News

Editorial: After campaigning for transparency, school board members revert to the habits they criticized in predecessors

Email reveals coordinated plan to circumvent ground rules to reach Stanford agreement

When we recommended that voters support the election of Ken Dauber, Todd Collins, Jennifer DiBrienza and Shounak Dharap in the last two school board elections, their strong views on the importance of transparency was a major factor.

Over and over in the past, the school district has found itself in avoidable controversies because past boards and superintendents have opted to hide their actions from the public in improper or ill-advised closed sessions, behind-the-scenes communications or calculated obfuscation. These four current school board members ran against this behavior in their campaigns and promised to change the district's culture of opaque decision-making.

So it is deeply disappointing to learn this week that the board, Superintendent Don Austin and Stanford University worked in concert to circumvent the intentions of the Brown Act, limit public awareness and undermine county ground rules agreed to by Stanford when they reached a "conditional" mitigation agreement to compensate the district for the impacts of additional students from new tax-exempt housing development on Stanford lands.

In a carefully orchestrated plan revealed in a March 29 email from Austin to the school board and other emails obtained by the Weekly, the school district and Stanford developed and implemented a strategy to hide the fact they had negotiated a deal two weeks prior to April 15, the date that Stanford was technically no longer bound by ground rules established with the county about entering into side agreements relating to the university's general use permit (GUP) application. (The April 15 date was dubious enough, since it assumed the completion of a county development agreement with Stanford by then, and in fact negotiations had not even begun.)

Austin's email, provided to the Weekly in response to a Public Records Act request, also shows that Austin intended to brief each board member individually about the tentative deal with Stanford and advised them that they could not discuss it with anyone nor consider it an "agreement" because "we are prohibited from striking an agreement until April 15th."

He also alerted the board that there would be a closed session on April 10, for which the district and Stanford attorneys had reached "complete agreement about the posting language" for the agenda notice. That language, the same as had been used for five previous closed-session meetings, improperly hid from the public that the item was about the Stanford negotiations. Instead, it said the legal justification for the closed session was "anticipated litigation ... regarding Stanford University General Use Permit Environmental Impact Report." In fact, there was never any anticipated litigation against Stanford, nor even a remote rationale for it.

That deceptive posting was necessary because there is no proper exception in the Brown Act for holding a closed session on the negotiations the district and Stanford were having. The Weekly warned the board of this improper agenda notice on the morning of the April 16 meeting after learning the real purpose of the meeting and questioned the legality of both discussing and developing a consensus on the agreement outside of a public meeting.

Perhaps most revealing of all, Austin's email told the board "I suggest advertising the meeting widely, but not posting (the agenda) until close to the 24-hour notice (the afternoon of April 15) for reasons I will explain later." The reason was that he was attempting to make it appear that no agreement had been negotiated until April 15 to protect Stanford from accusations that it violated county rules.

Austin told the Weekly the reason was that there was no finished agreement as of March 29 and there was a chance the April 16 meeting wasn't going to occur. That does not explain why he wanted to give the public the minimum possible legal notice or why the board stood for this.

He declined to comment on Stanford's involvement in deciding on the agenda-posting language for the closed session on April 10, saying, "That gets into so many nuances of the law that for me to comment would be inappropriate."

It was good that the district and Stanford worked to develop an agreement on mitigating increased student enrollment from new Stanford tax-exempt housing, but in the process both engaged in conduct that disrespected and misled the public and attempted to manipulate the county's process for review of Stanford's development goals for the next 25 years.

It's now time for the three school board members who haven't been recused on the issue (DiBrienza, Baten Caswell and Dharap) to partially remediate their actions by asking Stanford to renegotiate the proposed agreement, with full public input and without it being contingent on the county's approval of a development agreement.

Related content:

Stanford withdraws $138M school mitigation agreement, for now

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Comments

45 people like this
Posted by Seriously
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 10, 2019 at 8:03 am

Outstanding editorial and reporting. Looking forward to the follow-up.


48 people like this
Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on May 10, 2019 at 8:36 am

Bill Bucy is a registered user.

Excellent work by the Weekly.

Austin clearly attempted to circumvent the Brown Act. Based on your editorial, the board endorsed his scam. At the least, public apologies are in order and, should something like this happen again, dismissal and recalls considered.

Until board members and management understand there are consequences for trying to run the district behind closed doors, this kind of behavior will continue.


29 people like this
Posted by history - learn from it!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 10, 2019 at 9:22 am

How do we always end up with such incompetent superintendents?

This type of Brown Act violation is exactly what happened with the last super. How is it that the board isn't calling him out for such a blatant infraction?

Then just look at all his scurrying around behind the scenes hoping no one notices!


25 people like this
Posted by Cover-up Culture
a resident of Community Center
on May 10, 2019 at 10:54 am

To our esteemed, award winning publication, thank you for uncovering this PAUSD and school board scheme to cover up and flout transparency and accountability. Not new news at PAUSD. May I suggest that it is time for an award winning publication to admit its role in facilitating other coverups in PAUSD's culture of cover up and retaliation, to apologize for eagerly joining the district and people's bandwagons rather than employing critical thinking, and instead, going forward, fulfill its essential and needed role of honest broker holding the powerful accountable, demanding transparency from our elected government officials, and our tax payer paid employees. The Brown Act shenanigans may be viewed as minor, but the actions reveal the District culture of deception, evasion, rule breaking and coverup; which occurs in larger arenas with greater impact --- at least for the students. How about an award winning publication concentrate on fulfilling the role of honest broker rather than indulging ego in the role of power broker?


13 people like this
Posted by Pied Piper
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 10, 2019 at 11:20 am

Pied Piper is a registered user.

Deeply disappointing behavior by the board and superintendent.

Will they explain the reasons for this untrustworthy behavior?


10 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 10, 2019 at 12:47 pm

"Austin's email, provided to the Weekly in response to a Public Records Act request, ... "

Amateurs! Don't these people know their communications are public property? Can't PAUSD find competent lawbreakers anymore?


3 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 10, 2019 at 12:49 pm

Ummm, in the interests of PC, please change "lawbreakers" in my above to "lawflouters."


14 people like this
Posted by Get your facts straight
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 10, 2019 at 1:08 pm

Can pay weekly now admit to it's complicity in the cover up culture -- not endorsing Kathy Jordan, the sole candidate who took on this cover up culture, and had the guts to open herself up to the horrendous character assassination tactics used by the district administration, board, and, to a degree, the weekly.


12 people like this
Posted by Green Acres parent
a resident of Green Acres
on May 10, 2019 at 2:52 pm

Green Acres parent is a registered user.

Of course the candidates you endorsed claimed to be for transparency. They behaved like politicians, saying what they thought people wanted to hear. You shouldn't have taken their word - you should have dug deeper to see what these candidates had actually done. Dauber was an incumbent; his past actions made it quite clear how he'd operate during his second term. You did your best to keep Kathy Jordan from winning despite a track record of fighting for transparency.

You really should take responsibility for endorsing the wrong candidates and commit to doing a better job in 2020.


1 person likes this
Posted by stunning reporting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2019 at 3:16 pm

[Post removed due to inaccurate statements.]


7 people like this
Posted by details matter
a resident of Stanford
on May 10, 2019 at 4:18 pm

Superintendent Austin and all his men and women -- lawyers, Board, and negotiating team -- had to keep quiet until the day AFTER Supervisor Simitian's rules ended.

The Weekly's article outlining the deal from the information PAUSD sent it was published Monday April 15. Web Link

Supervisor Simitian's rules expired midnight Monday April 15. Web Link

The "day after" when they were free to share was Tuesday April 16.

So they went public a day too early.


7 people like this
Posted by Putting the pieces together
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 11, 2019 at 8:45 am

It's beginning to look like our most recent Superintendent was hired to carry out plans already in place? All of the sweeping changes, that have been made by PAUSD, in the same manner as illustrated in paragraph 2 of this editorial, have had to been in the works before his hire? This is not an excuse for the lack of transparency, more an insight. As more is revealed; as the public works to uncover the truths with held from us, a pattern of deception and double talk is unfolding. What is really going on? Stanford, Art, VTP? Time will tell.


7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2019 at 9:47 am

It sure -sounds like- the Brown Act was violated. It sure -sounds like- serial meetings happened. It -sounds bad-. I think PAUSD needs to address this. I'm no fan of the League of California Cities, but, their website has a lot of good information on open government, serial meetings, etc.

Web Link

OBTW, we still need a clear explanation of why the proposed deal is good for PAUSD. It looks bad. Details matter.


12 people like this
Posted by nope
a resident of College Terrace
on May 11, 2019 at 1:29 pm

This editorial unfairly trashes the reputation of PAUSD Board members, including one who wasn't even at the April 10 meeting you are fulminating about. Shame on you.

Your editorial is full of half-baked and unsupported implications of illegal conduct, conspiracies, and secrecy. None of this is true.

First, let's start with the "ground rules." First of all, those "ground rules" are between the County and Stanford and the PAUSD board isn't even a party to them. Thus, the Board isn't bound by them and could not "violate" them. Period.

If they were violated at all it was by Stanford. That didn't happen, but even if it did, it's a far cry from the nefarious conspiracy to violate the law or the public trust that you sugggest. Rather by the facts in your own editorial and story the "ground rules" were scrupulously observed by Stanford, and no agreement was finalized until April 16.

You clearly know that, which is why you wrote this: "The April 15 date was dubious enough, since it assumed the completion of a county development agreement with Stanford by then, and in fact negotiations had not even begun."

That's just silly. These are negotiated agreements between multibillion dollar legally well-advised entities -- the County and Stanford. If the County wanted to re-negotiate the "ground rules" and extend the date, the onus was on Joe Simitian to do that prior to April 15. If Joe and County Counsel failed to do that, then that doesn't make the date dubious, it makes Joe Simitian a bad negotiator.

Second, you attack the district for what you imply were somehow secret negotiations. You wrote that the board engaged in "conduct that disrespected and misled the public." This smear applies to Board members who weren't even there and recused themselves, who you imply you now regret endorsing. You should really be ashamed.

The fact that the district was confidentially negotiating with Stanford was known and was repeatedly reported in this newspaper, as shown below. Joe Simitian praised those confidential negotiations and said that he hoped they would succeed

March 12: Web Link
In a meeting Tuesday, district and university representatives agreed to start confidential discussions, guided by attorneys and a third-party facilitator, about possible benefits Stanford could offer to mitigate the impact of new students generated by Stanford's proposed general use permit, which proposes to build 2.275 million square feet of new academic space by 2035. The district has been pressing Stanford to contribute funds and land to offset the number of students that will be generated by new property-tax exempt housing.

March 14: Web Link

"Simitian expressed some hope, however, that the school district and Stanford will be able to reach an amicable resolution on school impacts in the coming months. He cited the freshly launched between the two parties as of evidence change in their university's posture. The Board of Education had approved last November a resolution requesting that Stanford provide funding and assistance with building a new school. Stanford's unwillingness to commit to these measures has frustrated many on the school side. On Tuesday, however, Superintendent Don Austin said the district and Stanford had agreed to start confidential discussions about benefits and mitigations."

So let's just be clear -- the Weekly and Joe knew full well that Stanford and the district were in confidential negotiations to mitigate the school district impacts. This wasn't hidden from anyone, it wasn't secret, and it wasn't the subject of any violation of the rules or the law or the "public trust." That's just untrue.

[Portion removed.] Joe actively encouraged it and was fully appraised of the negotiation progress. However, things took a wrong turn when Joe Simitian did not like the outcome of those negotiations which included a term he disagreed with -- the dependence on a Development Agreement between Stanford and the County. Joe didn't like the outcome of the deal, which he viewed as too rich, and so he set out to undo it, and for reasons I will never understand, you have helped him do that.

That's why you, seemingly nonsensically, say that the Board should "mitigate" the situation by eliminating the term from the agreement that Joe doesn't like, even though that of course has nothing to do with either the Brown Act or the date of the agreement. It's just something Joe doesn't like and it wouldn't "mitigate" the accusations you are making, which are false anyway.

Finally, based on the facts the Weekly is reporting, there was no Brown Act violation of any kind. Period. Not in spirit, not in reality, not "working to circumvent the intent," not at all. Again, this is a smear on the Board members, including two who weren't even there, to make it appear that illegal activity occurred when it didn't.

[Portion removed.]

If at the end of the day, the PAUSD schools are negatively impacted by the lack of funds to pay for Stanford students, your blind willingness to believe Joe Simitian and smear your friends in the service of that obesience will be partly to blame for that.





11 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 11, 2019 at 3:40 pm

Crescent Park Resident is a registered user.

@nope. Well said! And why isn’t the weekly reporting on the fact that Simitian and Chavez were not “actively engaged in negotiations with Stanford?” As of Joe’s town hall they hadn’t met with Stanford yet! I think the first meeting was May 3rd with the president of Stanford!!! Can the Weekly please comment on that? All smoke and mirrors by Simitian and Chavez to look like they’ve been working away on this...


15 people like this
Posted by Dishonest
a resident of Downtown North
on May 11, 2019 at 4:10 pm

According to @nope - the weekly has "friends." According to others who have noticed, the weekly seems to take everything Joe Simitian says at face value. Guess he is another "friend." Wondering about the even handed treatment of the award winning publication....


15 people like this
Posted by legal eagle
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 11, 2019 at 4:27 pm

@Nope

Your attacks on the Weekly are misguided. You misrepresent and misquote the editorial and then attempt to rebut the misrepresentations. The editorial doesn’t state that the school district “violated” either the ground rules or the Brown Act, as you assert. Nor does it claim, as you imply and focus on, that the negotiations Austin was having with Stanford weren’t known to the public or were improper. It actually applauds the negotiations.

It says: “… the board, Superintendent Don Austin and Stanford University worked in concert to circumvent the intentions of the Brown Act, limit public awareness and undermine county ground rules agreed to by Stanford when they reached a "conditional" mitigation agreement to compensate the district for the impacts of additional students from new tax-exempt housing development on Stanford lands.”

Are you denying that the board worked with Stanford to delay announcing the agreement until April 15? Are you suggesting the board never discussed the agreement at a closed session meeting but somehow magically gave its approval of it without a meeting?

You are correct that it was publicly known that Austin was negotiating with Stanford. But that is not the issue the editorial raises and no one has criticized those negotiations. The issue is that Austin then conferred privately with the board of trustees about those negotiations and formalized an agreement, either in closed session or by serial conversations, neither of which is permitted under the Brown Act . If you disagree, what exception in the Brown Act do you believe gave the board the right to do this? Where was the agenda posting of a closed session that cited that exception?

There is plenty to debate over the handling of this by all involved. But at least let’s focus on the real issues and not the false narrative you have created.


13 people like this
Posted by nope
a resident of College Terrace
on May 11, 2019 at 4:40 pm

@ "legal" eagle wrote:

Are you suggesting the board never discussed the agreement at a closed session meeting but somehow magically gave its approval of it without a meeting?

The PAUSD School Board has not yet approved the agreement. Austin and the district staff reached an agreement which has yet to be approved by the board.

It is funny that you don't know that, but it really proves my point. Even a very supposedly "eagle" eyed reader thinks on the basis of reading this editorial that somehow the Board already approved the agreement, which is false.

The superheated language of the Weekly editorial accusing the School Board of unethical conduct, conspiracy, and implying illegality speaks for itself. It's shameful and its untrue.

It's also obvious that the editorial is carrying water for Joe Simitian, probably unwittingly. Otherwise, why is the "remedy" for this supposed wrongful conduct coincidentally to remove the term from the agreement that Joe Simitian doesn't like even though there is nothing wrongful or unlawful or unethical about that term. Joe just doesn't like it.


4 people like this
Posted by agree with the Weekly
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2019 at 5:35 pm

Nope,

The Weekly isn't upset about the confidential negotiations between Superintendent Austin and Stanford.

It is upset about some closed door discussions between Superintendent Austin and the School Board, conduct that “disrespected and misled the public.”

According to the Weekly:

Discussions about PAUSD's agreement with Stanford must be conducted publicly under the Brown Act.

Superintendent Austin and the Board tried to avoid a public airing by calling that meeting for something it wasn't -- to talk about anticipated litigation.

April 10 and "five prior" meetings were labelled like this.

Weekly: "April 10 closed-session school board meeting. This meeting, along with five prior closed-session discussions held since January, was billed as 'anticipated litigation regarding Stanford University General Use Permit Environmental Impact Report,' even though they appear to have all related to the district's negotiations with Stanford, according to the Weekly's sources. There was never any anticipated litigation against Stanford, nor any grounds for suing Stanford." Web Link

You say these aren't a "Brown Act violation of any kind. Period. Not in spirit, not in reality, not 'working to circumvent the intent,' not at all."

The Weekly says they sure seem to be.

What is PAUSD's new General Counsel's legal opinion on which of you is right?


Curious too how you know that one of the Board members didn't attend a meeting closed off to the public? Are you Dauber, DiBrienza, Collins, or Dharap, the only people invited to those meetings who the Weekly is "deeply disappointed" with?


4 people like this
Posted by agree with the Weekly
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2019 at 5:52 pm

Nope,

You: "No agreement was finalized until April 16."

Me: No.

The Weekly published an article about the agreement's terms on April 15 with the 19 page, single spaced agreement attached. Web Link
Web Link

PAUSD blasted a press release about it April 15 too. "Stanford University and Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) have reached a conditional agreement on community benefits that will be provided to the school district as part of a possible development agreement for the university’s proposed General Use Permit." Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by nope
a resident of College Terrace
on May 11, 2019 at 6:09 pm

@ agree with the Weekly asked:
"how you know that one of the Board members didn't attend a meeting closed off to the public?"

Because the news story in the Weekly reported it. Web Link

"Dauber said Thursday that he did not attend the closed session meeting on April 10 nor the special meeting on April 16. Collins said he attended the April 10 closed session and then recused himself from the April 16 meeting for the same reasons."

There is no evidence of a Brown Act violation, yet the Weekly has unfairly smeared the reputation of all Board members, including those who weren't even there, by implying that there was without any evidence. The Weekly at first implied that the agreement with Stanford was unlawfully discussed at all five, then changed it to "some, but not all" without saying which meetings. It then dismisses out of hand the idea that there could be anything that the district might discuss with Stanford whatsoever that could legitimately fall within the ambit of those meetings even though the subject is incredibly broad. The Weekly implies that the agenda item is to discuss litigation with the county. What it actually says is:

"Conference with Legal Counsel – Anticipated Litigation pursuant to Government Code §54956.9(d)(4)
One (1) case, the Board will confer with Legal Counsel regarding Stanford University General Use Permit Environmental Impact Report." That is a broad topic in which the Board is permitted to confer with its attorney about any litigation that might occur and into which PAUSD might be drawn in some way -- regardless of parties, intervenors, or real parties -- that is related to that topic of the GUP EIR. An agreement with a potential party to multiparty litigation that might conceivably resolve some aspect of that litigation is not outside the scope of that agenda notice.

Just reading it on its face, it is impossible to reach the conclusion that there is no world in which a lawyer's discussion of that broad topic could conceivably include a discussion of settlement of some or all potential claims with one or more parties, intervenors, or others, related to that topic.

I have no idea what was discussed in any of those meetings. But even assuming your doomsday scenario, the Weekly cannot say it is outside the scope of that broad notice. And it is really wrong to cast smears and aspersions on everyone on the Board, including those who weren't even present about it, on the basis of such a slender reed.


2 people like this
Posted by nope
a resident of College Terrace
on May 11, 2019 at 6:12 pm

@agree
Yes you are right that was a typo. Aha, you caught my typo.

According to the Weekly April 15 is "the date that Stanford was technically no longer bound by ground rules established with the county about entering into side agreements relating to the university's general use permit (GUP) application."

What is your point?


5 people like this
Posted by legal eagle
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 11, 2019 at 7:24 pm

@nope

You're now creating new, non-existent provisions of the Brown Act. Under your broad (and creative) concept, a public agency could discuss almost anything in a closed session as long as the notice was vague enough. Is that your idea of the intent of the Brown Act.

§54956.9(d)(4) exception allowing a closed session: "Based on existing facts and circumstances, the legislative body of the local agency has decided to initiate or is deciding whether to initiate litigation."

If the board's intention was to inform the public of what it was actually discussing and considered it within the contours of the law, why didn't it just state that it was discussing a potential mitigation agreement with Stanford Univeristy? To describe this agenda item as it did, the public was led to believe that the item pertained, as the agenda said, to the initiation of litigation against Santa Clara County over the environmental impact report.

And why would Austin tell the board that the Stanford lawyers were in agreement to the agenda posting language?

Is there really doubt in your mind that this wasn't an intentional effort to hide the fact that an agreement had been negotiated contrary to the county rules that Stanford had agreed to, and PAUSD accommodated their needs?


3 people like this
Posted by agree with the Weekly
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 11, 2019 at 10:25 pm

Nope,

About the "ground rules," even if the rules only applied to Stanford and the County, Superintendent Austin wanted to abide by them according to the Weekly: "he reminded the five board members of several 'important constraints.' Those included that the district and Stanford were not allowed, under rules to which Santa Clara County and Stanford had agreed, to reach such an agreement until April 15." Board President Jennifer DiBrienza: "'we were trying to be respectful of that.'" Web Link

You say those rules were not violated: "That didn't happen."

But that is not true.

Before the rules expired:

Again, Superintendent Austin said they "were not allowed ...to reach such an agreement until April 15." But PAUSD and Stanford agreed to terms on March 29 and their lawyers turned those into a 19 page legal document that PAUSD shared publicly on April 15.

And, as you point out, the agreement depended on there being "a Development Agreement between Stanford and the County" which the Weekly reported really angered Joe Simitian.

Superintendent Austin said no one on PAUSD's team was aware that this was verbotten. Web Link

Someone have the rules?

Did they or didn't they forbid that too?


17 people like this
Posted by Former Public Official
a resident of another community
on May 12, 2019 at 12:50 am

Sad to see this paper go off the deep end, smearing public officials. Must be a slow news month.

Violation of the county guidelines - if they said "no deal under after April 15" then a board meeting the next day makes perfect sense. Everybody knew the parties were negotiating. What were they supposed to do - NOT reach a tentative agreement? Of course they did, but per the rules, it couldn't be approved by the board until Apr 16. Until the board approves, there is no actual deal (tentative agreement posting is irrelevant - an unapproved and unsigned contract is just a piece of paper). So, it came to the board on the first day they could have voted on it (though it sounds like they didn't plan to vote on it that day). What's the problem? (BTW, is the school district a party to these guidelines anyway?)

The idea that a superintendent talking to board members individually is a Brown Act violation - huh? I'm sure he meets with them individually all the time and talks to them about the same things. As long as he doesn't tell them what the others are saying, there's no Brown Act violation - every city manager and school superintendent in the state does that.

I'm not sure what "source" this paper has for what was discussed in closed session. The Brown Act prohibits anyone from disclosing what's said in any closed session, except reportable actions. Participants can't even repeat what they said themselves. The "source" apparently did violate the Brown Act by what they told the paper (unless they were lying, I suppose). So an unnamed source, definitely either violating the Brown Act or lying, is the main support for a possible Brown Act violation, which no other participants by law are allowed to confirm or deny? Wow.

And just wondering - all this was to accomplish what? Usually when people allege Brown Act violations, etc., the reason is that something was being hidden or the public didn't have a chance to weigh in - a "backroom deal." Is anyone saying that here? Does anyone allege that something was/is being concealed? What is it?


4 people like this
Posted by an inside view
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2019 at 7:40 am

Ground Rules: Web Link. Not OK to do through April 15: entering into and sharing the terms of a side deal that depends on the County accepting a Development Agreement.

PAUSD did both because Superintendent Austin and Board President Jennifer DiBrienza concluded that these rules precluded them from reaching an agreement with Stanford "until April 15."

Austin and DiBrienza acting on "April 15" was the fatal blow to the $138 million deal, handing Joe Simitian grounds to object to the deal on a silver platter, grounds he would not have had if Austin and DiBrienza waited until April 16.

So PAUSD ended up spending a year of staff, Board, and PTAC's time to get to $138 million and then, because Don Austin and Jennifer DiBrienza didn't understand what they read, tanked it.

It is unfair to blame Joe Simitian for this. As County Supervisor overseeing this process, he is required to treat all interested parties impacted by Stanford's development fairly and not let one party lay claim to a large chunk of the mitigation funds before other impacted counties, cities, and school districts' wish lists were considered.


6 people like this
Posted by Labor negotiator
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 12, 2019 at 8:07 am

@an inside view, if you can't see the difference between a tentative agreement (TA) and an agreement, I can see why you'd be confused. A tentative agreement is not a "deal" - it is still subject to some approval. Labor contracts are all done this way, released subject to ratification by both sides. Sometimes they are ratified, sometimes not, so it isn't a deal until it's done. I didn't see anything that stopped them from reaching a TA, but the TA couldn't be approved until April 16.

If that seems technical, sorry. But your position is that they posted it a few hours too soon, so we're in the technical realm here.


1 person likes this
Posted by an inside view
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2019 at 8:36 am

Labor negotiator,

This is not a labor negotiation so what is the norm there is not relevant here.

There were rules.

The parties agreed to abide by them.

They didn't.

There were consequences for not doing so.


2 people like this
Posted by an inside view
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2019 at 9:01 am

On reaching a "tentative agreement" before April 16 which you say is OK, look at the ground rules to see if that is correct.

The answer won't matter though because of the violations you don't mention including that Austin and DiBrienza shared the terms publicly on the 15th, a day too soon.

As important is that in negotiations one never wants to anger the person holding the purse. Here Joe Simitian holds the purse because he gets to accept or reject the Development Agreement.

Austin and DiBrienza's maneuverings and shenanigans have displeased him.


9 people like this
Posted by Nope
a resident of College Terrace
on May 12, 2019 at 9:24 am

And as we can all see “displeasing Joe” was the real “mistake” here and all the false and scurrilous allegations by the Weekly about Brown Act and ground rules are just so much noise to cover for what they are really attacking: displeasing Joe.

Joe Simitian screwed up the negotiation just as he did during the last GUP and now he has really hurt the schools, with the help of the Weekly.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2019 at 9:47 am

Posted by Former Public Official, a resident of another community

>> The idea that a superintendent talking to board members individually is a Brown Act violation - huh? I'm sure he meets with them individually all the time and talks to them about the same things. As long as he doesn't tell them what the others are saying, there's no Brown Act violation - every city manager and school superintendent in the state does that.

We could all use some detailed legal advice on this. I believe that it is far easier to violate the Act than you suggest. It is one thing to survey people's opinions one-by-one and then make a proposal. It is far different to meet with people one-by-one and then to create a consensus which is presented as a fait accompli.

An understanding of Brown Act subtleties should be a key requirement in any hiring decision for any City Manager or School Superintendent. And, any city manager or school superintendent should understand that private entities, such as companies, or, private universities, can and do willfully ignore the issue. The onus is on the public entity to get it right, and, "to be above suspicion".


3 people like this
Posted by Labor negotiator
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 12, 2019 at 9:48 am

@an inside view, all they announced was an agreement between the negotiating teams; the parties themselves hadn't agreed. That isn't specific to labor negotiations, that's any negotiation. Don Austin can't bind the district on a contract like this, only the school board can. So there was no "deal" with Stanford, just a recommendation to the board to approve what the negotiating team had worked out.

International treaties work the same way, subject to Senate ratification. So do corporate buy out deals, subject to shareholder approval. This is just the way it works with big deals in large organizations where the final decision makers aren't directly involved in the negotiation.


7 people like this
Posted by nope
a resident of College Terrace
on May 12, 2019 at 10:20 am

"Labor negotiator" is exactly correct.

There was no part of the "ground rules" that barred negotiations between the district and Stanford prior to April 15-16.

In fact, as I noted above, those negotiations were publicized, they were reported in this paper as "confidential negotiations" and they were praised by Simitian, who stated publicly that the County would not be able to do much, if anything, for the schools and that he was pleased that Stanford and PAUSD were entering confidential negotiations. Nor was there a hectoring, smearing editorial from the Weekly about how that was nontransparent.

Stanford agreed under the "ground rules" not to finalize any agreement until April 15. Those "ground rules" do not bind PAUSD in any event, but PAUSD did not even put the tentative agreement before the board for approval until after the rules expired.

There never was an "agreement" as I noted above, though you would never know that from reading this inappropriate editorial that falsely smears board members, including members who weren't even present at the time of the supposed wrongdoing.

No one on the school board did anything wrong based on your reported info. Nothing. Not a thing. And some of them weren't even there. Yet you have painted them all with the same broad brush and insinuated really terrible things.

The Weekly unwittingly is just hammering Joe Simitian's political opposition for him. It can be hard to realize that people you have admired aren't necessarily what you may think and aren't necessarily trustworthy. And it can be hard to admit to errors. But this editorial is a serious error.

Next I will be blocked I am sure.


8 people like this
Posted by or you could just read Austin's emails
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 12, 2019 at 10:24 am

"The techniques that serve well in business — , the sharing of information through a series of phone calls or emails, the backroom conversations and compromises — are not possible under the Brown Act. "

"A superintendent making individual phone calls to each trustee to avoid holding what would be an illegal meeting and avoid creating a public document so it couldn't be viewed is an end-around to bypass the laws intended to ensure transparency in public agencies."

And yet Austin's email clearly states:

"that Austin intended to brief each board member individually about the tentative deal with Stanford"

That's a clear violation of the Brown Act.


4 people like this
Posted by Brown Act bans this too
a resident of Stanford
on May 12, 2019 at 11:09 am

As a "Former Public Official" you probably know all the Brown Act constraints on Superintendents when talking to individual Board members privately.

Of course they can talk to each other. Those private talks are illegal if what they discuss allows a superintendent to get a concurrence from his Board on the terms of a proposed agreement. This can be accomplished without sharing a word of what other Board members said. This is called a "serial meeting."

That could have happened here.

To answer your question on "what was there to hide," compare what the Board asked Stanford for last Fall in public session to the terms of the tentative agreement Superintendent Austin surfaced with after his private negotiation sessions with Stanford ended in March.

The two are quite different.

Under the Brown Act, Austin had to call a public session to get this input. Under the ground rules, he had to wait to April 16 to do that.

Austin and DiBrienza didn't want to wait for some reason.

Our brand new Superintendent might not have wanted to go rogue on a $138 million 20 year deal.

Problem fixed if he decided to privately, individually or in closed session, get concurrence from the Board on these significant changes before the agreement was disseminated in legalese on April 15?

No because if he did that he violated the Brown Act.

League CA Cities' Guide to the Brown Act
Web Link

"The problem with serial meetings is the process, which deprives the public of an opportunity for meaningful participation in legislative body decision-making. The Brown Act provides that '[a] majority of the members of a legislative body shall not, outside a meeting...use a series of communications of any kind, directly or through intermediaries, to discuss, deliberate, or take action on any item of business that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.' The serial meeting may occur by ... a 'hub-and-spoke' sequence...The hub-and-spoke process involves, for example, a staff member (the hub) communicating with members of a legislative body (the spokes) one-by-one for a decision on a proposed action..."


3 people like this
Posted by it's clear
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 12, 2019 at 12:03 pm

To "or you could just read Austin's emails,"

Good catch: "Austin's email clearly states 'that Austin intended to brief each board member individually about the tentative deal with Stanford' That's a clear violation of the Brown Act."

Superintendent Austin's April 9 email to School Board members asking them to give him their input on the Stanford PAUSD agreement at his and DiBrienza's April 10 closed session meeting must be the one the Weekly is referring to:

"I have attached a few documents for your review in preparation for our meeting tomorrow [that] reflect our work during the negotiation process. Our plan is to go through the agreement tomorrow to gather your feedback and insights. John will be with us and plans to take notes to guide his efforts. Please take some time to look at this agreement" Web Link

Which Board members participated in this meeting?


3 people like this
Posted by the record
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2019 at 1:22 pm

Special Board Meeting - Closed Session
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
Closed Session: 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Administration Building - Aspen Room
25 Churchill Avenue
Palo Alto, California 94306

Members:
Ms. Jennifer DiBrienza, President
Mr. Todd Collins, Vice President
Ms. Melissa Baten Caswell, Trustee (absent)
Mr. Ken Dauber, Trustee (absent)
Mr. Shounak Dharap, Trustee

Staff:
Dr. Donald B. Austin, Superintendent

Others:
Mr. John W. Dietrich, Legal Counsel, AALRR

The Board adjourned to Closed Session regarding: Conference with Legal Counsel – Anticipated Litigation pursuant to Government Code §54956.9(d)(4). One (1) case, the Board will confer with Legal Counsel regarding Stanford University General Use Permit Environmental Impact Report


3 people like this
Posted by the record
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2019 at 1:45 pm

Ken Dauber gave input to Superintendent Austin through an Ad Hoc Committee that he and DiBrienza served on.

Palo Alto Unified School District
Board of Education
Regular Meeting
August 21, 2018

RECOMMENDATION: It is recommended the Board select two Board members to serve as an Ad Hoc Committee regarding the Stanford University General Use Permit (GUP) with Santa Clara County.

The Stanford GUP Ad Hoc Committee will work directly with the Superintendent of Schools and legal counsel on matters related to the Stanford University GUP and direct communications with Stanford University.

DISCUSSION: Stanford General Use Permit (GUP) (02:30:12)

VOTES:

Motion carried 5-0, to create an ad hoc committee of two Board members.

Moved by Collins, seconded by DiBrienza, and the motion carried 4-1 with Baten Caswell dissenting, to select Dauber and DiBrienza as the two Board members of the ad hoc committee.

Motion carried 5-0, to authorize DiBrienza (in addition to Dauber) to talk to counsel regarding the Stanford GUP.


9 people like this
Posted by the record
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2019 at 2:00 pm

So Board President DiBrienza talked to three Board members about the Stanford GUP in private: Ken Dauber in their ad hoc committee and Todd Collins and Shounak Dharap in the April 10th Closed Session meeting that she called.

Brown Act violation: “[a] majority of the members of a legislative body shall not, outside a meeting...use a series of communications of any kind... to discuss...any item of business."



3 people like this
Posted by Town Square Moderator
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2019 at 2:19 pm

Town Square Moderator is a registered user.

@the record

If the closed session was proper, what you describe would not be a Brown Act violation. A majority of board members can discuss an item in closed session, but the meeting must be noticed correctly and closed for a reason allowed under the Brown Act.


9 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2019 at 2:41 pm

Who devised the plan to push PAUSD to the front of the GUP line so it could lay claim to the first $138 million, potentially taking millions from East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Redwood City schools, area cities including Palo Alto, and the counties?

PTAC happily followed whomever masterminded this and whipped up parents with "sky is falling" claims.

Their hope was that angry parents, and the media reporting about them, would pressure Stanford to meet PAUSD and PTAC's hyper-inflated demands.

Gullible parents were played big time.

PTAC and PAUSD told parents that $19,000/student was needed or classes will skyrocket in size. When PAUSD Superintendent Austin unveiled the deal he said that actually $5,800/student is what each new student costs.

PTAC and PAUSD said a new elementary school on the west side of town is a must for student's social emotional well being and safety when biking to school too. But Board President Jennifer DiBrienza just called this deal, which has 0 new schools in it anywhere anytime, fully mitigating the impact of Stanford's new development.

Web Link
Web Link
Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by Menlo Park Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 12, 2019 at 5:40 pm

Thank you to "parent". This is a bigger issue than just PAUSD.

Yes, we in Menlo Park are watching from the side lines. We are worried that we will get royally screwed and we don't have anyone to stand up for us. PAUSD is taking for themselves and has some leverage to get what it needs.
us

What about us? We stand to lose a lot of money to new students coming in and Stanford has been unconcerned, to say the least.


2 people like this
Posted by nope
a resident of College Terrace
on May 18, 2019 at 7:21 am

[Post removed.]


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