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More details on abrupt departure of Portola Valley superintendent

Original post made on Oct 12, 2015

When the Portola Valley School District announced the departure of Superintendent Lisa Gonzales in a press release on Friday, Oct. 9, they left out a few details - like an at least $91,500 severance package.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, October 12, 2015, 6:44 AM

Comments (24)

Posted by Tweet This
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Oct 12, 2015 at 10:10 am

Here's an interesting puzzle:

What does (5 meetings on performance evaluation) + (1 meeting on dismissal) +
(an abrupt resignation in the middle of first semester) + (prepared separation statements without candid commentary) + (an already hired interim replacement) + (6 month severance package) = ?

Posted by School District Reform
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 12, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Perhaps the bigger question is why are there no less than 4 grammar school district in Menlo Park proper covering a total of 9 schools? Each district has their own $175,000++ superintendent with a complete support staff. Combine the 4 districts into one and reduce the overhead by 75% thus saving the taxpayers money and eliminating the need for a bond measure every year. There is plenty of money, just manage the money available more efficiently.

Posted by stan
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Oct 12, 2015 at 12:47 pm

Reply to "Tweet this"

It means I think that we need an emoji for "COVERUP".

Posted by WP
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Oct 12, 2015 at 1:48 pm

As far as school district reform, there's a give and take between larger districts which save administrative overhead and smaller ones that are more responsive to the local community. Portola Valley seems to have had a lot of problems. Las Lomitas seems to be better managed and I don't think there are many LL parents clamouring to join forces with Menlo Park. As a LL parent with a college freshman, we had a fews ups and downs but generally have been highly satisfied with the education our kids have gotten in the public schools. We have several little towns in our area where the home prices are high enough that the schools are functionally semi-private. Good luck to PV, Eric Hartwig did a great job in his years as our superintendent.

Posted by Follow the money
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 12, 2015 at 2:05 pm

After Serrano-Priest in the 1970s, school funding across districts was supposed to be equalized. In reality, some districts had grandfathered benefits that they did not have to give up. You will not see Menlo Park and Las Lomitas (the most obvious merger) joining to create a six-school district because Las Lomitas has many more grandfathered perks, including higher salaries for staff/teachers, and they are not about to relinquish those.

This is more about politics and special interests than about efficiency.

Posted by CC
a resident of La Entrada School
on Oct 12, 2015 at 3:47 pm

Eric Hartwig is FABULOUS!! I so wish he hadn't retired from LLESD. Good wishes, Eric, get it all sorted out for them. 😘

Posted by AGAIN??
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Oct 12, 2015 at 8:06 pm

What is going on in our PV school district administration? Why aren't we being informed? I cannot tell you how glad I am that our child is no longer in the school system, in spite of the excellence of the teachers and staff. We just cannot seem to keep Superintendents or Assistant Superintendents. Or, at least, not without them mysteriously resigning, all of a sudden. Will some kind of scandal come out about this? Sigh.

Posted by PV Parent
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Oct 12, 2015 at 8:12 pm

I'd like to ask that all contracts for administrators for both the Portola Valley School District and the Town of Portola Valley be negotiated by someone other than whoever is doing it now. My God, in an area with so many experienced business leaders and entrepreneurs, we seem to end up paying out enormous sums of money to administrators who summarily quit their jobs and take other jobs. Why the hell should Lisa get paid and get full family insurance when she is already employed elsewhere? What kind of negotiator do we have on our side? WTF.

Obviously, PV has become known as the place to go when you want to make a ton of money for doing nothing, then grab your golden parachute and saunter off into the sunset.

No, I will NOT be contributing to yet another PVSD annual campaign. You've wasted enough of our money.

Posted by Observer
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Oct 12, 2015 at 10:07 pm

Does the PVSD Board really have the authority to give away public funds in such extraordinary amounts without an adequate explanation to its electorate?

Could the PVSD Board please provide a full explanation to our community? Now?

If not, we need to tie future community financial support of PVSD to PVSD accountability and open, public communication.

The time has come.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Oct 13, 2015 at 5:56 am

This is called The Portola Valley Way.

Anne Campbell didn't stay through her contract. Tim Hanretty didn't stay through his contract (thankfully). Carole Piraino didn't stay through her contract and resigned abruptly and got paid to leave. Lisa Gonzales didn't stay through her contract and got paid to leave. Great teachers like Ms. Brown, Ms. Joi, and Mr. Mead get pushed out. And the board doesn't have to answer any questions or be held responsible for any of it. This is called the Portola Valley Way.

It is very sad to admit but the district has lots its way.

Posted by PVSD Employee
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Oct 13, 2015 at 9:23 am

I've worked for PVSD for many years. Yes, things are not perfect, but I can tell you that the people who work here do their absolute best for these wonderful kids and families.

I can certainly understand why people would like to have more information about why Dr. Gonzales left, but has anyone stopped to think that the Board needs to limit their communication to avoid possible liability to do the district? If you read between the lines, I am sure you can figure it out. I'm an sorry it has to be this way.

It's very frustrating for me to read what people who have never worked in education say are the answers. It's not simple. Please, if you're going to write something inflammable, please make sure to have your facts correct. Anne Campbell did not receive a pay-out. Tim Hanretty did not receive a pay-out. Carol Piraino did not receive a pay-out. For such an intelligent, educated community, I'm amazed at all the inaccuracies I see written here.

Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Oct 13, 2015 at 9:54 am

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

A link to the Mutual Separation Agreement has been posted in the story. The district provided us this document after we made a public records request. They were obligated to provide the document because it provides details about spending public money.

Posted by Oreil
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Oct 13, 2015 at 11:44 am

I smell a rat. Why are we paying out such huge amounts without knowing what is going on? Where is the transparency? I worked for years for a school district before retirement, it was never this hush-hush and such ridiculous amounts of money paid out! Where is the accountability?

Posted by CC
a resident of La Entrada School
on Oct 13, 2015 at 1:15 pm

TEACHERS UNIONS. Or in this case, administrators unions - that's why it's secretive and expensive. When LE got rid of their recent previous principal, who had been a disaster in Palo Alto, he was able to move up to an even higher paid job in another district. I expect they regret it.

Union contracts make it so difficult to fire people that it's hard to find out why someone left their last position -- you squeeze them out any way you can and pray they get another job that makes it uninteresting for them to sue your district on any pretext.

LLESD had a joke of a superintendent for less that a year because parents wanted an open interview process. It turns out that very few qualified administrators want their districts to find out they are interviewing elsewhere, so no one good applied. Thankfully Eric Hartwig came in at the end of that disaster when the district went back to closed interviews.

There's often a lot of parent complaints or gossip in a district where someone isn't a right fit. I'd hate to see the district _pay_ someone to do a good thorough dig through social media and local papers like the Almanac, but I hope someone in the board or selection committee will be diligent about it. Get sleuthing when you're already to make an offer to make sure you aren't hiring some other district's problem. Perhaps reach out to LLESD board members to find out what they've learned.

Posted by NOT a PVSD employee
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Oct 13, 2015 at 1:25 pm

To PVSD employee: Absolutely ridiculous. Gonzales clearly had an attorney. A better way than firing without cause (and thus, the payout) would have been to find ways in which Gonzales wasn't performing appropriately, and fire her for cause. This, however, takes scrutinizing work---something nobody is willing to put in in a situation like this. Much easier just to give away the parents' money, since there doesn't have to be any kind of explanation.

I think it's time to review the way the Sequoia Union School District is run, as well as the PVSD. At least two excellent former PVSD members left the board after dealing with the aftermath of the Hanretty [word removed]. Perhaps that was a clue right there.

Posted by A Parent
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2015 at 5:02 pm

To CC:

Your post is an excellent example of someone posting who has no clue what they are talking about. Superintendents are not part of any bargaining unit. To put it in very clear and simple terms, they are not in any union.

Neither are principals.

Posted by Shocked
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2015 at 5:20 pm

This is a huge loss for Portola Valley.

Posted by Get Real
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2015 at 5:28 pm

Where is the dislike button? The lack of outcry from the community over the past few days since the announcement of the resignation in combination with the details emerging, illustrate the only true "loss" to Portola Valley. The loss in this instance is how much money the district had to pay to shed this contract.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Oct 13, 2015 at 6:09 pm

Gonzales was not a "good fit" in Palo Alto and for the same reason was not a "good fit" with our district. Why do you think all of those wonderful teachers left?

Posted by Observer
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Oct 14, 2015 at 5:28 pm

Going forward, it seems high time for a provision along the following lines to be included in all higher level public employment contracts in Portola Valley:


It seems unlikely that a competent, qualified candidate would take issue with this provision, if fully disclosed/included at the outset. And if severance is merited, so be it, but it is not appropriate to expend our public funds under a cloak of secrecy without appropriate substantiation and justification.

Would a representative of PVSD or Town of PV be willing to express support for this provision?

Surely, some of them are (or should be) reading these posts.

Posted by PV Resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Oct 14, 2015 at 6:24 pm

Oh my goodness. Ignorance reigns here. There are well-established best practices in labor proceedings, confidentiality, contract law and separation-of-employment. Everything in the article is consistent with these. It's fun to be shrill and tut-tut about how clever WE are and what bozos THEY are but there's nothing extraordinary here.

The amounts are not extraordinary. Teachers leaving is not extraordinary. The length-of-employment is not extraordinary. The process is not extraordinary. The severance agreement is not extraordinary. The confidentiality is not extraordinary. And the strident tut-tutting is the most ordinary part of this whole process. When a superintendent leaves a district at the board's request, this is what it looks like.

Posted by Observer
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Oct 14, 2015 at 7:07 pm

@PV Resident:

Some actual facts, concrete examples, legal authority, if you please. Otherwise, yes indeed. Ignorance reigns.

Posted by Observer
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Oct 14, 2015 at 9:34 pm

@PV Resident:

Please clarify/explain your statement:

"When a superintendent leaves a district at the board's request, this is what it looks like."

Do you have facts to support your assertion that the superintendent left at PVSD request? This is a key question to which the PVSD has provided no answer to the public or its electorate. Yet you seem to know?

What information can you share to show us that "this is what it looks like" in similar situations?

What similar situations? Is there another secret $90K+/- severance package for a school superintendent who departed at his/her board's request that you can point to for comparison purposes/support of your position?

Posted by new participant
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Oct 15, 2015 at 12:48 am

Lisa Gonzales is neither a victim nor a hero. The school board acted professionally and appropriately. Read the released agreement between the board and Ms. Gonzales. That type of agreement in no way implies that she was leaving for another job opportunity. She was forced out. [Part removed.]

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