Mike Leininger

Mike Leininger comes to the stage to accept an award for Joel Peterson at the 102nd Installation and Awards Gala for the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce and Community Association at the La Cañada Flintridge Country Club on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. Leininger, who retired in June 2013 after 26 years, comes back LCUSD as consultant. (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer / January 17, 2014)

Mike Leininger, the former assistant superintendent of facilities and operation for the La Cañada Unified School District who retired in June after 26 years of service, has returned to the district as a consultant and will head committees in charge of security and nutrition, according to a contract recently passed by the school board.

Board members approved the six-month contract on Jan. 7 after Leininger’s replacement, Chief Business Operator Ruben Rojas, left the district in November to take a position as deputy executive director in the governor’s economic development office. Leininger’s contract runs through June 30 and stipulates that he will be paid at an hourly rate of $150 not to exceed 225 hours over the length of the contract, with any hours he works being determined by district officials.

Leininger said he was asked by Supt. Wendy Sinnette if he’d be interested in returning to continue work he’d done before retirement, including chairing the community advisory committee responsible for implementing recommendations of a districtwide security audit conducted last January.

“These are things that were well underway and would have been on a regular time line, but with Ruben leaving they just need somebody to come in and pinch hit for a little while,” he said.

Leininger has already convened the advisory group, which includes school administrators from each site, board liaison Dan Jeffries, parents and other community members. Each school is prioritizing its security concerns and will discuss them with the committee at large. Once consensus is reached on what needs to be done, Leininger will make a final recommendation to the school board.

Many of the audit’s suggestions have already been put in place, but bigger, more controversial items such as fencing around campuses remain to be discussed. It made sense to bring in outside help to complete the process, said Ellen Multari, president of the school board.

“We felt it prudent to outsource the security audit project rather than try to assign it to another staff member, as no one had the bandwidth to give it the appropriate attention,” Multari said. “As Mike had worked with the security consultants whom we hired last year, he is extremely well informed.”

The former assistant superintendent will also work with the committee that oversees nutrition, helps plan menus and keeps the school district compliant with state and federal nutrition regulations outlined in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The group is obligated to meet once every semester but had been left leaderless by Rojas’ departure.

“The transition has caused a couple of holes,” Sinnette said at the Jan. 7 board meeting. “I thought with a six-month person we could shore up some of those holes and make sure (work) gets completed in an efficient and timely manner.”

Leininger said he’s happy to return to work, despite a busy retirement. In addition to working with St. Bede the Venerable Catholic Church, the LCF Tournament of Roses Assn. and the Kiwanis Club, he’s making calls on behalf of the Yes on Measure LC parcel tax campaign and occasionally lending a hand in wife Nancy’s second-grade class at Palm Crest Elementary School.

Leininger is also vice president of marketing for Student Planning Services, an admissions and test coaching business run by former school board member Joel Peterson.

Although questions arose in September about Peterson’s involvement with the business possibly conflicting with his then service on the school board, Leininger said there is no issue with his own return to the district. Multari agreed, saying the contracted projects are very specific and in no way cause a conflict.

With most of the work already well underway, Leininger says he is just happy to be of service.

“This is my district,” he said. “I’ve spent 26 years here — you don’t just walk away from something that long without having feelings for it.”

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