School board fails to OK superintendent raises in public | News | Palo Alto Online |


School board fails to OK superintendent raises in public

With no open-session vote on pay increases, trustees violate law

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For two years in a row, the Palo Alto school board made a "mistake," board President Terry Godfrey said, when it approved pay increases for Superintendent Max McGee in closed session -- outside of public view -- violating both his employment contract and state law.

Under the Brown Act, the California law that guarantees public access to meetings of local government agencies, employment contracts for senior executives must be ratified in open session at a regular meeting and reflected in the minutes. The Brown Act also bans discussion of or action on the compensation of top executives in closed session.

McGee's contract also requires the Board of Education to approve any salary increases or contract extensions in open session at a regular meeting "so that the public remains informed about the superintendent's current salary and contract term."

The district paid McGee $270,416 his first year in the district, in the 2014-15 school year. (Although his base salary was $295,000, he could not leave his previous job until later, resulting in fewer total work days.) Under his contract, he was scheduled to be paid $300,900 in 2015-16; the next year, $306,918; and this year, $313,056.

McGee told the Weekly he received his contractual raises the last two years. This year, with the district working to make up for a multimillion dollar budget shortfall, he did not ask for a raise, he said. He recently announced that he is planning to retire when his contract expires in 2018.

Annual closed-session evaluations of McGee were listed on agendas for school board retreats in both June 2015 and June 2016, but there is no record of open-session action in either the district-compiled minutes nor in the video recording of those meetings.

In July, before the district had itself reviewed the minutes and videos, board President Terry Godfrey said it was unclear if it was a failure on the board's behalf or simply a "record-keeping issue," but that she had been unable to find any "definitive record of us making that approval in public." (Godfrey was on the board at the time but not yet serving as president.)

This week, she acknowledged the board made a "mistake" and said the board will take a retroactive vote in open session at an upcoming meeting in September.

Godfrey, who first learned of the board's failure from the Weekly, said she did not consult with the district's attorneys for advice, given the fact that "once it was clear we couldn't find a record of having done it, it seems we need to remedy that error," she said.

The district also recently violated a provision of the Brown Act that took effect on Jan. 1, 2017 requiring that the details of executive pay increases be orally announced at a public meeting prior to a vote. Gov. Jerry Brown signed this provision into law in 2016 in the wake of a scandal over the misappropriation of public funds in by the city government in Bell, California, with the goal of making high-ranking public officials' pay more transparent.

No such announcement was made when the school board approved, in open session on May 9, a contract with the district's new assistant superintendent for human resources, Karen Hendricks. Her starting salary is $209,200, plus additional stipends for master's and doctorate degrees and a $450 monthly car allowance, according to her three-year contract.

Approvals have not yet taken place for other new district hires announced this summer, including Assistant Superintendent of Strategic Initiatives and Operations Yolanda Conaway, whose appointment was effective July 3. She will be paid $196,063 plus stipends for degrees and a car allowance of $450 per month per her three-year contract.

At Tuesday's school board meeting, trustees acknowledged they violated the Brown Act in both the superintendent's raises and the May approval of Hendricks' contract. The new Brown Act provision requires the board to summarize the financial terms of Hendricks' contract at a regular meeting, which McGee did on Tuesday.

"I apologize to the community for our sloppiness on this," said Vice President Ken Dauber. "None of these will change anything substantive, but it's really important that we be compliant and transparent."

The board will take a second vote at its next meeting to approve Hendricks' contract, which has also been slightly amended since May, and still has to report in open session and then formally approve the terms of Conaway's contract.


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56 people like this
Posted by almunday
a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2017 at 11:11 am

it does seem no matter the city and school board....these folks think we are stupid to bypass protocol...they feel they have the entitlement to do what they want.

if his raise(s) were done out of procedure, they should be retroactively
paid back and since the board approved doing it that way...they need to contribute to doing the retroactive pay back

6 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 22, 2017 at 11:30 am

Don't hold your breath, almunday.

45 people like this
Posted by Eileen 1
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2017 at 12:37 pm

What is the justification for giving him a raise? Especially considering that the budget shortfall occurred on his watch.
I will be attending the board meeting to see how each board member votes on this raise.

33 people like this
Posted by almunday
a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2017 at 12:55 pm

having raised two daughters going to public schools, during the lean times all the upper crust school board members recieved pay increases...their justification: To keep good school administrator....

we all know that is BS

public school politics are on a par with honesty...they do not know what that word means..

15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 22, 2017 at 1:31 pm

Resident is a registered user.

This latest legal snafu sounds like yet another reason the district needs an in house counsel. They have been at the mercy of outside firms who give sporadic advise that too often appears to run up their own billing rather than serve the best interests of the district and students.
Didn't Dauber try to get this change through last year, but was opposed by the majority of the old board?

53 people like this
Posted by Grrrrrr
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 22, 2017 at 2:12 pm

Bad form, bad policy, and a complete lack of transparency!

Given the current state of PAUSD, largely due to the administrators and the Superintendent, NOBODY above the level of teachers deserves the slightest raise! Some are EXTREMELY lucky to have retained their employment.

25 people like this
Posted by Stew Pid
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 22, 2017 at 3:24 pm

The last time the board made this type of booboo, they hired a PR person. Well, they could sure use one now.
Or maybe they need to transform from bumbling to competent, from furtive to transparent.

32 people like this
Posted by Appalled
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 22, 2017 at 4:34 pm

The school board should be ashamed of itself. Making the same mistake more than once. And now with a more recent hire. Transparency is talked about over and over but this is a matter of the law; not being forthcoming. Get your act together, please!

11 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Aug 22, 2017 at 4:56 pm

But the recent raises to the teachers are what is causing the current financial "crisis"

19 people like this
Posted by fiasco
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 22, 2017 at 6:25 pm

Clawback his illegal pay raises and use the money to rename Jordan and Terman that he so spinelessly approved. LOL!!

27 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 22, 2017 at 7:52 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

There is no "crisis". The district has plenty of money to play with. They only claim to be broke when they're looking for a way to squeeze the taxpayers. Vote down the bond measures, don't donate to PIE.

11 people like this
Posted by FreePress
a resident of another community
on Aug 23, 2017 at 5:18 am

almunday first comment.

Your absolutely right. Their banking on one saying or doing anything. A whole psychology behind their thinking. The brown act is a power tool under utilized. Closed door meeting is an affront to Democracy. Every action should involve transparency and accountability. You wont here our civic leadership advocating this for the simple reason of getting away with that ever they want. This has to stop! Look at City Attorney Molly Stumps promise of greater transparency. Nothing, nothing has changed other than increases in salary and benefits.

17 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 23, 2017 at 6:14 am

They approved raises for a supe who ignores school stress because he blindly attributes stress to parenting, with the reasoning that it's okay to be a blue collar worker because "My son is a happy being a plumber and has a happy family life." If it truly is parenting, there should be a rule restricting the number of AP classes that students are allowed to take; those who complain can leave the district. There are other reasons, but that would be a first step.

No surprise this occurred, as Trackwatch (Godfrey's idea) has been a train wreck: employees who burglarize homes when they are supposed to be watching the tracks and rules preventing them from pulling someone off the tracks. Not to mention, there are miles of unsupervised tracks. What a waste of money, better spent on an unbiased survey of why students are so stressed enough to take their lives.

3 people like this
Posted by wondering
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 23, 2017 at 10:35 am

Weekly, did the superintendent not ask for a raise, refuse his automatic raise, or not get a raise because of an unsatisfactory evaluation?

Web Link

6 people like this
Posted by kids
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 23, 2017 at 11:18 am

I think it is a bad idea to treat education as a business. They pay needs to high for the top guy. This community should be proud to be able to have a high salary for the person taking on this huge, complicated , very stressful job.. Expecting a person to take this particular district on and having to worry about being able to afford housing is too much to expect for one person. This person in particular will be under so much stress and if more money can alleviate that, it will be better if this persons focus is off his own finances. That said...

I would cut all the stupid polls and experts they hire to look at data. These people should not be any part in decisions made for students because they have NEVER met them and never will. Treating the very dynamic group of every single student and groups of students mixed with a changing world and a million different daily family scenarios with static data is ridiculous and you will lose that battle nine times out of ten. I trust the staff that is with the students to make decisions without a Harvard person or an "expert." The only real experts are the kid/parent/staff that knows everything about a given situation. There is NO DATA for that and these polls are wasted money. off soapbox now.

22 people like this
Posted by PAUSD parent
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 23, 2017 at 11:32 am

@kids - FYI, McGee gets paid 1) over $300K 2) gets a $1.5 million interest free loan from the district for housing, which probably covers 100% of his housing cost 3) gets a $750/month car allowance and 4) gets some pension credit. So his house and car are paid for, plus he gets $300k a year. His kids are grown, so he is pretty much raking it in. It might be worth it to pay that much for somebody doing a great job, but McGee sure isn't.

30 people like this
Posted by a question to everyone
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 23, 2017 at 2:25 pm

Dear Fellow Palo Altans,

Forgive me, but am I losing my mind? Am I losing my moral compass? Are any of the rest of you feeling what I'm feeling? I would truly like to know.

In last night's board meeting, Mr. McGee expressed grief and sadness for the latest death (the twelfth) of one of our high-schoolers not even in a sentence but in HALF of a sentence--and into which he combined references to the "exuberance" and "joy" of the school year's start.

And in his letter last Wednesday to the school community, he alluded to his "heavy heart" then shared "some tragic news with you on what had been a delightful opening day..."

And this young man died only a week ago!

Does anybody besides me feel as embarrassed, insulted, flabbergasted, and ashamed that our city has this kind of response from its top person charged with the safety and well-being of our schoolchildren?

And where has our five-member board been, in setting him on a more appropriate track?

Marc Vincenti
Gunn English teacher (1995-2010)
Chairman, Save the 2,008—for Healthier High Schools

13 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 23, 2017 at 5:53 pm

I'm glad my kids are out.
They are both very glad to be out.
College is much less stressful.
To the kids still at Gunn and Paly: don't give up, there truly is a good life outside of Palo Alto. You will be amazed. Take care of yourself until then.

8 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 24, 2017 at 11:39 am

Annette is a registered user.

@a question to everyone: you are not alone. I sometimes read the news about our schools and shake my head. I am not sure where or when things started to go awry but they obviously did. As I read this story I found myself wondering if we wouldn't be better off without a Superintendent and School Board. We are a community of capable people, for goodness sake - how is it that our school district has so many serious problems?

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 25, 2017 at 5:30 pm

Can someone please clarify? I thought the Weekly had reported on 6/28 that the Board acknowledged McGee's evaluation, no raise is given and, then he suddenly announced his retirement. But now, they do an about face and give him a raise???

6 people like this
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 25, 2017 at 7:47 pm

@ Palo Alto Parent,
McGee received raises in closed session meetings his first two years. This year, he did not receive a raise, but that was also in closed session. According to his contract, he does not receive a raise if he receives an unfavorable evaluation. However, the board is not allowed to publicly state that he received an unfavorable evaluation. One must read between the lines that since McGee did not receive a raise it was due to an unfavorable evaluation.

4 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 26, 2017 at 10:21 am

marc V

yes. you have lost your mind. It is normal to feel deep sadness and to also have hope and see Joy. There is nothing wrong with that . It is human. No one should ever second guess another persons expressions of grief. Seeing Joy does not mean he does not also feel deep sadness. [Portion removed.]

5 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent x2
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Aug 27, 2017 at 10:56 am

McGee and the rest of the Board have let this District down.
Poor leadership and bad decision making.
Watching their meetings on TV is painful!

3 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent x2
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Aug 27, 2017 at 10:58 am

McGee and the rest of the Board have let this District down. Poor leadership and bad decision making. Watching their meetings on TV is painful!

2 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 27, 2017 at 10:16 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

PHey, I'll see if My Retired Assistant Administrator from SJUSD parent will take the job WITHOUT needing a $1.5 Million loan, as we have a house in Mountain View that is bought and paid for. The little truck we have can be used for the commute OR to scare everyone, we could use the Crown Victoria cop car to keep things legal.
The first thing that could be done is coordinating the issues concerning the OCR to get that issue settled ( Special Ed Teacher was the first job that started up the ladder to Assistant Administrator. ) and to move on. Accountability and honesty is what made the difference at both the Vice Principal and the Principal levels. Nothing beats the experience of having to start from a teaching standpoint. Heck, an offer by Santa Clara County to be a Special Judge for Juvenile Cases with a $400 per diem was offered. It was turned down.

Maybe the PAUSD NEEDS a housecleaning of the useless staff that do nothing but push paper around that says how much their job is needed ( not ).

How about giving BICYCLES instead of leasing cars to the staff? Much cheaper even with $3000 Mountain bikes. LOTS of cost savings when the staff have security cameras watching to see if they are stealing money from Resident's pockets... Hey, you got that high salary, how about doing something to EARN it? If you are supposed to be at other parts of the PAUSD, how about wearing a bodycam to prove it?

Palo Alto is supposed to be one of the most high tech parts of the world. Yet the PAUSD BOARD MEMBERS don't use it. Maybe hidden cameras and microphones would help to get the Brown Act enforced. Or how about placing ALL the PAUSD BOARD MEMBERS UNDER ARREST because the crime has already been committed multiple times. A private citizen cannot use these excuses, why should the PAUSD BOARD MEMBERS be allowed to use them? Make 'em all do a televised " perp walk ". At least you get some entertainment value for the money that has been spent.

( Yes, I WILL ask the retired Assistant Superintendent about this position. ( No, I am not kidding. )

116 people like this
Posted by No PiE for U
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 29, 2017 at 10:01 am

A generous salary, paid for housing, health/pension benefits AND and car allowance. I feel no guilt whatsoever in having not donated to PiE for the last 8 years and to continue not donating while my kids are still in school. I encourage other parents to do the same.

With the increase in property tax revenue due to all the multi-million dollar house sales and rebuilds there is no excuse for a budget shortfall. Incompetence continues to rein in government.

4 people like this
Posted by StudentSafety
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 29, 2017 at 1:07 pm

What about the OCR violations, our schools and our students?

It is a pity that money was wasted. How about the kids' safety moving forward?

5 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2017 at 6:55 pm

It's ridiculous that these people are paid such enormous salaries (plus a car allowance?) and do a very poor job. I still don't understand why they are not treating student suicides (far higher than any other local school districts) as an emergency, and taking immediate measures to scale back student stress and improve isolation.

1 person likes this
Posted by Use the Force
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2017 at 7:28 pm

In all seriousness, what you suggest is possible. The positions of superintendent and school board and their powers, and even the fact that we follow state ed code, are created in the Palo Alto City Charter. The local community has the power to change this. You have the power to change this. The process is just like a referendum, and is described in the City code. You can get some help from the City Clerk to find what you need, but also verify everything. There are also ways to reorganize the district under the state ed code. We can hit reset. It's just a matter if fed up families and community members coming together and figuring out what would work, perhaps from finding examples of other communities (yay for the internet), and thinking how we can apply the lessons here. Changing the city charter just means writing you proposal tochange the code, collecting signatures, presenting your petition to City Hall, their setting an election. Sone previous board members did this to supposedly save money by holding the school elections during even years (I forget the specifics) in order to save money (while at the same time moving tax electiobs to special elections which cost a lot more - hypocrites) but then, of course, that Charter change also gave that ghastly previous board a few more years in office each without an election.

It would be great if you could come up with some robust ethics rules and ways to get real audits, and assurances that our money is being spent well. Foxes mostly guard the hen house now with no real protections.

Like this comment
Posted by Historian
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 6, 2017 at 8:53 pm

@Use the Force wrote "Sone previous board members did this to supposedly save money by holding the school elections during even years"

There was no city charter change required or made. The ballot year was changed by board resolution, subject to approval by the County Board of Supervisors. This was in early 2011.

I think you'll find changing the charter both hard and very uncertain in terms of impacting the schools. Elect three members you like to the board, on the other hand, and you can get pretty much what you want.

Like this comment
Posted by Watched them
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2017 at 5:19 pm

Nothing surprising about Melissa Baten Caswell. She tends to support the power structure.
>The Palo Alto Management Association (PAMA), which represents 75 district administrators, principals and school psychologists, defended McGee in a statement read at Tuesday's board meeting. The group urged the board to retain him to "preserve continuity, consistency, avoid disruption and reduce distraction." Forty out of 41 members who responded to a survey the group conducted over the weekend said they "fully support McGee staying on ..<

HALF did not respond. That tells you alot. Those who responded said keep McGee on.
In a small population like that, anonymity is not effective. You can often figure out how people voted. Best not to respond.

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