|A special meeting of the Palo Alto school board is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday to discuss "lack of trust" issues expressed by some principals, assistant principals and program coordinators.
View a pdf of the "trust" document here: www.PaloAltoOnline.com
Board President Mandy Lowell said the meeting, at district headquarters, 95 Churchill Ave., will begin with an open session to discuss board protocols and review provisions of the state's Brown Act open-meeting law.
She said the board will then go into closed session under a provision allowing discussion of labor negotiations -- the mid-level administrators have discussed forming an independent association or affiliating with a union, with a strong consensus for an association as of last week.
"I want everyone to have a safe environment without fear of retribution so they can have a healthy discussion of issues," Lowell said of the situation. She said she has been talking with numerous individuals and is aware of sometimes sharp differences of opinion among the mid-level group.
She said in her years on the board she has seen no concrete evidence of any retribution against someone for voicing opinions.
But it is important for the district "to respect the Management Team's ability to determine their own goals, objectives and process without interference from the superintendent or the board or a schism group."
She said she learned of the Friday meeting from a parent and went to the district office to observe. She did not go into the meeting.
Lowell canceled a 7 a.m. Sunday special meeting of the school board because of Brown Act concerns.
The meeting had been announced as a personnel session to deal with "employee discipline and dismissal." It was canceled following a query by the Weekly relating to which Brown Act provision for closed meetings it was to be held under.
The Sunday meeting was called by Lowell following an unusual session Friday afternoon where about 30 Palo Alto school administrators attended a meeting at district headquarters purportedly to sign a letter retracting a previous document they submitted to Superintendent Mary Frances Callan.
The bluntly worded earlier document said mid-level administrators would establish an association or union affiliation.
It is unclear who called the 1 p.m. Friday meeting, but one source said the mid-level managers agreed to meet again on Friday at the Thursday-afternoon meeting, which the source said was attended by nearly all of the 48 Management Team members although the Friday meeting was attended by about 30.
According to reports from the Friday meeting, Callan was asked to leave the room and the managers spent at least two hours discussing the situation in the district. According to reports, no one signed the letter, reportedly drafted by Gunn High School Principal Noreen Likens. One report said all copies were collected at the meeting.
Three reasons were cited by one source as to why the group agreed to set aside the letter: (1) lack of agreement as to its content, (2) a district tradition of "not airing dirty laundry in public," and (3) concern about implications of some signing and others not signing.
Callan convened the 4 p.m. meeting Thursday, where Callan and other cabinet members spoke about the damage the Sept. 6 document could do. One person there described comments by Business Manager Gerry Matranga and human resources officials as stern, angry and scolding.
The group of mid-level administrators -- collectively known as the Management Team, consisting of about 50 individuals -- presented a document Sept. 6 to Callan that cited "a lack of trust and productive communication between the ... Management Team and the Superintendent and her Senior Cabinet."
But it has been unclear what percentage of the group supports the strongly worded document. There is a faction supporting Callan and the cabinet. Several reports indicate that about three-quarters of the group members supported the document, which listed "trust" as the top priority of concerns.
Members of the district's Board of Education obtained a copy of the document soon after it was presented to Callan, and the Weekly obtained a copy last Wednesday night from an unidentified source.
The leaking of the document reportedly upset some members of the Management Team, who felt they wanted more time to address the issues in a professional manner.
But others have noted that discussions began as early as last May with human resources, and concerns have been building for at least the past year.
Scattered reports after the Friday meeting indicate that some members of the mid-level group shifted from being fearful about their jobs or work environment to being angry at how the Thursday meeting was arranged and the tone of some of the comments.
— Jay Thorwaldson
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