Facing toxic-tort lawsuits over the deaths of two young people and illness of at least two others, Briarcliff Manor school officials have nearly doubled their legal-defense dollars.
The suits charge that two athletic fields at the district’s / complex, that was allowed to fester for more than a decade, contributed to the youngsters’ developing their afflictions. School officials .
The defense-fund increase, from $300,000 to $560,000, was among some $340,000 in spending added in recent weeks to next year’s proposed district budget. Despite the additions, today’s budget—thanks to almost a half-million dollars in cuts—is $150,000 smaller than the barely a fortnight ago.
That reduced a $47.85 million budget to $47.7 million, including $3.4 million in spending for buildings and grounds, the proposed budget outlined Monday night at a four-hour school board work session in the middle school auditorium.
At $1.16 million, salaries account for more than a third of the latest buildings-and-grounds outlays, which are down from 2011-12 spending levels by $173,466. The board expects to adopt the budget next week, then schedule a public hearing for May 1 and a vote for May 15.
None of the buildings-and-grounds budget is earmarked for the athletic-fields’ contamination cleanup, which is expected to be funded by a $10.5 million capital-improvement bond. The $260,000 increase in legal fees, however, will be added directly to the operating budget. Board attorney David Shaw described the increase Monday as “necessary and prudent” after the district’s insurance company—which he did not identify—insisted it had no obligation to pay for the schools’ legal defense or any damages that might arise from the pending lawsuits.
“In anticipation of potential litigation...it became necessary to retain the services of a law firm to represent the district against toxic-tort claims,” Shaw told the board.
He described the stricken only as “four young people, two [of them] unfortunately deceased now.”
Shaw provided no further details.
One district resident, Aaron Stern, asked whether officials would add money to the budget to determine the insurance company’s liability in the matter.
Michael Valenti, a Briarcliff Manor resident and vocal critic of how the district has dealt with the fields, has described the fatal illnesses as cancer and calls the school district's remediation efforts “grossly inadequate.”