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District to spend additional $200K on Title IX investigations

School board to discuss legal services budget, policy revisions on Tuesday

The Palo Alto school district is anticipating spending an additional $200,000 this school year to investigate numerous reports of sexual violence, harassment and misconduct involving students and staff.

The district has almost exhausted $250,000 allocated during the last school year to a national law firm, Cozen O' Connor, to investigate the district's handling of past reports of sexual violence at Palo Alto High School. The district initially contracted with the firm this spring to conduct investigations into past sexual misconduct cases as required by a resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, and later asked attorneys to probe the senior leadership's handling of a separate case that was reported publicly in May.

The school board will discuss the proposed budget increase as part of an action item on the district's legal services contracts at the first meeting of the new school year on Tuesday night.

The district has seen a sharp spike in sexual-misconduct reports since May, when it was reported in local media that a Paly student remained at school after being convicted for an off-campus sexual assault and reported for an on-campus assault. Close to 30 Title IX-related incidents have been recorded on the district's Uniform Complaint Procedure log since May, including five new reports made in July and August.

The allegations include sexual assault, sexual harassment, unwanted or inappropriate touching and involve both students and staff at the high schools as well as middle and elementary schools. Some reports resulted in the district taking action in the form of taking "responsive on-campus steps" or offering remedies to the complainant while some were not substantiated and others are still under investigation.

The district is now posting the Uniform Complaint Procedure log on a weekly basis at pausd.org.

Staff are also proposing an increase of $36,000 in the 2017-18 legal services budget to pay another law firm, Ellis Buehler Makus, for one-time investigations related to Title IX complaints.

Staff are also recommending that the board approve an increased contract with an existing firm, Dennis Woliver Kelley, to take over personnel services previously provided by Lozano Smith.

The district put out a Request for Proposal this summer to replace Lozano Smith following criticisms of its services from board and community members. A selection team made up of two board members, Superintendent Max McGee and three senior staff are now recommending Dannis Woliver Kelley "based on our positive experience with the firm and the firm's knowledge and expertise in these areas," a staff report states.

The San Francisco-based firm has historically provided legal advice related to facilities and construction to Palo Alto Unified, but is a full-service education law firm. Staff are recommending Lozano Smith complete open personnel matters with an estimated cost of $50,000.

The total proposed legal contracts budget for 2017-18 is $986,000. The largest chunk of that, $400,000, would be allocated toward the firm that handles special-education related issues.

On Tuesday, the board is also set to approve a set of Title IX-related policies that have been revised over the last several months as required by the Office for Civil Rights' resolution agreement. The federal agency formally approved the three updated board policies and two accompanying administrative regulations in August, according to a staff report. The Office for Civil Rights is asking the board to meet particular deadlines for approving the policies over the next several weeks.

McGee has said he will also present on Tuesday results from questions related to sexual harassment and misconduct added to the district's Strategic Plan survey last year, as required by the Office for Civil Rights.

"Following a summary of the results and findings, I will share several steps we are currently taking including staff and student training, online reporting of any incidents (including a means for reporting anonymously), employment of a Compliance Officer, updating of key policies, and more," he wrote in a weekly message on Friday.

In other business on Tuesday, trustees will discuss several ideas for how to run more effective meetings. Among the proposals are to change the default end time to 10:30 p.m. and allow only one extension; to limit public comment during open forum to 30 minutes, and if there are more than 20 speakers, to pick 20 cards at random; and to post on the district website instructions for submitting emailed comments to the board at meetings, including a "process for contacting the Board that doesn't result in those emails going into the packet."

McGee will also present results from a district survey on a new sexual-education curriculum that sparked controversy last year, particularly among parents of middle schoolers. The district has used this data to "determine some next steps for how to improve the teaching and learning of the program and how to make all the materials far more accessible to parents than last year so they can choose to have their students participate or opt out to learn from other resources," McGee wrote in his message.

The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.


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18 people like this
Posted by blank check
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 21, 2017 at 7:20 pm

And when they told us they knew what they were doing, they were really signing a blank check with no idea of the actual cost.

This on top of the budget farce.

Time to recall this board!

19 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 21, 2017 at 9:58 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

Budget for Cozen was approved for $250K in June, and they've already blown through that and need another $200K.

This is our Measure A money. Thanks Diorio & Company.

16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2017 at 10:02 pm

$200k here, 200k for name changes, they don't really care how they spend our money.

18 people like this
Posted by Accountability
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2017 at 11:08 pm

When is the PAUSD community going to hear the results of all these investigations. I don't expect to hear the names of those involved or specific details of offenses but I sure do want to hear what steps are being taken to hold those accountable who did not do their job.

I am amazed that Dioro is still at Paly.

8 people like this
Posted by $200k is wishful thinking
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2017 at 7:37 am

I don't see how the Cozen law firm's fees will come in at $200,000 this year. That sounds really, really low.

In May, Cozen started working on the few matters mentioned in the OCR resolution agreement which it estimated would cost the district $250,000 total and to investigate PAUSD staff's role in the Paly October 2016 bathroom case.

PAUSD's bill for those 6 weeks of work: $252,000.

On Cozen's plate so far this year: finish all of that work AND investigate 19 more cases, mostly Paly sexual assault and harassment claims, filed since May. Web Link

Cozen's discounted partner billing rate for doing investigations: $500/hour.
Web Link

14 people like this
Posted by no brainer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2017 at 9:56 am

Where is Cozen’s investigation report on Superintendent McGee and Paly Principal Kim Diorio's role in the sexual assault story KTVU broke last Spring?

Cozen partner Gina Maisto Smith said PAUSD did its part promptly and her firm would finish its written report by mid-July. Mid-July, the Board posted that the report will be ready "in the coming weeks" and shared at an open meeting "upon return from the summer break." Web Link

July has come and gone.

Summer break is over.

It’s almost September.

No written report.

If Cozen can’t turn around Title IX investigation reports within the required 60 days, it isn't the firm taxpayers should be giving $200,000 more to for PAUSD's new Title IX work. Web Link

5 people like this
Posted by Dumpster Fire
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 22, 2017 at 10:36 pm

Board get your act together and communicate better to the public.

And fire Max McGee his incompetence, [portion removed] and inattention to budgetary matters, as well as making inaccurate and self-promoting statements to the public should be the end of the line.

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