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.