Screenshot of meeting viewed remotely with seven people in separate boxes

WCCUSD School Board Votes to Censure Member Leslie Reckler

Screenshot of meeting viewed remotely with seven people in separate boxes

The West Contra Costa school board voted 3-2 to censure member Leslie Reckler amid allegations of conflict of interest. (Screenshot captured by Samantha Kennedy / The CC Pulse)

Editor’s note: A parent who supports the censure reached out to The CC Pulse after publication to share her comments. We have updated the story with some of her remarks.

By Samantha Kennedy

West Contra Costa Trustee Leslie Reckler calls it a “witch hunt.” District staff say it could be a first. But the West Contra Costa school board just calls it accountability.

A majority of the board voted Wednesday to censure Reckler, saying her behavior violated the board bylaws of conflict of interest and governance standards. The board voted 3-2 to censure her, with Trustee Mister Phillips and Reckler voting against the resolution. In the five incidents listed in the resolution Reckler allegedly acted in her own personal interests when pulling items from the board’s consent calendar and was dishonest and hid information from the district.

Board President Jamela Smith-Folds and clerk Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy said trustees need to be held accountable for their actions, with Gonzalez-Hoy saying the allegations against Reckler resulted in an investigation producing over 80 pages of findings that showed “every claim was sustained.”

“We are held to a higher standard because we represent the people,” Smith-Folds said. “We have to be able to sit here with a level of integrity that is above reproach.”

The censure is a formal statement of disapproval by the board and asks Reckler to follow all bylaws going forward. A part of that resolution also removes Reckler from all committees for the 2023-24 school year. District staff present at the meeting were unaware of any censure taking place in the district before.

The board also referred findings to the Fair Political Practices Commission and the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office before voting to censure. Only Phillips voted against that referral.

“This censure resolution is a witch hunt intent on publicly embarrassing me and silencing my independent and outspoken voice that holds the board and the superintendent to account,” Reckler said in denying the resolution’s allegations.

While she was a part of the Students Activity Fund, a nonprofit in the district that sponsors, funds and otherwise supports student groups, the resolution alleges that Reckler used her power as a school board trustee to pull a consent item regarding fundraising for district athletics.

This happened on two occasions, according to the resolution. The first time it happened, Reckler was serving as the SAF’s treasurer and, on Aug. 3, 2022, pulled the fundraising application to allow high schools in the district to be able to fundraise in an alternative way. The alternative fundraising source, SnapRaise, “could have reduced the SAF’s influence” over the fundraising for high school athletics. Because the item was pulled from the consent calendar, it was not voted on or passed by the board.

Then, on Jan. 11, 2022, Reckler is alleged to have pulled the item again from the consent calendar. By this time, she was serving on the SAF as a member-at-large. However, Reckler disputes her influence over removing this item from the calendar. She said she only suggested pulling the item for more discussion to Superintendent Kenneth Hurst. Minutes from the meeting show that Hurst was the one to pull the item and the same is shown in the meeting video.

Reckler is also accused of hiding several violations by Scott Bishop, then a coach employed by the district. The coach is said to have improperly organized a fundraiser for a middle school sports tournament and was prohibited from handling funds from Student Group Committees.

“It was an unintentional oversight that I do regret,” Reckler said. “I did correct the violations by retraining the parent volunteers and Mr. Bishop and ensured correct operating procedures were followed.”

Gonzalez-Hoy questioned Reckler’s guilt because she did not express it before and said violations by Bishop were “a known secret.”

In response to a request from the administration at El Cerrito High School, Reckler provided two SAF summary audit reports that were “not typical financial audits” and did not meet the standards of the administration because they didn’t analyze SAF’s financial transactions. At the time, according to the resolution, the SAF had “an interest in limiting financial information it provided to the district.”

Reckler said this allegation is missing information and makes her the “scapegoat for [SAF’s] actions.” Reckler said she was not solely responsible for submitting the audits and the SAF executive board approved the submission of the audits.

Once Reckler resigned from her role as treasurer in the SAF, she accessed files from SAF’s Google Drive around June 20, 2023. Her resignation letter reportedly said she did not have access to SAF files, which she said at Wednesday’s meeting meant physical files.

Because she had no reason to access those files and SAF was supposed to remove her access from the drive, along with the other allegations made, the resolution says that Reckler violated bylaws 9005 and 9270. Those bylaws ask board members to operate with integrity, hold them “to the highest ethical standards,” and dictate conflict of interests.

Phillips was the only board member who spoke in support of Reckler and said the censure set a worrying precedent for the board.

“All that this board is doing now is just publicly humiliating a trustee,” Phillips said. Current and future trustees, he said, could be impacted by the board’s decision to censure because he felt it was unnecessary after already referring her for potential legal consequences.

Most community members, many of who identified themselves as a constituent of Reckler, also spoke in support of her and said she was always professional. Speakers felt the allegations were petty and the board’s time should be spent on more important matters.

“What I see is the school district not necessarily acting in mine and other students’ interests,” said Max Mankita, an El Cerrito High School student. “Speaking on unimportant issues like this when I go into the bathrooms worrying if there’s going to be soap. When I just, until last week, learned that finally I’m going to have a teacher for my class next semester.”

Also during public comment, community member Mark Shalz wondered why the board decided to censure Reckler for allegedly violating bylaws but did not take action when, he said, other trustees did the same. Previous behavior by Phillips and Smith-Folds was criticized, with some saying the two often did not interact respectfully or professionally with each other at public meetings.

Shalz also criticized Gonzalez-Hoy for allegedly violating a speaker’s First Amendment rights when serving as board president at the Feb. 15, 2023 meeting. One unnamed speaker at that meeting complained of the disorganization in the district and the discrimination against El Cerrito High School’s Black Student Union, using a curse word in his comments and leading Gonzalez-Hoy to end his public comment.

Some of those same speakers raised concerns about not being represented properly because of the removal of Reckler from committees.

“By removing one of the advocates for my school, I continue to see that, as a voter, you guys are not representing my interests,” Mankita told the board.

Smith-Folds said that every board member, no matter what area they serve, is there to represent all constituents.

Not every public speaker was on Reckler’s side, however, as one community member spoke in favor of the censure.

Christy Lam-Julian, a parent of a WCCUSD student and a member of the district’s guiding coalition and community advisory committee for special education, called the resolution “the absolute bare minimum” of what the board should do and asked them to remove Reckler from office. Lam-Julian said her interactions with Reckler while her son was enrolled at Shannon Elementary “resulted in discrimination and intimidation” after she raised concerns of “questionable unethical behavior” by Reckler. She also accused Reckler of lobbying, biased decisions and “continual gross negligence” and alleged that her actions “have caused irreparable harm to marginalized students and families.”

The next West Contra Costa school board meeting is on Jan. 24.

1 Comment
  • D Choy
    Posted at 19:38h, 11 January

    Corruption reins supreme in West Contra Costa Unified! A board member is found guilty not in a court of law, but by a broken board with members and a superintendent eager to suppress her voice? How much taxpayer money and staff time did they waste on this ‘investigation’? The claims of rule breaking are ridiculous and petty (no money was taken, the board member profited in no way, and in fact the superintendent was the one to remove the questioned items from the agenda, not the board member)! The trio of antagonistic members instantly disenfranchised 1/5 of the District, removing that 1/5’s elected representative and thus negating the voters’ voice. The president claims she will represent the rest of the district, but since this is a trustee district, the corrupt board members who voted for this are untouchable by the voters they have disenfranchised, since the disenfranchised voters cannot vote them out! And they preach about enfranchisement and minority rights. Shame on WCCUSD.

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