District spends $23K in busing-related legal fees

By Laurie Hamame - lhamame@aimmediamidwest.com

More than $23,000 has been spent by the Oberlin school board in a legal battle to end public busing to Lake Ridge Academy.

Attorney fees were paid to two Cleveland law firms — Squire Patton Boggs and Bricker & Eckler — for representation before the state board of education, according to treasurer Angela Dotson.

The board switched firms halfway through the process because the latter has “more expertise in district representation,” superintendent David Hall said.

President Anne Schaum said she had hoped the battle wouldn’t go this far, but doesn’t believe the board has spent too much.

“I think it’s unfortunate that it’s costing this much, but it was anticipated,” she said. “When you look at the cost the district has paid over 30 years of busing out to Lake Ridge, one year of legal expenses is not unreasonable.”

School board members voted in February to cut the “costly” route. They chose to give $250 in lieu of busing to parents of each private school rider, which state law allows if the district can prove that the bus route is impractical.

The Lake Ridge run costs about twice as much per student as a normal bus route, the board argued. Dotson estimates cutting the route would save the district about $33,500 per year.

Ten of 14 affected families rejected the payment, sending the issue to mediation. State hearing officer Philip King said in November that the district’s argument was not persuasive, and he believes it’s practical for taxpayers to bear the cost of transporting students to the North Ridgeville private school.

The Ohio board of education can either accept or reject King’s recommendation at a future meeting.

Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.

By Laurie Hamame