The West Contra Costa Unified School District Board voted last week to censure Area 5 Trustee Leslie Reckler, following its decision to refer her to the District Attorney’s Office for alleged misconduct.
Reckler called the actions a witch hunt intent on publicly embarrassing and silencing her independent and outspoken voice that holds the school board and the superintendent to account.
“I wholeheartedly disagree with it, and deny the allegations made against me,” Reckler told the Grandview Independent.
The resolution outlines specific incidents, including Reckler’s actions related to a fundraising application, failure to report violations by a coach, inadequate responses to a financial audit request, and accessing documents after resigning as the treasurer of the Student Activities Fund.
The school board also removed Reckler from all committees and appointments for the 2023-2024 school year and referred the matter to the Fair Political Practices Commission. The resolution passed with Jamela Smith-Folds, Otheree Christian, and Demetrio Gonzalez Hoy voting yes, while Mister Phillips and Leslie Reckler voted no.
A West Contra Costa Unified School District employee made a complaint against Reckler in the fall of 2023. After an investigation by Oppenheimer Investigations Group, Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy, school board president at the time, created an ethics ad hoc subcommittee to review the investigation findings.
The ad hoc subcommittee presented a recommendation to the board in a closed session on Dec. 13, 2023. The majority of the school board voted to refer the matter to the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office. The censure resolution accuses Reckler of removing an application for district high schools to use the mobile fundraising platform SnapRaise from the school board consent agenda.
A consent agenda is a list of items voted on together without discussion. These items are typically non-controversial, routine, or self-explanatory.
“At the time board member Reckler pulled the item off the consent calendar, she held the role of treasurer with the Student Activities Fund. Pulling the item off the consent calendar where it ultimately was not moved forward for a vote constituted bias in favor of the SAF, because it prevented athletic programs from accessing an alternative means of fundraising, which could have reduced the SAF’s influence,” the resolution stated.
The resolution claims Reckler was aware Coach Scott Bishop violated rules prohibiting him from handling Sponsored Group Committee funds and improperly organized a fundraiser volleyball tournament for Korematsu Middle School.
“Despite her awareness of Bishop’s actions, Board member Reckler did not notify Superintendent Kenneth Hurst, El Cerrito's High School Principal Patricia Crespo, or the District’s Human Resources department,” according to the resolution.
The resolution says Reckler failed to provide a financial audit of the previous three years of Student Activities Fund transactions to the El Cerrito High School administration.
“Board member Reckler provided only two summary audit reports, which were not typical financial audits, and which described, in narrative and conclusory fashion, some of Bishop’s violations. These summary audit reports were not responsive to the administration’s request because they did not analyze the financial transactions of SAF,” the resolution stated.
The resolution accused Reckler of accessing documents on the SAF’s Google Drive after she resigned as Student Activities Fund treasurer.
Reckler says allegations she acted improperly around the item’s removal from the agenda are untrue, and she has a constitutional right to request a longer discussion or explanation on an item before a vote.
“I exercised my constitutional right and neither the agenda setting nor the superintendent ever followed up on the items and placed them back on a future agenda so that I could properly air my concerns,” Reckler said.” On both occasions, no board member questioned or voted against removal. If a bias was created by the removal of these items from the agenda, which I am very sure it does not, then the whole board has ownership in its creation.”
Reckler pushed back on conflict of interest accusations surrounding her role on the SAF board.
“I served as a non-compensated volunteer on the board of a nonprofit organization whose primary purpose is to support the functions of the WCCUSD. I also do not have conflicts with holding incompatible offices. The law interprets incompatible offices as holding two public offices simultaneously - city council member and school board trustee, for example, not a public office and a member of a nonprofit board,” Reckler said.
Area 3 Trustee Mister Phillips, who voted against the resolution, said the board was making an unprecedented mistake.
“This is the first time to my knowledge that a board member has ever been censured. This has never happened before,” Phillips said at the January 10 school board meeting. “My question is, why is it happening? This board has already voted to take serious action against Trustee Reckler. This board voted to refer to the district attorney for criminal prosecution. This board voted to refer her to the Fair Political Practices Commission for criminal prosecution.”
Phillips said the board was publicly humiliating a trustee without cause because the board had already referred Reckler to the authorities.
“This is just kicking somebody while they’re down. I think that this is going to come back and bite some trustees. I’m not necessarily sure that it is Trustee Reckler that this is going to come back and bite,” Phillips said. “I have heard a lot of talk about board unity from the majority of this board. If you do this, you are causing irreparable harm to this board. I do not know how in the world the unity that you’re talking about will ever happen.”
School board president Area 1 Trustee Jamela Smith-Folds said education goes beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic and that the school district is trying to help cultivate citizens of our community–citizens that can act with a level of honesty, integrity, and transparency.
Smith-Fold, who voted for the censure, said it was highly disturbing that community members said they would be disenfranchised if a board member received the consequences of their behavior.
“I take umbrage to the fact that if I vote a certain way that I am creating discord on this board when I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong. The wrongness was not done with me or other members of the board,” Smith-Folds said.
Smith-Fold said she wouldn’t vote based one way or the other to preserve unity on the school board.
“I will not be put in a corner under the idea that if I vote a certain way, then I’m going to hurt board relationships. I want us to have good board relationships. But good board relationships mean that you tell each other the truth. It means that you hold each other accountable. It means that you do the job in front of you whether you like each other or you don’t,” Smith-Fold said.
Area 4 Trustee Demetrio Gonzalez Hoy said the censure resolution is a huge deal, but the board didn’t have a choice.
“Just like we hold our staff accountable for what they do, we must take that same accountability as board members for our own work. No one is above the norms and policies that we have set as a district, including our board,” Gonzalez Hoy said. “All the investigation claims came out true, and our legal counsel and a third party legal counsel investigator shared that there was a conflict of interests that everything was sustained.”
Reckler said she welcomes the opportunity to respond to any questions or inquiries from the District Attorney or the Fair Political Practices Commission to review and render decisions on this matter.
“Most people would wait for these entities to confirm malfeasance prior to a board passing a censure resolution,” Reckler said.
El Cerrito High School parent Rebecca Milliken said she was disappointed the school board would spend very limited resources pursuing the censure.
“Our district has many pressing problems in terms of equity, teacher shortages, lack of resources, and school safety,” Milliken said. “We’ve lived through so many lockdowns. There are so many things that really matter to our children.”
Reckler is an amazing volunteer who has served on the PTSA and supported the schools, according to Milliken, who said she was appalled that the school board would do this to one of their community members.
“In reading through the resolution, I didn’t see anything of a criminal nature. I don’t see how she had any personal gain in this from what I read in the resolution,” Milliken said.
Community members have called Reckler’s removal from her committees and appointments a form of disenfranchisement.
“Speaking as one of her constituents, you are limiting her ability to participate fully in the board. It seems so extreme,” Milliken said.
Another constituent, Elaine Addison, said Reckler has no agenda except to support kids with no voice.
I am very baffled by these accusations,” Addison said. “When I worked with her, she was a stickler- all the boxes were ticked. The person I know is very fair. This is the antithesis of the person I've known.
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