News

Board huddles in closed session on superintendent search

Brief closed-door meeting follows open 'wish list' session

Palo Alto school board members briefly huddled with search consultants behind closed doors Wednesday to discuss possible candidates to replace Superintendent Kevin Skelly, who plans to step down June 30.

The closed session followed a public meeting during which the board kicked off its formal search process by generating a wish list of qualities of the ideal candidate.

In round after round during which board members were asked to state desirable qualities, the first five mentioned were communication skills, vision and leadership that inspires the whole community, integrity, hiring savvy and someone who can create high-quality academic environments for all students, combined with an emphasis on social-emotional support.

Two retired California school superintendents who are partners in Leadership Associates, the consulting firm the district has hired to manage the search, took notes on the long list of board preferences.

To solicit community comment, the search consultants have posted an online survey and also will hold three public meetings next week.

The first will be Tuesday, March 25, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Jordan Middle School, 750 N. California Ave. A second public forum will be held Wednesday, March 26, from 9 to 10 a.m. in Conference Room A at the school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave. A third public forum will be held later that day from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the boardroom of school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave.

By the first week of April, the search consultants said they would advertise a detailed "position description," with an application deadline of April 14.

Consultant Phil Quon, a former school superintendent in Cupertino and San Jose, said his firm began fielding inquiries about the Palo Alto vacancy shortly after Skelly's Feb. 18 resignation announcement, well before Leadership Associates was even hired to manage the search.

"Candidate recruitment is passive and active," Quon said. "It was active the minute we knew Palo Alto was open. People called us even before we knew we were doing the search ... and we'll talk about some potential candidates in a closed session today."

In a timetable discussed Wednesday, the board would meet April 30 with consultants to discuss which candidates to interview; hold the interviews all day May 15; visit the district of the finalist sometime after that and take action on a new hire at a board meeting June 3 or June 17.

Chris Kenrick

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 20, 2014 at 11:14 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

This is an illegal meeting - a closed session is not permitted for personnel matters except to discuss a specific individual and consultants are never permitted to participate in a closed session.

Hopefully someone who is a resident of the district will ask the DA to investigate this matter.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 20, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Under Section 54957 of the California Government Code, the meeting -- as I understood the scope from the posted agenda -- may be conducted in closed session.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 20, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Given the history of the school district they would be well advised to heed the following advice:

From the Calif League of Cities:
"As a matter of public policy, California (along with many other states) has concluded more is to be gained
than lost by conducting public business in the open. Government behind closed doors may well be efficient
and business-like, but it may be perceived as unresponsive and untrustworthy."

"In general, the most common purpose of a closed session is to avoid revealing confidential information that
may, in specified circumstances, prejudice the legal or negotiating position of the agency or compromise
the privacy interests of employees. Closed sessions should be conducted keeping those narrow purposes
in mind."

"The Brown Act authorizes a closed session "to consider the appointment,
employment, evaluation of performance, discipline, or dismissal of a public
employee or to hear complaints or charges brought against the employee."17 The
purpose of this exception – commonly referred to as the "personnel exception"
– is to avoid undue publicity or embarrassment for an employee or applicant for
employment and to allow full and candid discussion by the legislative body; thus,
it is restricted to discussing individuals, not general personnel policies.18 The body
must possess the power to appoint, evaluate, or dismiss the employee to hold
a closed session under this exception."
Note the reference to "the employee" not to a vacant position.

From the Attorney General:
"Since closed sessions are an exception to open meeting requirements, the authority for
such sessions has been narrowly construed. The law evinces a strong bias in favor of
open meetings, and court decisions and opinions of this office have buttressed that
legislative intent. ( 54950.) The fact that material may be sensitive, embarrassing or
controversial does not justify application of a closed session unless it is authorized by
some specific exception. (Rowen v. Santa Clara Unified School District (1981) 121
Cal.App.3d 231, 235.) Rather, in many circumstances these characteristics may be
further evidence of the need for public scrutiny and participation in discussing such
matters. (See Civ. Code, 47(b) [regarding privileged publication of defamatory
remarks in a legislative proceeding].)"


 +   Like this comment
Posted by District parent
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 20, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Not surprising. The School Board routinely holds closed meetings in violation of the Brown Act. The practice started under Dana Tom to discuss OCR issues and has continued under Barbara Mitchell.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly Staff Writer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Board members said public disclosure of names would prevent potential candidates from stepping forward out of concern for their current jobs. They said they will protect confidentiality of applicants until a finalist is chosen.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Skung
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2014 at 9:48 pm

This is just poor practice. This board doesn't get it.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 21, 2014 at 12:25 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I believe that it would be a tortuous interpretation of the Brown Act to conclude that these discussions are a permitted closed session except. Given the history of controversy regarding both its compliance with the Brown Act and the importance of the position for which a search is being conducted (note that the board is discussing, per its agenda, a search not identified candidates) the Board is foolish to conduct these discussions in secret.

What part of these statements does the Board not understand?:

"The fact that material may be sensitive, embarrassing or
controversial does not justify application of a closed session unless it is authorized by
some specific exception. (Rowen v. Santa Clara Unified School District (1981) 121
Cal.App.3d 231, 235.) Rather, in many circumstances these characteristics may be
further evidence of the need for public scrutiny and participation in discussing such
matters"

""As a matter of public policy, California (along with many other states) has concluded more is to be gained
than lost by conducting public business in the open. Government behind closed doors may well be efficient
and business-like, but it may be perceived as unresponsive and untrustworthy."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Chocolate AND Strawberry
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 21, 2014 at 11:42 am

Anyone who ever thought this board would do anything right is not paying attention.

After a long period of debate over whether they are inept or malevolent, the answer is. . .both.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by THIS time
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 21, 2014 at 3:32 pm

For everyone's sake. I hope the headhunter does a THOROUGH background check of each candidate and that the BOE actually reads them. [Portion removed.]

it is also imperative that the BOE themselves ALL interview the candidates in person before deciding that they look good enough on paper. DO not be too dazzled by a lot of Harvard or Stanford or Ivy League degrees--they are worthless if the new Superintendent has no people skills [portion removed.]

Make sure the candidate is honest and will tell the truth when backed into a corner [portion removed.]


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