Leko Settlement: Is Tenure the Problem?

With LCUSD's $215,000 payoff to veteran teacher Gabrielle Leko--found to have discriminated against students based on gender, ethnicity and race--questions remain about the impact on local school districts from state-mandated tenure rules.

When the scenarios shook out--battling ethnic slur teacher in a lengthy legal conflict to try to fire her--or paying her $215,000 to walk away, the latter was arguably a bitter pill had to swallow.

Bitter in that once teachers in California achieve permanent status, such as 27-year veteran Leko has, it is very difficult to remove them. The other word for this: tenure. 

"I know some people will say we rewarded her for bad behavior, but the board and the district have made it very clear that the behavior that precipitated [the settlement] was not acceptable,'' LCUSD Governing Board President Scott Tracy said Wednesday.

"Tenure rules are set at the state level; local school districts can't go out on their own and ignore the law. We're constrained--it's a very difficult situation,'' he added.

Internal and external that Leko, math chair for , acted inappropriately in class. Accused of calling a student Leko was determined to have used discriminatory language on students based on their gender, ethnic group identification, race and religion.

The La Cañada Valley Sun first reported Tuesday terms of Leko's settlement with the district. The 59-year-old teacher will part ways with LCUSD with $215,000 and medical benefits paid until she's 65, the article states.

Further, no teacher evaluation will be conducted for her this year, and documents referring to the district's initiation of dismissal proceedings will be removed from her personnel file, according to information obtained by the newspaper's public records request. 

Former school board member Cindy Wilcox , feeling the district's investigation had become stagnant. She filed the public complaint against Leko in June 2010, after racist language was used in an honors geometry class that year. She followed up with a uniform complaint, which specifically addresses more serious matters such as discrimination.

Tenure System is "Corrosive"

On Wednesday, Wilcox said while $215,000 is a great deal of money for LCUSD, the dismissal process likely would have cost even more.

"The hearing board won't necessarily share the community's values and could vote to reinstate the teacher. That would be a worse outcome. All employees deserve due process, but no documented bad behavior deserves a pay out of $215,000,'' she said.

"But until we change our system, this is how it works,'' she added.

Governing board member Andrew Blumenfeld went so far as to call tenure a "corrosive'' element of the public education system.

"Tenure has taken the perfectly noble notion of providing employees with fair practices of dismissal, and turned it into an absurd, statutory entitlement to one's job,'' Blumenfeld wrote in an email to Patch Wednesday.

"No matter how many investigations are conducted into a teacher's misconduct, or how many indicators we have of underperformance, tenure means you get to hold your job hostage, and force districts to expend time and money on litigation. It means giving a payout to an underperforming teacher is actually the best case scenario-- the worst case is what we do everyday: leave them in the classroom,'' he said.

Added Tracy: "The first one in is the last one out. That's really the case. Our hands are tied.''

He pointed out that two years ago, LCUSD supported a legislative measure introduced by Sen. Bob Huff, SB 955, that would have freed local districts from the restriction of basing teacher layoffs solely on seniority. SB 955 would have given districts the freedom to consider a teacher's need and effectiveness, as well.

The bill died in committee. 

Ellen Multari April 16, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Just to clarify, there is no motion before the board to make third party complaints impermissible. The action before the board is if they will be entertained at the FORMAL level. The proposed language that we will review tomorrow night recommends that third party complaints be evaluated at the informal level. If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome, he/she may reduce the complaint to writing for consideration by the superintendent at the formal level. The superintendent's decision, based on the merits of the complaint and how it was handled, must be shared with the board. Furthermore, teacher are bound by state law to report any suspected illegal activity. Board policy requires that they notify an administrator if they learn of any suspected inappropriate behavior by another staff member.
Karen Mathison April 16, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Hi Carlos, You're right. I wouldn't be happy if someone named my child as a third party without my permission. But, that is not what happened. The parties named agreed to move forward.
Donna Evans April 16, 2012 at 04:18 PM
I'll look forward to reading that blog, Craig! Great idea!
Roger Dobkowitz April 16, 2012 at 05:20 PM
I sent my three children through LCHS and I discovered there are far more "bad" teachers there than we would like to believe. Too many of them just babysit the students and do no teaching. Others, as once was revealed via a recorded tape on a local talk radio show, sprew personal political rhetoric that has no place in our schools. But whenever you report a problem to the principal. he basically explains that there are hoops and hoops to jump thru before anything, if anything, can be done. And who put these rules into place...the teachers' union!
Ellen Multari April 17, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Actually, the students and families at whom Mrs. Leko's comments were directed declined to be a part of the complaint process and many of them are quite upset with having been brought into the fray. The family who came forward did so as a witness, not a "victim".


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