It's been less than two months since Portola Valley Town Manager Nick Pegueros' abrupt "involuntary resignation" was announced. On Friday, Oct. 9, Portola Valley learned it was losing another administrator when the Portola Valley School District announced its superintendent, Lisa Gonzales, was leaving, effective that day.
The resignation of Superintendent Gonzales, who was hired by the two-school Portola Valley School District in August 2013, was announced by the district's board of trustees in a press release sent out shortly after noon Oct. 9.
The press release said Eric Hartwig, former Las Lomitas Elementary School District superintendent and former principal of Menlo-Atherton High School, is expected to begin as interim superintendent of the district on Oct. 15. The school board will consider his contract at its Oct. 14 meeting, the press release said.
What the release did not say, however, is that the district paid Superintendent Gonzales a severance package worth more than $100,000. A copy of the "Mutual Separation Agreement," signed by Ms. Ambler and Ms. Gonzales, and given to the Almanac after it was requested under the California Public Records Act, says that Ms. Gonzales will be paid six months of her base salary, or $91,500, plus the cash equivalent of nine months of health insurance for her family, which the district estimates at $12,000. She will also be paid for accrued vacation, which the district estimates at $8,000.
The public may never know, however, why the district asked her to resign. The agreement says neither side will communicate in any way in which "one of the parties disparages the other or has the effect of damaging in any way the reputation of ...the other party."
It also says that if Ms. Gonzales directs "future employers to the District" only Ms. Ambler will be allowed "to answer any questions relating to Ms. Gonzales' employment" with the district. It contains the wording that can be used: Her departure will be referred to as "a mutual separation for Ms. Gonzales to take on a greater leadership role" with the Association of California School Administrators.
That exact wording was used in the press release sent out by the district. The press release did not note Ms. Gonzales has served as an officer for the group since before she was hired by the district.
The board has been spending a great deal of time recently discussing the superintendent's performance. The board held closed sessions on June 3 and June 11 with the topic of "superintendent's evaluation." On Aug. 19, Sept. 16 and Sept. 23, the board held more closed sessions on the topic of "superintendent performance review."
On Sept. 29, the board met in closed session on the topic of "public employee dismissal, discipline, release," the last meeting noted on the district's website before the Oct. 9 announcement of Superintendent Gonzales' departure. The agenda did not say which employee was the subject of the Sept. 29 meeting.
In the written statement, the board expressed "gratitude to Dr. Gonzales for the many contributions to our school community under her leadership, including successfully guiding the implementation of the strategic plan, recruiting talented administrators and staff, increasing the frequency and effectiveness of communication, and bringing visibility and recognition to the district in very positive ways including the Gold Ribbon Award" for Corte Madera School.
The Portola Valley board had renewed Superintendent Gonzales' contract on Sept. 10, 2014, to run through June 30, 2017. The contract did not include an increase in the $183,000 base salary she was given for her first full year at the district.
The contract says it may be terminated "by written mutual consent," "unilaterally" by the superintendent with 90 days' notice, by the board "for cause" or by the board "without cause" with 45 days written notice. However, the contract specifies severance pay only in the latter case, when the board terminates the contact without cause.
The contract calls for the district to pay severance pay up to the end of the contract term, but not more than nine months of base salary. That means the six months of severance pay is three months less than the maximum called for in the contract.
When contacted on Oct. 9, Ms. Gonzales said she is going to become president-elect of the Association of California School Administrators next week. She said she has "served for four years as the point person for legislative work at the state and federal level" for the organization.
"As I move into the president-elect role next week, the opportunity to be the advocate that our California students most need is one I couldn't pass up," she said.
Mr. Hartwig was an English teacher in middle and high schools before becoming assistant principal at Capuchino High School, and then principal at Menlo-Atherton, a job he held for nine years. He then served for four years as director of curriculum and instruction for the Sequoia Union High School District before becoming superintendent of the Las Lomitas district, where he worked for five years before retiring.
The formal recruitment of a permanent superintendent to take over at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year will begin in January, according to the press release.