School district may hire another lead attorney | August 26, 2022 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 26, 2022

School district may hire another lead attorney

Board of Education seeks clarity on general counsel's reporting structure after terminating prior one

by Zoe Morgan

The Palo Alto school board held its first public discussion about the future of the district's general counsel position on Tuesday after voting in closed session to terminate the contract of the only person to ever hold the job earlier this month.

This story contains 739 words.

Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.

If you are already a member, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Membership starts at $12 per month and may be cancelled at any time.

Log in     Join

Email Staff Writer Zoe Morgan at


Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2022 at 2:16 pm

Citizen is a registered user.

Why do they need in-house council? They've pretty much realized all they have to do is just ignore families whose kids they've harmed, that most don't sue. Added bonus that they never have to bother themselves with contemplating the damage they do to the kids whose lives and futures they hurt by this violation of their legal responsibility. Why pay for legal then? Win win for the board and admin, yay!

Having the in-house council for awhile wasn't useless, it allowed them to realize the outside council they had before just had combative advice that made things worse (but got those lawyers some nice legal fee payouts). Now they can go with the lowest bidder and just continue to ignore families whose children they fail under the law. In this district, it's always been the case that those who can afford lawyers and advocates get what they need and screw everyone else. So long as the kids of some of the board members always get what they need, who cares, right?

Posted by Samuel L
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 24, 2022 at 4:42 pm

Samuel L is a registered user.

Austin shifting the Title IX coordinator to report to his Deputy Sup. sure will make it easier to bury Title IX complaints. Also, Austin hand-picked Trent Bahadursingh to be his Deputy Superintendent. They've worked together before. I wonder how Bahadursingh will be loyal to should a Title IX complaint be potentially damaging to the district? I doubt he will be looking out for the students' best interests. Just one more step in Austin trying to insulate himself and the district.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 24, 2022 at 5:06 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

From what I've seen in the past, I don't expect most people elected to local school boards to be adequately competent, let alone sufficiently well-versed in relevant the law, to be able to choose competent internal counsel. I'd recommend that they choose external, semi-independent counsel from a highly competent law firm. And that, in addition, they give the law firm power to override board decisions that are not legally in the best interests of the students, the schools, and board members. OK, that's a bit extreme, but the firm must have a powerful say in staying any decisions that might have legal consequences for the school district.

Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2022 at 6:13 pm

Citizen is a registered user.

The trouble is that when our district has done this in the past, law firms have essentially become personal legal for CYA (l'etat c'est moi) administrators, which ends up being really expensive, because the more control the lawfirms have, the more likely they will act in their own interests to jack up fees, and as personal legal for administrators who send them work. We were spending obscene amounts of money and they were all working against the best interests of the district's kids and families.

Then there is literally no constituency acting in best interests of students and families to handle complaints, when the district messes up, or when they should do things they don't want to do. There is still a culture in this district that when they mess up, they DO NOT solve problems to fix their mistakes, they jettison and ignore those poor kids, and expect the best thing is to start over and be perfect the next time, until the inevitable problems crop up. They literally do not solve problems, and because of that, they never learn how.

What really needs to happen is that an entity not under the purview of the board, but concerned with and representing the welfare of all of our kids, like the Mayor's office, needs to have an ombudsperson position with the mandate and power to ensure the district handles complaints locally and that the district meets its duty to all children in our district.

Our kids and families really need an entity representing them to ensure adults with conflicts of interest do not keep failing our kids who fall through the cracks. There is some precedent to having some power over the district in the mayor's office in other cities. District administrators and legal should be representing the kids but in reality they have been representing their own interests often against the kids.

Posted by Samuel L
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 24, 2022 at 7:40 pm

Samuel L is a registered user.

The district will never hire a neutral party such as an ombudsman(person) for the simple facts that you point out. The district is not concerned with what is best for the students, only what is best for the bottom line and their public image.

Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 25, 2022 at 10:50 am

Citizen is a registered user.

You are exactly right. This is why I'm suggesting this be done through the City governmental structure, which is how some communities have handled exactly this. Parents, citizens, would have to demand that their children's interests be prioritized by creating such a position. This would probably have to happen by an amendment to the CITY charter (the City's "constitution" that sets up the school district and the school district structure--note that this has NOTHING to do with "charter schools"). There is a very specific process to do this and would involve a lot of discussion and debate, and a vote, since legally a change to the city charter has to involve a vote.

The biggest problem is that until the worst happens to your kid and family, you cannot imagine that adults involved in children's education could be so horrible.

Posted by Samuel L
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 25, 2022 at 2:35 pm

Samuel L is a registered user.

There's a long list of families that have had the misfortune of getting stepped on by the PAUSD administration, site administrators, teachers, staff and board members. As you said, those who have not had to deal with them just assume they are all great. Many know they are horrible but are unwilling to step forward while their child is in school. That alone should tell you how horrible the district is.

I think Vishakan was maybe trying to make changes to the relationship and maybe trying to become more neutral and the district didn't like the thought of their dirty laundry being laid out for everyone to see. Merely a guess as Vishakan has also gone along with many of the horrible actis committed by the district.

Posted by Just Another Parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 25, 2022 at 3:05 pm

Just Another Parent is a registered user.

Austin needs to go.

Posted by Retired PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on Aug 26, 2022 at 7:43 am

Retired PAUSD Teacher is a registered user.

Site administrators, for the most part, are beholden to Austin and the Board. They learn quickly to
tow the line, or else lose their job. Students, parents, and teachers only count in newsletters, and are subordinate to whatever flavor of the day initiatives emanate from 25 Churchill. Most are undertaken to make district admin look busy. Without constantly recycled "educational strategies", replete outside vendors, I'm not sure the folks at 25 Churchill would have anything of substance to do on any given day. Generating issues instead of solving them, and providing pork for the myriad of third party providers is the order of the day. Question it internally and you get harassed or pushed out.

Just a minor case in point: In 2021 teachers were told to sign over 90 pages worth of "Board Policies". The "professional development activity" was implemented through an online vendor and teachers were given 4 MINUTES (that's right 4 minutes) to review the 90+ PDF's. Not all of the links worked, and when that was brought to the attention of the folks at 25 Churchill, it was ignored. As a result, I did not sign off on the documents (I don't sign what I can't read). My site principal then wrote me up for not completing "the training". I had to bring the union in to get the reprimand removed from my file. I literally had to ask the head of certificated HR if she would sign a 90 page loan agreement without reading it in under five minutes. Luckily she saw the logic, and I was "acquitted" of the charges. Yet it is this kind of thing that goes on daily when someone challenges the "wisdom" of 25 Churchill.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 30, 2022 at 12:55 am

Anonymous is a registered user.

The Board or at least DiBrianza voted on letting Vishakan go without fully knowing the reporting structure or ever meeting with Vishakan for a performance review or simple check-in? Maybe Vishakan did have a lot the Board should know about, but Austin stopped her.

Austin making the Title IX coordinator report to Bahadursingh has a purpose. What would three MEN in power do to support Title IX? Nothing. [Portion removed.]

Bahadursingh has no qualifications to manage Title IX but Austin handpicked him, so there you go. Austin's suggestion to consider external law firms means he has probably handpicked a law firm already and is manipulating the board to go along with that idea. External law firm means less liability for Austin, Bahadursingh and any other administrator seeking to bury the truth. It also has other ripple effects that are probably calculated already, but their purpose is to make it seem innocent.

The entire Board should be more involved in the process and not just the president. They should also talk to their staff more often, they might just come across so many truths one day.

Posted by Samuel L
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 31, 2022 at 3:48 pm

Samuel L is a registered user.

@Anonymous - It's fairly obvious that Austin is having his handmaid Bahadursingh be the TItle IX point of contact because it will allow Austin to control the narrative.

The board is either clueless, like DiBrienza or complicit like Dauber, Collins and Dharap. DiBrienza is quoted as saying, "That's my concern. It feels very disconnected and it feels like if there was something that the general counsel thought we should know, is that just (done) through the board president? Is there ever a time, besides an annual evaluation, that the board and the general counsel are just talking in a room, the six of them?"

How does she not know how this works? Has she really never had a question of the legal counsel? If, in the past 3 years, she has never wanted to ask a question of the district's legal counsel, she doesn't seem very involved in the workings of the district. How can she not know how to communicate with their own counsel?

Austin and the board will continue to ignore the students that actually need help so they can take credit for the successes of the district. In short time, students will write another article about the culture of rape in the schools, how the district protects the rapist and shames the victims. The district will downplay the article and/or make a public claim of changes being made. The PTA will back them up. Nothing will change. The cycle will continue.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.


Sign-up now for 5K Run/Walk, 10k Run, Half Marathon

The 39th annual Moonlight Run and Walk is Friday evening, September 29. Join us under the light of the full Harvest Moon on a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon. Complete your race in person or virtually. Proceeds from the race go to the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund, benefiting local nonprofits that serve families and children in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.