An attorney and former prosecutor who has been overseeing legal compliance for Palo Alto Unified could become the school district's first-ever general counsel.
Staff are asking the school board to waive the two-meeting rule to approve an employment contract with Komey Vishakan, who was first hired on a part-time basis in 2016 to manage Public Records Requests and promoted to manager of policy and legal compliance last June. In that role, she continued to manage records requests and supported the district's compliance with a federal resolution agreement to correct violations of civil rights law Title IX, among other responsibilities.
The school board approved the general counsel role in September — the second time the board has voted to create the position — with high hopes for how an in-house attorney can help ensure compliance, reduce ballooning legal costs and build trust with the community. The district has struggled in recent years with compliance with Title IX, instructional minutes, budget errors, the California Public Records Act and other mishaps.
If approved, Vishakan will be tasked with providing proactive legal guidance and training on board governance, public meeting laws, the California Public Records Act, special education law and federal civil-rights law Title IX, among other topics. The general counsel will also monitor billing from outside law firms with the goal of cutting down on legal expenses, which have grown sharply in recent years.
Superintendent Don Austin said in September that the district believes the position "should be easily cost-neutral to savings."
Vishakan said it would be "inappropriate" to comment at this stage since the promotion is still a proposal.
Vishakan's proposed, yearlong contract includes an annual salary of $188,634. It also includes the same health, dental, vision and other fringe benefits available to other administrative employees; transportation expenses; and $50-per-day reimbursement to cover the cost of meals and miscellaneous expenses other than hotels, parking, travel and tolls for district-related business, among other provisions.
The general counsel will report directly to the board, with a dotted line to the superintendent. If approved, the board will evaluate Vishakan's performance at least once a year under the contract.
Vishakan is a licensed attorney who came to the district from Australia, where she served as the national litigation manager for the Australian Crime Commission, a national criminal intelligence agency, for close to two years, according to her resume. Prior to that, she worked as a court advocate and prosecutor with the Crown Prosecution Service, the primary public prosecuting agency for conducting criminal prosecutions in England and Wales; and as a federal prosecutor for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions in Australia, among other jobs.
From 2013 to 2014, she was the vice president of outreach and membership for the Addison Elementary School PTA and the following year, served as the school's PTA co-president, according to her LinkedIn page.
She has also volunteered with Communities Overcoming Relationship Abuse in San Mateo and Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto and was briefly a paralegal intern at the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office in 2013.
Vishakan holds a bachelor of commerce, the equivalent of a business administration degree, according to her resume, from the University of Sydney, Australia; and a bachelor of laws, the equivalent of a doctor of jurisprudence, from the University of Western Sydney.
The school board will discuss the proposed contract at its Tuesday, Dec. 4 meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m.