News

District releases minimal info on new superintendent

School board to vote on Don Austin's contract Tuesday

The Palo Alto school district Monday made publicly available the seven-page application form and two-page resume submitted by prospective new school superintendent Don Austin. The district said this minimal information was the only material on Austin "in its possession."

All other documents submitted by Austin as part of his job application are in "control and possession" of the executive search firm and not subject to release under the California Public Records Act due to the terms of the district contract with the firm, the district stated in response to the Weekly's inquiry.

The Weekly's request was made on May 7, the day it was announced he was the school board's pick for the position. The board is scheduled to approve a three-year contract with Austin at its meeting Tuesday night, May 22.

The material released, which is mostly a fill-in application form, sheds little new light on Austin's background or his leadership style. Responses to the only two open-ended questions were redacted by the district, based on their being exempt under court rulings that allow an agency to protect the confidentiality of its deliberative process, although nothing requires the district to withhold such information.

Austin's application states he received his bachelor's degree from Baker University in "Physical Ed./English" but the accompanying resume states only physical education. When asked to explain the discrepancy, he said he received a California teaching credential in English after moving back to California. His resume states he has credentials in administrative service, physical education and introductory English that expire next August.

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Austin also holds a doctorate in education and master of arts from Azusa Pacific University.

Austin's salary history shows he took a pay cut when he moved from being the principal of 2,800-student Laguna Beach High School to assistant superintendent of the 16,000-student Huntington Beach Unified High School District in 2011. His final salary at Laguna Beach was $183,000 in 2011; it was $175,000 five years later when he left Huntington Beach to become superintendent in the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District. He is currently paid $308,752 and will be paid $300,000 plus subsidized housing valued at $25,000 if his appointment is approved by the Palo Alto school board Tuesday night.

Austin's reputation in Palos Verdes appears to be mixed, with members of his cabinet speaking highly of his reputation as a visible leader and mentor but others, including sitting board members, refusing to speak on the record until after his contract is approved in Palo Alto.

In a email sent to the Palo Alto school board on Tuesday, the Palos Verdes board president, Anthony Collatos, said that their decision not to comment until after Tuesday's vote shouldn't be interpreted as anything "other than being respectful of your process."

"Our board has been supportive of Dr. Austin through this process and tried to be extremely respectful of your timeline and space," Collatos wrote.

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He reiterated his support for Austin, previously expressed in a recommendation letter.

"I think Dr. Austin will bring strong leadership to your District and will continue to focus on leadership development, improving mental health and awareness, and sustaining academic excellence," Callatos wrote.

A former Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity, however, said that members of the school community are reluctant to criticize Austin publicly. The employee described a culture of "intimidation" in the district.

"I feel very bad for your city that you are getting him, but I don't want the board members in Palo Alto to change their mind because I don't want anyone in the PVSD suffering anymore with him at the helm," the employee said.

Several anonymous posters on Town Square, Palo Alto Online's comment forum, claim to be Palos Verdes parents or district employees and have described allegations of mistreatment by Austin.

"We want Don Austin out of PV and his days are numbered regardless. But in good conscience we cannot say nothing and allow him to hurt more children and schools in Palo Alto," one poster wrote, alleging that top administrators and counselors resigned in part due to Austin.

View Austin's application here, resume here and proposed contract with Palo Alto Unified here.

Related stories:

Palo Alto Unified names new superintendent

District releases new superintendent's contract

Supporters, critics weigh in on superintendent pick

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District releases minimal info on new superintendent

School board to vote on Don Austin's contract Tuesday

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, May 22, 2018, 9:41 am
Updated: Tue, May 22, 2018, 3:22 pm

The Palo Alto school district Monday made publicly available the seven-page application form and two-page resume submitted by prospective new school superintendent Don Austin. The district said this minimal information was the only material on Austin "in its possession."

All other documents submitted by Austin as part of his job application are in "control and possession" of the executive search firm and not subject to release under the California Public Records Act due to the terms of the district contract with the firm, the district stated in response to the Weekly's inquiry.

The Weekly's request was made on May 7, the day it was announced he was the school board's pick for the position. The board is scheduled to approve a three-year contract with Austin at its meeting Tuesday night, May 22.

The material released, which is mostly a fill-in application form, sheds little new light on Austin's background or his leadership style. Responses to the only two open-ended questions were redacted by the district, based on their being exempt under court rulings that allow an agency to protect the confidentiality of its deliberative process, although nothing requires the district to withhold such information.

Austin's application states he received his bachelor's degree from Baker University in "Physical Ed./English" but the accompanying resume states only physical education. When asked to explain the discrepancy, he said he received a California teaching credential in English after moving back to California. His resume states he has credentials in administrative service, physical education and introductory English that expire next August.

Austin also holds a doctorate in education and master of arts from Azusa Pacific University.

Austin's salary history shows he took a pay cut when he moved from being the principal of 2,800-student Laguna Beach High School to assistant superintendent of the 16,000-student Huntington Beach Unified High School District in 2011. His final salary at Laguna Beach was $183,000 in 2011; it was $175,000 five years later when he left Huntington Beach to become superintendent in the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District. He is currently paid $308,752 and will be paid $300,000 plus subsidized housing valued at $25,000 if his appointment is approved by the Palo Alto school board Tuesday night.

Austin's reputation in Palos Verdes appears to be mixed, with members of his cabinet speaking highly of his reputation as a visible leader and mentor but others, including sitting board members, refusing to speak on the record until after his contract is approved in Palo Alto.

In a email sent to the Palo Alto school board on Tuesday, the Palos Verdes board president, Anthony Collatos, said that their decision not to comment until after Tuesday's vote shouldn't be interpreted as anything "other than being respectful of your process."

"Our board has been supportive of Dr. Austin through this process and tried to be extremely respectful of your timeline and space," Collatos wrote.

He reiterated his support for Austin, previously expressed in a recommendation letter.

"I think Dr. Austin will bring strong leadership to your District and will continue to focus on leadership development, improving mental health and awareness, and sustaining academic excellence," Callatos wrote.

A former Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity, however, said that members of the school community are reluctant to criticize Austin publicly. The employee described a culture of "intimidation" in the district.

"I feel very bad for your city that you are getting him, but I don't want the board members in Palo Alto to change their mind because I don't want anyone in the PVSD suffering anymore with him at the helm," the employee said.

Several anonymous posters on Town Square, Palo Alto Online's comment forum, claim to be Palos Verdes parents or district employees and have described allegations of mistreatment by Austin.

"We want Don Austin out of PV and his days are numbered regardless. But in good conscience we cannot say nothing and allow him to hurt more children and schools in Palo Alto," one poster wrote, alleging that top administrators and counselors resigned in part due to Austin.

View Austin's application here, resume here and proposed contract with Palo Alto Unified here.

Related stories:

Palo Alto Unified names new superintendent

District releases new superintendent's contract

Supporters, critics weigh in on superintendent pick

Comments

Samuel L.
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 22, 2018 at 9:48 am
Samuel L., Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on May 22, 2018 at 9:48 am
Like this comment

@PA Weekly, can you post a link to his contract? Earlier article stated that PAUSD released it to you.


internet user
College Terrace
on May 22, 2018 at 9:58 am
internet user, College Terrace
on May 22, 2018 at 9:58 am
10 people like this

Doesn’t take a genius to search for this guy on google:

Web Link

Web Link


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 22, 2018 at 10:05 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on May 22, 2018 at 10:05 am
13 people like this

@Internet user. so true. Too bad those making the hiring decision didn't bother.


Parent
Gunn High School
on May 22, 2018 at 10:19 am
Parent, Gunn High School
on May 22, 2018 at 10:19 am
8 people like this

@Internet user,
Neither of those articles are particularly damning of Austin, in fact the second makes the teachers in that district seem like real bullies who care even less about the consequences to the students of not doing right by them as the go-along-get-along non-upstander teachers here.

The community here has really had it with the untrustworthy district leadership. I think the only way Austin will go wrong is trying to continue the secrecy of the past and avoiding doing the right thing by the most vulnerable. What I have read is about a leader unafraid to be open even when there is blowback. We need that.

I have concerns, too, but it’s mostly about getting devious, scheming, insukar, retaliatory behavior like we’ve been experiencing. Nothing I see in those articles indicates that, to the contrary, I see strength that we need here. This community is actually amazing to work with and an open person willing to talk things out and take responsibility for what happens is just what we need. The only way it could go wrong is if he gets sucked into the self-serving insularity at 25 Churchill, people who will scheme in order to avoid taking responsibility for or apologizing for or fixing past mistakes. No matter how many times that sinks our administrations, it still happens. This guy seems the opposite. Your articles only confirm that.


Concerned Parent
Palo Alto High School
on May 22, 2018 at 10:25 am
Concerned Parent, Palo Alto High School
on May 22, 2018 at 10:25 am
17 people like this

I do hope that the board looks at all the information provided. This school district needs some stability and I am concerned about having Mr. Austin within PAUSD. I hope the board would consider a temporary superintendent until they find the candidate that can offer stability with integrity, transparency and honesty.


Scared
Mayfield
on May 22, 2018 at 11:09 am
Scared, Mayfield
on May 22, 2018 at 11:09 am
23 people like this

Austin will make Skully and McGee look like model leaders by comparison.

It seems like a failure of the executive search team to bring a candidate with excellent leadership and relationship skills, something which commenters are alarmingly revealing as dangerously lacking in Austin.

Better put a hold on this contract until these revelations are further researched, or this board should be recalled.


Not again
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2018 at 11:30 am
Not again, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2018 at 11:30 am
28 people like this

Well that is a lame excuse --- other materials are controlled by the Search Firm?

When you think you've heard it all, then they come up with some other excuse.

PAUSD wants to hire someone who is accused of using intimidation tactics in articles that come up on Google when PAUSD is trying to rid itself of a culture of intimidation and retaliation?

It sounds as though the Board needs to start over in this search and hire a different search firm. It is back to the drawing board!


educator
Adobe-Meadow
on May 22, 2018 at 11:43 am
educator, Adobe-Meadow
on May 22, 2018 at 11:43 am
13 people like this

"I feel very bad for your city that you are getting him, but I don't want the board members in Palo Alto to change their mind because I don't want anyone in the PVSD suffering anymore with him at the helm"

Teachers traumatized by a now-former PAUSD principal (who moved on to elected office!) would occasionally run into teachers at the principal's former district, who would say, "We were shocked when we heard Palo Alto hired (the person)!" implying that Palo Alto should be getting the best of the best... and not that person.

Indeed, this is the problem with interviewing these days. Legal exposure prevents organizations from getting the truth from those who would speak negatively. And then, worse, in Palo Alto the administrators tend to report their own good progress to their superiors; never does the district go ask teachers for anonymous feedback on how the admin does. And so goes the cycle of incompetence.

We teachers wish the new Supe well, and cross our fingers the interviewers got the best candidate. But crossing our fingers is about all they asked us to do.


PTA Member
Crescent Park
on May 22, 2018 at 12:05 pm
PTA Member, Crescent Park
on May 22, 2018 at 12:05 pm
28 people like this

I don't understand the explanation for why Austin's application said that he had a degree in English and PE but he actually only has a PE degree? He later got a certificate to teach intro English? What does that have to do with his college degree?


Falsifying college degrees
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2018 at 12:19 pm
Falsifying college degrees, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2018 at 12:19 pm
33 people like this

A physical education major is the new superintendent? When one of the ceos of Yahoo was hired and he said he had a degree in computer science but he didn't, Yahoo rescinded the offer. The PAUSD board needs to do the same thing. Claiming a false English degree when it does not exist is grounds for rescinding any offer of employment.


Skeptic
Barron Park
on May 22, 2018 at 12:22 pm
Skeptic, Barron Park
on May 22, 2018 at 12:22 pm
33 people like this

What seem like minor discrepancies by a job applicant can be a red flag.

1. What was his degree at Baker? Confirm that through Baker, not him.

2. What did he put on his application? PE/English

3. What’s on his resume? PE

4. Ask him to explain the discrepancy. He apparently doesn’t answer the question but talks about a teaching credential, which is something different.

This could be a tip off to a larger problem.

I’m worried the board didn’t do a good enough job vetting this guy.

Of course, he may be the best applicant and that good applicants didn’t apply after seeing the district’s recent history.


Carla Woodward
Professorville
on May 22, 2018 at 12:54 pm
Carla Woodward, Professorville
on May 22, 2018 at 12:54 pm
10 people like this

My comment is not about Don Austin, but about your "journalism." Is your local NextDoor lead now your editor? Quoting anonymous sources making critical comments is bad journalism. The Gunn High Oracle would never run such drivel especially without context.
The PV board president explained in his original statement that they wouldn't comment about a pending hire according to the statement you linked to: "Until his selection has been officially approved, it would be premature for us to comment any further on the Superintendent position."
To top it off, you are now quoting your own commenters who "claim" to be this or that when you don't even have a way to verify that information. If someone doesn't have the courage to use their own name then don't validate their comments. At least Next Door uses real names!!


Parent
Gunn High School
on May 22, 2018 at 12:57 pm
Parent, Gunn High School
on May 22, 2018 at 12:57 pm
10 people like this

@Not again,
“PAUSD wants to hire someone who is accused of using intimidation tactics in articles that come up on Google when PAUSD is trying to rid itself of a culture of intimidation and retaliation?”

What I see described as intimidation and retaliation in these articles is very different than what happens in PAUSD. In PAUSD, we have seen gaslighting of and full-blown scheming against families, just because some administrator didn’t like someone or mistakenly thought they were trying to “embarrass” them, full-blown scheming NOT to hear about or investigate something that was clearly hurting a child, retaliation against families where the district rather needs to apologize or make things right. PAUSD has often spent more money on lawyers serving the needs of administrative individuals rather than honoring the law. Administrators would lie to teachers to create a hostile environment for students with IEPs or 504s, even engage in pressure tactics to increase stress (holding children at arms length and disrupting connection to schools, concocting lengthy, false letters that defame the child and/or family, scheming to hold 504 meetings without parents present, up to and including pre-emptively suing families of special needs kids). I think Kim Diorio ended up suffering because she believed too much in the district administrators and did too little to support the families, not realizing the administrators were dishonestly putting their backsides and ability to cover their misbehavior above all. Administrators even under McGee regularly failed to honor records requests but would create documents and letters to leave a trail making it seem that they had.

I see none of that kind of behavior in any of these charges against Austin. If anythng, I see a person willing to accept the consequences of and try to fix problems out in the open. A school district will have problems to solve. I would much rather have someone willing to put his efforts into doing his best in the open - and putting the students first - than people who create a hostile environment for families behind the scenes for the purpose of trying to avoid any responsibility. Things will go wrong. Someone who is willing to openly deal with inevitable conflicts and even take responsibility to fix problems created by others is something we really need here.

I read this article worried we were gettng another Skelly McGee, but I like this guy more for what I’m seeing.

We’re not really at Gunn HS, we had to leave to district to protect our family and child. The people at Austin’s previous district have no idea what persistent backbiting and retaliation behind the scenes is like for a family and a developing child. The behavior and culture don’t just come from a Superintendent, but rather a group effort that superintendents make worse or go along with. I do not see that in these stories about Austin, either. If the people from his district are aware of illegal behavior by him, they have a duty to share it. District employees have a duty under the law to extend legal protections to students proactively, not just wait for parents to push for them - have people in that district failed to share an administration covering up that kind of failure, as ours has? If so, we must do due diligence because we definitely don’t need THAT, but I don’t see that from these article.

What I see from these stories is charges against him by people who didn’t like him, and none of the more serious problems our district has faced. We need someone willing to take that kind of attack for the sake of doing right by our kids. I suspect Dr. Austin will find Palo Alto parents a lot more laid back, provided he is the real deal.


Very Concerned
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 22, 2018 at 2:25 pm
Very Concerned , Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 22, 2018 at 2:25 pm
19 people like this

The Board is making a huge mistake by not vetting Mr Austin more seriously. Also why are we getting a die hard Christian Evangelical (see his two universities)? This is not in synch with Palo Alto values. We do not teach Creationism or Intelligent Design here. We know that the world is not 10,000 years old. You can do better PAUSD Board!


Concerned Parent
Midtown
on May 22, 2018 at 4:08 pm
Concerned Parent, Midtown
on May 22, 2018 at 4:08 pm
27 people like this

On this surface, this guy just does not seem qualified. I have never heard of EITHER university. Have any of you heard of Baker University, or Azusa Pacific University? I just can NOT believe that this is the BEST candidate that Palo Alto can find. Then the Weekly uncovers that his degree from Baker University is in PE, and not Education. Come on! Our school board is incompetent if they hire this guy.


Paul Itzer
University South
on May 22, 2018 at 5:05 pm
Paul Itzer, University South
on May 22, 2018 at 5:05 pm
Like this comment

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Disgraceful Journalism
Community Center
on May 22, 2018 at 6:14 pm
Disgraceful Journalism, Community Center
on May 22, 2018 at 6:14 pm
10 people like this

Anonymous comments are not newsworthy and have no place in quality journalism or news reporting.

[Portion removed.]


Parent
Gunn High School
on May 22, 2018 at 9:01 pm
Parent, Gunn High School
on May 22, 2018 at 9:01 pm
7 people like this

@Very Concerned,
I have Christian Evangelicals in the family and they do not subscribe to non-scientific beliefs as you have laid out. If you get real Christians, they believe in service and doing the right thing and especially to care for the least among us. I think we have had our share of less than trustworthy administrators who put their own pride first. I've heard of Azusa Pacific. Don't be a snob. We haven't exactly benefited from the Harvard pedigrees. I'd rather have someone who saw their job as service and hard work than about parading a degree from a long time ago. Not very Silicon Valley. I'm not even in favor of giving a bonus for advanced degrees in district administration. I'd much rather see people who led by example of integrity and taking responsibility, learning from mistakes.

In our district if the teachers decided not to make recommendations for the students, do you think either the of the last superintendents would have broken a sweat to ensure kids got what they needed for their college applications? No.


Tony Putulin
Midtown
on May 22, 2018 at 9:30 pm
Tony Putulin, Midtown
on May 22, 2018 at 9:30 pm
4 people like this

My advise to Mr. Austin. Start looking for a new job now before it’s too late. You will not last more than a year despite your three-year contract. Palos Verdes’ gain. Palo Alto’s loss. That’s just the way it is here in Palo Alto. We are mean, harsh and utterly cruel. There is a very strong sense of entitlement. After all, we are Silicon Valley. PAUSD pays a ton of money for naught. There is no sense of accountability. The entire community should have been strongly involved in the vetting process.


Parent
Gunn High School
on May 23, 2018 at 1:05 am
Parent, Gunn High School
on May 23, 2018 at 1:05 am
4 people like this

@Tony,
I couldn't disagree with you more. Compared to just about anywhere I have been, Palo Alto parents are easy. Our district administrators made life hard for themselves with all the scheming and shooting themselves in the foot. When we had problems to solve, I tried every way possible to give district people a chance to do the right thing, but the only time they responded ethically and reasonably was when they were forced. I've seen parents who were fed up to the breaking point after district people had many, many, many opportunities to do the right thing but just don't unless you make them. If you don't make them, they don't step up, they just assume that maybe you don't have the proof and if they don't fill your records requests maybe they'll keep you from getting it. Seriously, the district people were like evil keystone cops, causing problem after problem for themselves by just not acting in a trustworthy and reasonable way. The only way Austin won't last is if he follows in the last ones footsteps and tries to further the CYA culture.

My spouse is from down there and thinks the Palo Verdes culture is way, way more entitled. You can actually talk to Palo Alto parents. Austin doesn't seem to ken to BS.

I do wish they hadn't quoted Caswell. Her stamp of approval is not a good sign.


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