Carol Piraino named to head Portola Valley School District

After serving as acting superintendent since February, she will take permanent position

Carol Piraino, who has scrambled over the last five months to keep the district functional during the crisis resulting from the alleged financial misdeeds of the former superintendent, has been named Portola Valley School District's permanent superintendent.

The school board Wednesday night, June 20, unanimously approved a two-year contract for Ms. Piraino, who had been serving as assistant superintendent under Tim Hanretty.

Mr. Hanretty resigned in late January, and Ms. Piraino was appointed acting superintendent. Since his resignation, Mr. Hanretty has been arrested on six felony counts of embezzlement from the district, and will face charges of stealing nearly $101,000 of district funds to renovate his home.

During the last five months, Ms. Piraino "has been vetted, tested," and has shown that "she is a phenomenal leader," said board President Scott Parker.

Given all she had to manage since February, "working 80 or 100 hours a week," he added, "we didn't find it appropriate or even necessary to do a full search" for a superintendent.

Ms. Piraino will be paid $185,000 annually, and be covered by medical, vision and dental insurance, according to her contract.

Before her stint in the district office, which began in 2010, Ms. Piraino was principal of Corte Madera School, one of the district's two schools.


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Posted by DD
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jun 21, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Good choice. Carol Piraino is great. My kids had her as a principal at a Palo Alto elementary school and she was a fantastic principal.

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Posted by Really?
a resident of Corte Madera School
on Jun 21, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Horrible choice. She once, along with Tim Hanretty, claimed to not even understand the concept of transparency. She has created a divisive environment and shown no leadership whatsoever in terms of staff interactions, often unable to even conduct an effective meeting.

She is, however, the best friend of helicopter parents!

Unfortunately, this shows just how detached from the students and staff the board really is.

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Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jun 21, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Hey school board, you blew it, again. Piraino is very introverted and as such was not successful as the principal at CMS. Rather than do their job, the school board solved the problem with money by hiring a new principal and invented a new job for her - to direct the curriculum. In this role she was successful.

A 700 person school district does not need 26 non-teachers on the payroll. With our 51 teachers we enjoy a 13-1 student teacher ration. So while we do not need a superintendent, if we are going to hire one, we should find one who is charismatic and business oriented to inspire confidence and solve the budget problems. This is definitely not Carol Piraino’s strength.

School Board, please redeem yourselves for being asleep at the wheel by trimming a good chunk of the 26 Admin headcounts and doing your best to cut back our real budget issue - teacher compensation levels which average $150k per year (salary + pension + healthcare).

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Posted by PVSD Supporter
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jun 21, 2012 at 3:06 pm

I, for one, am so grateful for Carol Piraino, especially given all of the uncertainty that she has shouldered in the wake of Tim Hanretty’s resignation. I am continually shocked and embarrassed by the vitriol and condescension heaped on those who work so hard on our children’s behalf. It is equally upsetting to see that numerous “on-lookers” stick to such a narrow view of all of those who help our children grow and learn in the Portola Valley Schools. Excellent schools take many hands to support - this includes administrators, counselors, specialists, and staff, as well as hundreds of parents – not mention an all volunteer school board that gives endless hours on our children’s behalf. Two districts were systematically abused by Mr. Hanretty. Two districts now are now dealing with here-to-unknown debt that it took teams of Forensic Auditors to uncover. People have been hurt and many people are working to fix the problem. Maybe some of the adults in this community could apply themselves to the principals of fairness, empathy and respect that we know is a central part of our children’s education in both of Portola Valley’s distinguished schools. If our kids talked this way, they would be asked: “Are you being a bucket filler, or a bucket dipper?”

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Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jun 21, 2012 at 5:22 pm

PVSD spends more than twice the state average to educate our kids, yet we are in a budget crisis. Hanretty’s crime is financially immaterial. The problem is Henretty, the School Board, and current and previous PVSD Administrator’s (including Piraino) mismanagement which resulted in too much Admin headcount and overcompensated teachers. The School Board is endorsing Piraino’s solution to our budget problem which is to take it out on our kids - cut 10 days from the school year, cut K-5 Spanish and cut small class sizes at CMS. If you care about the kids maybe you should focus on these facts, rather than the feelings of well paid administrators.

As for the feelings of our volunteer School board members, they are compensated, just not with cash. Their kids always get the good teachers, a benefit that only accrues to $25k+ a year Foundation donors. Further, they leverage the prestige of being on the School Board into other career, social and/or self satisfaction benefits. All that is fine, but when they blow it, criticism is warranted.

As outlined above, the budget could be balanced by cutting some of our 26 non-teacher Admins. Those cuts should be shared by the Teachers but their union will never allow it. Hiring Piraino is another sign that our School Board is not getting the message. School Board please stand up to the Administration and Teachers Union and protect the education of our kids.

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Posted by Not Disappointed
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jun 21, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Happy to see the appointment of Carol Piraino and happy to see that despite all the turmoil there is a balanced budget for the upcoming school year. The audit showed that embezzlement was only one element of the previous superintendent's behavior - spending $s/not getting authorization, reporting different numbers that actuals, mis-budgeting - read the audit report..

The class size data (based on budget) ranges from 20 - 24.33 for grades K-6 where that data is relevant (since grades 7/8 are by subject) - seems quite reasonable compared to other neighboring districts. The focus on non-teacher admins is uninformed when one considers what those folks do - for kids, for running the schools, for dealing with community members like Disappointed who offer complaints and wallow in their anger. Cutting the 1 hour/week of spanish that K-3 kids receive is not earth shattering. furlough days have to be agree with the unions correct? The budget is balanced and now the reserve has to be built up again - hope we can all be a part of that.

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Posted by Bad Choice
a resident of Corte Madera School
on Jun 22, 2012 at 8:45 am

Piraino was the "Assistant Superintendent" when all of this budget stuff was happening. First of all, who needs an Assistant Superintendent in a district with two schools? Secondly, she clearly did nothing to identify or stop the problematic budget situation. $100k embezzlement aside, the deeper budget mismanagement was right there in plain sight: $400k of invoices to an architectural firm to "repair playground gas leak"? She's part of the problem, not part of the solution.

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Posted by Setting record straight
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jun 22, 2012 at 9:03 am

Bad Choice, Piraino was the assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum and education services. If you've got a problem with those things in the district's operations, you can justly criticize her. To trash her over not watching over finances when Hanretty was exclusively in charge of that aspect of administration is not only unjust, it's outrageous.

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Posted by Matt R.
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jun 22, 2012 at 10:25 am

Matt R. is a registered user.

Good or not, I don't think it's appropriate to award a $180k plus a year job without opening the position to other candidates to apply. There is lots on both side of the ledger, but it's not OK just to award a contract of that magnitude without learning about other options.

It's very possible that with a full and open search for a candidate, she still might have been awarded the contract. But now we'll never know.

This is a missed opportunity to both find out what other options the district had, as well as rebuild a bit of trust with the community.

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Posted by PVSD Supporter
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jun 22, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Matt R, Carol Piraino was selected as the Chief Academic Officer two years ago, following a very open and competitive process. She was selected, from a very large pool of applicants, because of her educational expertise and vision for the district's total academic program - many of the district's parents were a part of this process. This promotion, from my perspective is more about the district returning to the past admin structure of the Superintendent being the Chief Academic Officer, rather than the Chief Financial Officer. It is also in recognition, as I understood, the comments made at the board meeting, of leadership qualities she has demonstrated in real time (something that is always a roll of the dice when hiring someone new). She is a known quantity - she is our leader - get behind her and be a builder. I would like to know how the district could have done a search of such scale in the middle of working through the current crisis brought on by Tim Hanretty. From watching the last selection process, this is not something that is initiated in late Spring, but rather winter and fall. We can have our disagreements, but let's remember - like it or not - that we have elected and appointed officials who have to balance such decisions - knowing full well that whatever is decided will be volleyed about by monday morning quarterbacks forever.

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Posted by Very disappointed
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jun 22, 2012 at 5:57 pm

I agree real bad choice to name Carol because her aim was always to move to the top.
She does not engage and is not charismatic at all .
Kids never liked her and also the present principal who is very quiet and aloof like her.
[Portion removed; don't accuse others of crimes or complicity in crimes with no evidence.]
Too much money was wasted on experimental courses and programs and the kids suffered .
I also firmly believe board member's kids have priveleage . The whole Dr D fiasco was badly managed by the school also and the ultimate sufferers were the kids and parents who opted to stay with him to support him . He gave terrible grades , mislead kids and was totally disconnected and the principal , assistant superintendent or anyone ever bothered to check .
The hype of "Portola Valley Community" and constantly trying to be superior is resulted in this mess .
Finally this position should have been advertised and other people should have been given a chance .
More mess will come out .

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Posted by Embarrassed for PV
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jun 22, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Wow - I'm just thoroughly embarrassed by the comportment here. The community was victimized by Tim, now we're turning on each other with semi-informed vitriol.

To hold Piraino accountable for a situation that was totally aside from her responsibility makes no sense. You may as well hold Kindergarten teachers and Special Ed counselors responsible for Tim's behavior "that happened on their watch."

It wasn't Piraino's watch - she was explicitly not responsible for finance or budget. So to try to smear her this way is uninformed and disappointing. It's one thing to be angry seek answers and accountability. It's another to indiscriminately point a flamethrower at those who are trying to dig us out of this. Like them or not, they're the path forward, and if you've had a one-on-one with any of them you'll realize they're not venal idiots.

It's ok to be mad and seek accountability. But to use this tragedy as an opportunity to air grievances in bombastic and petty ways diminishes our community. Have you tried talking directly to Piraino or principals or board members? Have you called them or asked to meet? I have, and it's a far cry from the parking lot bloviating you see here.

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Posted by Matt R.
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jun 24, 2012 at 9:09 am

Matt R. is a registered user.

Tim resigned in Feb. That's four months to open a position and vet people. Two years ago Carol may have been the best candidate, but now we will never know if it's still true today. I still view it as irresponsible to award one of the highest paid (if not the highest paid) positions in the district based on past interview. In case people haven't notices, there is a recession and quality people in all industries are available and hungery for work.

If one want's to stick to the excuse that there wasn't enough time, then the Board should have written a one year contract with language saying that the position would be opened for interviews next year, but that's not what's in the contract.

I've spoken with lots of people about this, both inside and outside the district. All of whom are in positions of great responsibility in large organizations. No one has said that this type of rubber stamp promotion is the optimal way to go, and most have said that this type of process is exactly the wrong way to go in terms of building confidence in organizational process.

If we ask ourselves how the district has gone over the last two years, it is very hard to say that everything is optimal. If one limits the discussion to just academic performance, when I was looking at the API scores, Corte Madera has had continual improvement, but Ormondale has not.

In all executive search committees, favored current personnel have the inside track, basically the job is theirs to lose. Home field advantage, so to speak. But look at the comments here on just this forum: It's pretty obvious that there is not universal support for this appointment.

Like I said in my previous post, it's very possible that this is the best candidate available for the job. But that is not a given, and without actually looking at other candidates, we'll never know. All that post that this is the best possible choice and a job well done don't have any data to back up that position, because no data was collected. That is just a fact of the process. Thinking that we are getting the best for our money is just an act of faith. I hope it's true, but I too will never know. That is the definition of a missed opportunity.

I'd also think that with all the evidence of what taking the easy way has done to the district in the last three years, that we all would be looking for a bit more rigor and attention to process and detail in the execution of all our roles. The route taken with this appointment isn't an indication that we are doing things better. Now that is really sad.

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Posted by Pesky Facts
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jun 24, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Hey Matt R, hate to interrupt your pontificating with pesky facts but if you read the contract it is "at will" and can be terminated relatively quickly. Also it only lasts at max for two years, not what I believe to be the normal three years. So in effect it is a one year contract at what she was making as Assistant Superintendent. Seems like a good choice to make given the situation.

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Posted by Matt R.
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jun 24, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Matt R. is a registered user.

Yep, it's one year with an option to renew. Let's hope that the board chooses to open up a search for qualified people. What I fear, and what the track record indicates, is that they will renew, and won't search. Anyone willing to bet against that one?

Can anyone point to a time in the past when we've formed a search committe to find a potential replacement when a contract hasn't run it's full term, including optional extensions? (I've only had kids in the district for three years, and to tell you the truth, I wasn't following closely until recently.)

And what's with all the fake names on the for the posters? I have an opinion and will put my name to it.

So, no one is arguing that we can't know if this was the best move?

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Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jun 25, 2012 at 9:39 am

I would like to address fake names. We are never shy about discussing our opinions to the Board, administration and teachers. Through this approach we have affected positive change in our district and will continue to do so. However, each and every time, our child has paid the price. The administration (and a very few teachers) are territorial and vindictive. This is the only forum where community members can discuss their true feelings, and that is a very positive thing.

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Posted by Matt R.
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jun 26, 2012 at 9:33 am

Matt R. is a registered user.

I understand now.... I guess I'll be a difficult one... While I offer what I think is constructive criticism that isn't always supportive of the current status quo, I also was in my daughters classroom for litteraly hundreds of hours this year.

The PV forum is a bit more transparent on who says what, and it has pretty active discussion as well.

But overall, anything that can help improve the adoption of best practices is a welcome addition.

Back to the original topic: I wish Carol the very best and hope that her performance does nothing but justify her appointment. In this case, I hope the future brands me as an unjustified alarmist. This is something where I don't want to have the option of saying "I told you so."

That said, I'll be giving input to the Board that I think there should be a district policy to ALWAYS open a search when any contract runs out for senior personnel.


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Posted by very disappointed too
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jul 1, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Very disappointed,
Your June 22nd post at 5:57 is spot on. Thank you.
I am a believer in using my name -taking ownership of my opinions and ideas. The fact that some of us do not feel safe using our real name for fear of retribution directed at us or our children is very sad. Speaks volumes about Carol Piraino's "Portola Valley Community"

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle

on Jun 1, 2017 at 11:54 am

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