2003 firing was a mistake

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By The Staff

Former West Las Vegas Superintendent Barbara Perea Casey, and her husband, Frank, a special education teacher’s aide, received $375,000 to settle a lawsuit over their 2003 firings.

The settlement had the typical provisions: The district couldn’t say anything bad about them, and at the same time, West Las Vegas acknowledged no wrongdoing in the terminations.

At first glance, that’s a bit unsatisfying.

But we can all agree that $375,000 is a big chunk of change. Very few settlements involving terminations even come close to that amount. So it seems appropriate to say that the Caseys have been vindicated.

The former superintendent alleged that she was fired because of retaliation for her having served as a whistleblower to the federal government. She told investigators that many applications for Head Start — an early-education program for the children of low-income people — had been falsified to illegally enroll above-income children. She should have been rewarded for trying to help the poor, but, instead, she got fired. Her husband, Frank Casey, was fired shortly afterward likely because he is married to her.

Apparently, she wasn’t the only one to have been let go for shining light on alleged wrongdoing. Former Head Start Director Jackie Padilla was fired and later sued the district. Last year, she got $200,000 from the district. Her allegations were much the same as the former superintendent’s.

In both cases, the evidence was so strong against West Las Vegas that the district felt compelled to settle for huge amounts rather than run the risk of going to trial and suffering even bigger losses.

Such settlements are proof that governing bodies can be held accountable for poor personnel decisions. Unfortunately, it takes a long time. When boards fire their top officials, they typically stay silent about the reasons, so voters can’t immediately judge whether correct personnel decisions were made. But a settlement as large as $375,000 is a huge black mark against any board member who voted for the firing. Luckily, four of the five are no longer there. The other, Ralph Garcia, is now indicted in connection with a bilingual program scandal. He’s missing many meetings these days and probably won’t dare run again.

The former superintendent’s other allegation is that she was the victim of sex discrimination. At the time, the five-member board was all male. Now there are two females, making West’s board the most gender-diverse elected body in the area.

The settlement shows that Barbara Perea Casey’s firing was a big mistake, and the district is tacitly admitting it by giving in.