Gabrielle Leko to receive $215,000

A La Cañada High School math teacher who agreed to retire in June after it was determined she used abusive language in the classroom will get a $215,000 payout from the district, according to the terms of the settlement.

The teacher, Gabrielle Leko, agreed to resign after an internal investigation found she had engaged in unprofessional behavior, including addressing a ninth grade student as “Jew boy.”

The agreement was announced March 27, but the terms were not disclosed until Tuesday, when the district responded to a public records request filed by Times Community News.

Signed by Leko and Supt. Wendy Sinnette on March 14, it includes a $215,000 severance to be paid in three installments during a three-year period, starting this month.

School board President Scott Tracy on Tuesday defended the agreement as the most cost-effective way to bring the months-long ordeal to an end.

“The settlement agreement potentially saved the district from hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, and we wouldn’t have been able to dictate the outcome,” he said. “Our view is we have mitigated the potential financial impact and financial liability, and all the extended litigation time and resources to which the district would have been subject.”

The settlement also states that Leko, 59 — a 27-year district employee and co-chair of the high school math department — will receive medical coverage until the age of 65. Additionally, no teacher evaluation will be conducted for her this school year, and all documents referring to action to initiate dismissal proceedings will be removed from her personnel file.

One of the most senior teachers in La Cañada Unified, Leko is currently earning an annual salary of $82,231.

In June 2011, then school-board member Cindy Wilcox filed a formal complaint alleging that Leko habitually used inappropriate language in her classroom. When the accusations became public several months later, it ignited a community uproar, with some people calling for the teacher to be fired immediately and others saying she was the victim of a witch hunt.

Internal and third-party investigations concluded that Leko had made inappropriate comments reflecting gender and ethnic biases.

In February, following four closed-session meetings, the district announced it would start dismissal proceedings against Leko while also pursuing settlement negotiations.

Wilcox, who was heavily criticized by some for making her complaint public, said Tuesday that she believes the board took appropriate action in moving to get rid of Leko. She also criticized what she described as overly powerful teachers unions.

“I believe the teachers union is too powerful,” Wilcox said. “Teachers deserve due process but not tenure. We are stuck with this system, and this is the price we pay until we take the initiative to go charter or come up with some other working model.”

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