More than three years after approving the new position of an in-house general counsel for the school district but making little to no progress on hiring one, the school board is set to vote anew on the position on Tuesday.
New Superintendent Don Austin is asking the board to waive its two-meeting rule and vote on the position again. Austin said that given the "amount of time that has passed" and some "changing conditions" since the board's 2015 action, board President Ken Dauber requested to bring the item back.
Austin's predecessor, Max McGee, proposed and then delayed the hiring of a general counsel after disagreement on the school board over the proper relationship between its members and an in-house attorney.
The general counsel would advise on legal compliance, draft board policy, respond to Public Records Act requests and interpret the impact of pending or new litigation, among other critical responsibilities.
The district now has a full-time Title IX officer and investigator, which didn't exist in 2015. Austin is not recommending that the general counsel serve as ombudsman for "informal but potentially serious complaints" or investigate discrimination complaints under the Uniform Complaint Procedure (UCP), as the previously approved position proposed.
Austin also is recommending that the general counsel reduce legal fees to external firms for like work, provide training and consultation for staff and coordinate contact with outside law firms.
Several board members have voiced support for hiring a general counsel in the hopes that it would cut down on increasing legal spending.
Austin has not worked with a general counsel in his previous school districts but said the position would provide value to the district.
"The way I understand it, the board wanted an attorney independent of the existing firms," he said. "I think there is value in that."
Austin said he reached out to the Orange County Department of Education, which oversees districts with longstanding in-house attorneys, and "got some really good feedback as to why it makes sense as far as the checks and balances and the daily contact perspective."
The district posted the general counsel position in May and has received applications, Austin said. The district has not formally interviewed any applicants since he arrived in July.
Austin also will ask the board tonight to approve a new position for Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Karen Hendricks. He is recommending she become deputy superintendent, with the added responsibility of overseeing Title IX and related compliance issues. Hendricks, who served as interim superintendent after McGee resigned last September, would continue to oversee human resources.
The change, Austin said, is meant to provide tighter oversight and "a more formalized communication loop" for Title IX compliance and requirements under a resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. Hendricks, who meets with Austin daily, would have daily contact with Title IX Compliance Officer Megan Farrell.
"It's just another layer of protection for everybody," Austin said.
Under a proposed contract that expires in June 2021, Hendricks' annual base salary would increase from $209,000 to $240,000.
The school board will meet in open session at 6:30 p.m. 25 Churchill Ave., Palo Alto. View the full agenda here.