be thrown their way by a school board without much legal experience under pressure and are prone to throw the dogs some treats just to keep them happy. And there are plenty of lawyers around the dinner table because they know this school board throws meat to the dogs to avoid the public embarrassment of actual courtroom revelations. It gets rough when people you’ve known well get up on a stand in cross-examination and start telling the public things they thought would never be heard in the light of day. Lawyers know that people would like to avoid those circumstances, so most of the time, especially when it comes to public schools, it is smarter just to settle, throw some bones to the dogs, and get on with life. When there is a lot of money involved, which is always the case with big taxpayer-funded schools with lots of liberals running them, lawyers are looking to continue the story of Matt Miller with methods that have worked in the past. There are a lot of lawyers involved in the background, and they see dollar signs because of the school board’s history of desiring to settle everything before it gets to court. But in this particular Matt Miller case, the school board should not settle because there is a lot that the public would benefit from during an actual court testimony involving the superintendent and all the reasons the public had a problem with him.

There was an interesting media report from Channel 12 about the search for a new superintendent that shows how stories are shaped in the background, which I’ll cover at a later date because of the audacity of it. There is also a story about Darbi Boddy again from the Monday, February 6th meeting too, which is for another day. But it was specific in discussing a replacement for Matt Miller and the kind of environment that the Lakota school board is for potential employment. Clearly, the minds of the board and the body of administrators at Lakota who are thinking seriously about moving away and quitting the Lakota experience want another very progressive, mask-wearing, Matt Miller type to protect everything they think public schools are, which are radical political activists for Democrat causes. But no person in their right mind who thinks like that wants to be the next Matt Miller. Suppose the school board hires another progressive-minded activist who brings with them support for LGBT sexual lifestyles, as the Channel 12 report tried to make it sound like Miller was a champion for, or in teaching kids CRT, which was another hot-button issue that actually started all the controversy to begin with. In that case, there will be continued debate from the community toward those Lakota employees. We are in a very different place here, something that hasn’t happened in the history of public education, something I have been watching develop for more than four decades of direct experience. So the tricks of the past aren’t going to work. Lawyers, public relations people, and a compliant school board aren’t going to be able to sweep this one under the rug. 

The real answer to all this is to hire better people. Recruit the next superintendent who reflects the community values and sets a high bar that shows similar scrutiny on all employees hired at Lakota. Sure, there will be some who are not willing to live up to that high bar, and they can leave. But if the school board sets a high bar, everyone will find that better applicants will want to work at the school, and in that way, the institution’s quality will improve dramatically. That’s why Lakota should not settle any future lawsuits, especially regarding Matt Miller and his attorney Elizabeth Tuck. Even though some of the court proceedings would be embarrassing for many involved, with a defeat in the courtroom, it would go a long way to stopping the kind of recklessness that is such an incursion on the public budget that taxpayers would appreciate knowing. There are good and bad lawsuits, but all of them reflect the liability of having a large school with many employees with performance problems. The way to avoid lawsuits is to hire better people who work at a much higher level of competency. 

There are several people I know who are out there who have justifiable problems with the Lakota school board procedurally over First Amendment issues, and sunshine laws, public disclosure, and all kinds of things that school boards need to be good at. The solution to holding back a mob of lawsuit-happy dogs isn’t just giving them more meat from the table. That only makes them hungrier. They need to be put outside and chained with a short leash so they don’t bite the innocent children who might happen to walk by. Meanwhile, Darbi Boddy is exposing some of the chaotic elements that cause all these problems to begin with. It might sound a bit odd without context, but Darbi’s mission is all about restoring the parental role with their children in the school to a healthy relationship where the public school forces over the years have been to separate them by default. And when things get a little wild, some lawsuits cost a lot of money that settle the matter and cause school boards to always walk on eggshells of bad legal advice that only feeds the dogs at the table and makes them hungrier. But to restore a positive relationship with the public or gain it for the first time, it is probably more appropriate to say that Lakota needs not to settle these lawsuits involving outgoing employees. Take them to court and fight it; the taxpayers will remember and appreciate it. The disclosure learned in the reports from those court trials will be extremely valuable. Throwing money at the dogs won’t make the actual problem go away. It just protects the embarrassments that were made in the process. And that is a significant number that has to be figured into the general waste in public schools. The employees already cost too much money, especially when you look back at the Laura Kursman case, which I covered extensively, with much more detail than the local media, such as Channel 12 does, or 5, 9, or 19. The real story that often never gets told needs to be said, and better employees need to be hired to avoid those contentious escapades in courtrooms. But to solve the problem, just throwing table scraps to the dogs won’t help, which is clearly the goal of the Matt Miller resignation.

Rich Hoffman

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