VIRGINIA BEACH – After four years on the School Board, Leonard Tengco, 33, has decided not to seek re-election.
“My reluctance in deciding to step down is from wanting to give back to the school division that gave me so much,” Tengco said Tuesday in an interview.
Tengco, who attended Beach schools Centerville Elementary, Brandon Middle and Tallwood High, said his main reasons for deciding not to run again came from “wanting to be a little selfish.”
He is a full-time litigation attorney at Sykes, Bourdon, Ahren & Levy P.C. and said he wanted to have more time to improve his career and focus on his family. He became engaged in February.
“Every time I walked into an elementary school, I thought, ‘When am I going to have kids of my own to put through a school system?'” he said.
Changes to conflict of interest laws have also swayed him to step away from elected office; he doesn’t want to jeopardize any clients or his ability to practice, he said. Cases can get more complicated if a client is a parent or teacher or is involved in some other way in the school division.
“It’s really difficult for lawyers to become elected officials these days,” he said.
Nonetheless, a law change that took effect Jan. 1 made it easier for locally elected officials, including School Board members, to immunize themselves from criminal charges related to conflicts of interest, a change that the special prosecutor in the Mayor Will Sessoms voting case criticized as “problematic,” saying the state law “needs to be tightened up dramatically.”
Tengco said he originally ran for the School Board office to be a voice for a younger generation of parents and students.
“I wanted to inspire other young people,” he said.
During his time on the Board, Tengco said two memories stood out as ones he is most proud of. The first was when he helped chaperone about eight Tallwood students on a trip to the Philippines for the Global Studies Academy. Tengco’s family is from the Philippines, and the country holds a special place in his heart.
The second came in August when the School Board unanimously voted to include sexual orientation and gender identity to policies that cover equal opportunity employment and non-discrimination and non-harassment of students.
“The idea of discrimination based on gender or identity makes me sick to my stomach,” he said.
Tengco said he didn’t enjoy the politics that came with being an elected official, however.
“My love for public service is sullied by politics,” he said. “Politics has a way of cornering you.”
Tengco said he lost a few friends in the process and didn’t want to put his family, friends and co-workers through another campaign.
“You can’t be in the courtroom and out shaking hands,” he said.
Still, Tengco said he’s “kind of sad” about stepping away from the Board, which he said has a big impact on local families.
“No office is as close to families as the School Board,” he said. “Every decision we make affects families, students, teachers.”
Tengco will serve on the Board until December. Board Chairman Dan Edwards, Vice Chair Beverly Anderson, and fellow Board members Elizabeth Taylor and Joel McDonald also are up for re-election on the 11-person body. Edwards has hinted he might not seek re-election. No one else has voiced their plans.
Tengco’s advice for those interested in his seat?
“You have to have thick skin and a big heart to be successful at this job,” he said.