District releases new superintendent's contract | News | Palo Alto Online |


District releases new superintendent's contract

School board to vote on Don Austin's appointment May 22

Under a proposed three-year contract, the Palo Alto school district's next superintendent will receive a starting salary of $300,000 and pay a monthly rent of $1,800 to live in a district-owned property in Palo Alto.

The school board named Don Austin, currently superintendent of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, as its pick for superintendent. Austin will replace former superintendent Max McGee, who resigned in September after announcing he would retire at the end of the school year.

The board will vote on Austin's proposed contract at its next regular meeting on Tuesday, May 22.

Austin's base salary is similar to McGee's, who started at $295,000. Austin will receive the same reimbursement rate for relocating to Palo Alto: up to $15,000 for expenses such as travel, meals and temporary housing during the first six months of his employment. The board "reserves the right" to change his salary at any time, the draft contract states.

Unlike McGee, however, Austin will not receive a loan to purchase a house in Palo Alto. McGee initially received a $1 million interest-free loan that was later increased to $1.5 million to help him purchase a home. McGee turned the title of the home he bought in August 2015 to the district when he resigned.

Austin will instead live in the district-owned home under a month-to-month rental agreement with Palo Alto Unified, the draft contract states. If he decides to move out during the first year of his contract, his annual salary will increase to $325,000.

Austin will also receive health, dental, vision and other benefits "in the same manner and subject to the same limitations as other certificated senior cabinet-level employees," the contract states. He will be reimbursed for work-related expenses, including transportation of his own vehicle, but he will not receive the $750 monthly (equivalent to $9,000 annual) car allowance that McGee did.

Austin will not receive the up to $6,000 to pay for a life insurance policy, which McGee did.

Also absent from Austin's contract is a provision in his predecessor's contract that stated board members must express any "concerns, criticisms and dissatisfaction with the superintendent's performance" only in closed session meetings or through the evaluation process "to avoid damage to the Board's and the Superintendent's image and credibility, and as not to lessen each other's ability to perform effectively."

Under Austin's contract, the board will evaluate him around the mid-point of his first year. The contract provides for annual, formal evaluations.

Austin's current contract in Palos Verdes was set to expire in 2020. He currently earns $308,752 a year in Palos Verdes, including a $900 monthly car allowance and additional $1,000 for his doctorate degree. He was set to receive a raise this July, contingent on a satisfactory evaluation, that would be no less than 2 percent but no more than other certificated managers received, his contract states.

If the Palo Alto Unified board approves his contract, Austin is set to start his new position on July 1.


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29 people like this
Posted by Skelly is laughing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2018 at 5:05 pm

$300,000? Why, because some consultant told the board that is what you have to pay to get anyone to work in PAUSD? Incentive clauses would have been better, like $10,000 each year that there are no OCR complaints, another $10,000 each year there are no rapes, etc.

33 people like this
Posted by Tell us more
a resident of College Terrace
on May 12, 2018 at 6:44 pm

Wait, the district owns a home? Tell us more, Palo Alto Weekly.

15 people like this
Posted by Truth and Reconciliation
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2018 at 6:49 pm

That would in principal be great. Unfortunately, like someone inheriting a car from the mob, if this guy doesn't look for what's still hidden in the trunk and give it fresh air and light, he will eventually own all of it, as McGee started to. There are still things in the trunk that will stink if a new approach is not begun. I am hoping his background will make him more inclined to be honest about what has happened instead of threatening families with district legal if they say something or breaking state records laws as a way of demonstrating the wagons are circled if families make trouble. Those things have a way of coming out from in ugly ways later, and the Title IX was not the last. Reward him for changing the culture. I like this guy based on the description so far. Maybe we'll get more earnest service and less nitpicking about whether people call him "Dr." in a place where fretting about a title is a sign of a lack of ability or confidence.

30 people like this
Posted by board, do your job!
a resident of Barron Park
on May 12, 2018 at 9:36 pm

I have to ask. Did the board even consider offering a lower amount? This guy only has 4 years of superintendent experience but is being paid more than McGee.

16 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 12, 2018 at 10:01 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

Can you post the full contract online?

@Tell us more: PAUSD owns the house McGee bought with the $1.5M loan from the district. He turned the title over to the district. I have to think that the costs to the district is much more than $1800/month

4 people like this
Posted by Retired
a resident of Stanford
on May 12, 2018 at 10:50 pm

I believe the district makes about 1% on spare cash in the county treasury. If they own the home (I'd heard it is an apartment) outright with no mortgage, that part costs them $15000 a year. There is probably an hoa or similar maintenance fee, a few hundred a month. The district shouldn't have to pay property taxes for housing an employee, just like Stanford doesn't in rental housing they own. So $1800 a month seems about right.

23 people like this
Posted by Stu
a resident of Professorville
on May 13, 2018 at 7:53 am

The guy is basically a CEO of a company. The pay is fine. Anyway, look at some of the firefighters and police officers that we pay over $200,000 per year. No one complaines about that.

17 people like this
Posted by Truth and Reconcilation
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2018 at 4:20 pm

If PAUSD owns the home, and provided it is a decent one (McGee didn't want to pay anything out of pocket and 1.5M wouldn't buy a great one), eventually owning a home the super can live in at such a reasonable rate will become a big savings for the district. Our church owns a parsonage with no mortgage, this is how we can afford to retain a full-time pastor. The City buys homes for its top execs, some of which get to stay in them after their employment terminates until they decide to leave. I think the terms of this contract are somewhat better than with the last superintendents, although not exactly conservative. If he comes in and knocks some heads together in the district office, to use a football image, he'll be well worth it.

18 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Mountain View
on May 13, 2018 at 6:40 pm

The no criticism clause is bull. Was this guy asked to leave his last post? Or it is all more HUSH HUSH ?

26 people like this
Posted by Moving forward.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 14, 2018 at 11:00 am

Moving forward. is a registered user.

I think it is great that the district is able to throw housing into the package. Kudos to whoever developed the last contract so that the housing would go back to PAUSD when Dr. McGee left.

Who wants to take a job in this district and make an enormous mortgage or lease commitment with members of the public behaving as they are on this thread? Really. For a moment, consider what you would think as a new employee reading this. Think about how this kind of public chatter affects prospective employees when PAUSD is doing a search for excellent candidates. Constant criticism and hyperbole in public forums are not helpful. If you have a useful solution or useful facts to offer, that would be a welcome addition the discussion.

My kids who recently graduated from Gunn, got a great education in PAUSD. They are in college now and both appreciate the excellent preparation they received. While there are problems in the district as there are in any organization, the house is not burning down. Let's take a deep breath and work with our new superintendent to make our schools the best they can be for every child. A decision has been made. It's is time to move forward.

9 people like this
Posted by Kya
a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2018 at 11:16 am

$300,000 is tooooo much. Also firefighters and police earn too much here in Palo Alto. Start lower, then incremental raises if no complaints and knows how to lead the District (kids, parents, teachers, staff).

9 people like this
Posted by Len Ely
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 14, 2018 at 4:39 pm

Los Angeles Unified School District is the largest public school system in the U.S. state of California and the 2nd largest public school district in the United States. Only the New York City Department of Education has a larger student population. Wikipedia
Area: 960 mi²
Headquarters: Los Angeles, CA
Budget: 7.59 billion USD
Number of students: 734,641
Superintendent: Vivian Ekchian
Did you know: Los Angeles Unified School District is the second-largest school district in the United States by enrollment (667,273 students in Fall 2010). wikipedia.org

The just looked up what the starting pay was for the LA Unified School District. Michelle King looks to get about $350,000.00. Please note budget and number of students, above.

2 people like this
Posted by Lewis Terman
a resident of Terman Middle School
on May 14, 2018 at 11:07 pm

$325K is not that much for a CEO in Silicon Valley if he can do a better job than his predecessor.

9 people like this
Posted by Truth and Reconciliation
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2018 at 6:31 pm

@Moving Forward,
"My kids who recently graduated from Gunn, got a great education in PAUSD. They are in college now and both appreciate the excellent preparation they received. While there are problems in the district as there are in any organization, the house is not burning down."

Just because everything was hunky dory for yours, does not mean they are just A-ok for everyone else, does not mean they are the fault of the people for whom they are not okay, and does not mean we should gloss anything over for the person coming in. Has it occurred to you that a competent leader of an organization just might be someone with some problem solving, leadership, and conflict resolution skills, and that avoiding any talk of problems but instead acting like talking about them is tantamount to a crime is what has been going wrong in this district for years? The article above says he likes to resolve problems by talking about them - clearly not someone afraid of a little truth. What a concept.

I'm wondering what you specifically found so odious on the thread, though, I don't see it. A suggestion of the new guy coming in and finally having the courage to take on old problems head on instead of pretending they don't exist? How'd that work out for the last two? Why is it that you think your experience is somehow incompatible with solving problems for others who have not been so lucky?

2 people like this
Posted by Respect
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 15, 2018 at 10:54 pm

@Kya: Re your statement: "Also firefighters and police earn too much here in Palo Alto." No, they risk their lives every day for the public and should be paid generously. You have no idea of the stress of being either one of them. Policemen have ongoing stress during every 11-hour shift while you sit behind your computer, unworried about the safety of your life. Mountain View offers the public free ride-alongs (Palo Alto does not): Web Link or read this real account in EPA: Web Link In your time of desperate need, you'd take back your statement in a New York minute. And before you say something ignorant, no one deserves to die helping complete strangers.

7 people like this
Posted by Truth and Reconciliation
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2018 at 12:59 pm

I just read an article about how Michigan State is having to pay victims of Larry Nassar $500 million dollars. For the 300 victims, it’s nothing (once the legal fees are deducted) to what they endured and how their lives have been irreparably altered, and the Karolyi’s legacy is probably forever destroyed.

There were many times when this outcome could have been avoided for the University and for the victims. These things are avoided when people of conscience and in power hear and even look for the complaints, investigate in good faith, put truth above going along to get along or covering up for the sake of the sensibilities of people who bristle, as you have @Moving, at dealing with messy realities. In any school district or group of people, things go wrong, there will be problems. If the people experiencing problems have voices and are treated with respect all along, things never can get so bad, because problems don’t get covered up, they get dealt with, and processes are built to deal with problems in an effective and trustworthy way.

You are not sparing the district by castigating honesty. In this district, we have had our own serious abuse cases including by teachers, certainly not like Nassar, but nevertheless occurring over years - the reason they were not like Nassar were not because of anything our district does right. The frightening thing is how unrepentant and unchanged the enablers of our own problems have been, and thus we never get better at preventing more problems.

A next thing we must deal with is the propensity for pettiness and calculated retaliation by insular administrators. We fortunately got rid of some of the worst offenders, but they are not all gone, meaning people who react in ways that tend to cover up, attack the victims/families in one way or another including character attacks through false gossip rather than helping and treating them with honor and respect, What I have witnessed over the years specifically when it comes to retaliation and backbiting, unabated, unexamined, rewarded, deliberately covered up, does not bode well for the SPED and Title IX complainants of today. The OCR forbids retaliation but has no mechanism to prevent it. The only way to protect the students who have already been hurt by abuse after the OCR is gone is to ensure our district can identify, properly respond to, and reconcile for retaliation that has been rampant and unchecked - unwittingly amplified by insular employees including at school sites. Otherwise, the retaliation will be inevitable as will the next scandal a few years down the line.

The Nassar case is illustrative because covering up leads to far worse things happening to reputations. True leaders think about the long term. Eventually, the bad stuff hits the fan, we should in our district strive to be a place where things go wrong infrequently, but when they do, we have the desire and the strength of character to deal with them honestly and openly, treating others as we would want to be treated, and setting an example for the students about how strong, ethical people deal with mistakes and wrongs. Being an upstander means not just being honest when we can no longer afford to cover up a problem, it means being proactive when there have been wrongs, especially to protect the weakest among us.

There have been serious wrongs in this district, too, news of which has yet to meet the proverbial fan. The efforts to fix things in a trustworthy way, to take responsibility - that is what allows moving forward. McGee and Skelly were in their respective ways more about secrecy and covering up, about appearances, than about honesty and solving problems. The inclination to think that being a booster for the schools and being honest and forthright in dealing with problems as mutually exclusive somehow, is what enables the bad actors to continue. And in the end, it is what sinks administrations.

I am very hopeful that this new superintendant is a strong enough leader for truth and reconciliation, and a better culture to really move forward.

Like this comment
Posted by Palos Verdes Parent
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on May 24, 2018 at 12:14 pm

Good luck Palo Alto. While Dr. Don did many good things in Palos Verdes, he will be remembered for his breaking the budget by bringing all his people to the top with him at high salaries. The administrative salary budget at the district level exploded under his tenure. The legal troubles for the district also exploded. Here is one example Web Link
Personally, and in the face of so much money being wasted,I was extremely disappointed in the way special needs kids were discouraged from being tested/identified due to the stretched demands on our special ed programs and budget. This left many typical learning kids in elementary classrooms where some students needed aide to keep from disrupting the classes, but teachers were left on their own.. The policy was explained to me by one of the elementary school principals who ended up resigning (for "other reasons"). I hope your district parents end up happier with Dr. Don than many of us parents in PV.

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