Mountain View Voice

News - July 10, 2009

Grand jury report puts school leaders in hot seat

Jurors say administrators are overpaid, but local officials question report's integrity

by Casey Weiss

Local school officials are rolling their eyes over a civil grand jury report that lambastes the districts for "generous administrative expenses," and some said they wondered what, if any, research went into it.

The 20-page report, issued late last month, notes that several school district superintendents in Santa Clara County make more than $200,000 a year, a fact treated as evidence of school district corruption. The report admonishes school officials to trim those salaries amid huge state-mandated budget cuts, adding that community college chancellors and trustees should take cuts as well.

"Despite the draconian budget cuts facing the schools in the coming months, there appears to be little inclination on the part of the districts to reduce or even limit the amounts paid to superintendents/chancellors, assistant superintendents, presidents and boards of trustees," the report states. "It is difficult to understand or support continuing these generous administrative expenses, while at the same time teachers, staff and programs are being cut."

"As an educator, I think there are huge gaps in the research," responded Craig Goldman, chief financial officer of the Mountain View Whisman School District. "And it makes me question the conclusions. It makes me wonder if the report is a result of a political agenda as opposed to school integrity."

For example, Goldman said, the report does not compare local administrative salaries to those in other counties or states, or to those of other top officials in Santa Clara County or in California.

Titled "Who Really Benefits from Education Dollars? (Hint: It's Not the Students)," the report also says top officials in local school districts enjoy too many perks, such as house and car allowances. The report came out on June 24, just as state politicians were debating whether to take even more funding from education in an effort to balance California's troubled budget.

The 2008-09 Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury said it began the investigation due to citizen complaints over district finances. It takes only one complaint from a resident to start a civil grand jury investigation, according to Don Kawashima, the grand jury's foreman.

The 19-member grand jury looked at expense reports and documents from the 34 school districts and four community college districts in the county before drawing its conclusions. The report ends with six recommendations for schools to save money, including reducing benefits to trustees, reducing perks for superintendents and merging some districts.

According to the report, Barry Groves, superintendent of the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, had the eighth-highest salary among superintendents in the county at $210,000. This averages out to about $60 per student in the high school district. During the same period, Superintendent Maurice Ghysels of the Mountain View Whisman School District made nearly $184,000, amounting to just over $44 per student.

On average, superintendents in Santa Clara County make $26.27 per student, according to the report. The superintendent of the county Department of Education had the highest yearly salary, at $285,000, and the superintendent of Montebello Elementary, which only has one school, had the lowest salary at $46,444.

But those comparisons are misleading considering the different challenges at the elementary, middle and high school levels, said Joe White, associate superintendent of business at Mountain View-Los Altos. He added each school district has very different demographics and student bodies.

Trustee Phil Faillace agreed, saying salaries should not be compared by the number of students. In the local high school district, for example, there are both low-income students who qualify for free lunches and students whose parents make $400,000 a year.

"That is a hard job and not many people succeed at it," Faillace said of Grove's role. "We have been fortunate to have superintendents who are doing a good job. And we are not shy at compensating them." With 17 years on his resume as a superintendent, Groves is among the most experienced in the county.

"One of the things they forgot to put in the report is the Adult School," added trustee Susan Sweeley. "That is 12,000 people we educate there. ... It is not like Barry has this cushy job."

Goldman said it's the same story in the elementary school district. "The report itself does not include a market survey of what it includes for top talents for districts," he said. "We believe what we pay is appropriate to attract top leadership."

Trustee benefits

The report also criticized school boards for approving benefits and stipends for themselves. Mountain View-Los Altos trustees spent $55,088 on stipends and medical benefits last year for the five board members. Three of the trustees have full benefits, one has none, and one uses only dental and vision benefits. The stipends go toward travel and educational expenses.

The five Mountain View Whisman trustees received $15,120 in benefits and stipends. Other school districts varied greatly, with Alum Rock trustees receiving $106,675 this year and Loma Prieta trustees receiving nothing.

"We couldn't understand why the school boards were getting medical benefits, especially in cases when the benefits exceeded those of the teachers. Board members do not work a full day like a teacher," Kawashima said.

Trustees typically meet once or twice a month to discuss policies and approve agenda items, and they participate in campus and community events.

Administrators said they were obliged to respond to the grand jury report within 90 days by filling out a survey.

E-mail Casey Weiss at


Posted by Jim, a resident of Whisman Station
on Jul 11, 2009 at 10:31 am

Public officials taking advantage of an uncaring public

Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Jul 14, 2009 at 11:11 pm

What a pisser. Especially, when read alongside your other article about lack of science education in the public elementary schools.

Posted by parent, a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2009 at 12:00 am

Remember folks, to drive by Graham Middle School this summer and see what 1/2 million of your tax bucks will parking lots, to replace ones that had nary a pothole!

Forget pupils and programs, it's all about paving and political consultants.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 15, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Mountain View Voice, Friday, July 01, 2005

Despite his years of experience as an educator, in the late 1990s Ghysels took a break from schools. He moved to New York City to work as a vice president of Citibank for five years, then returned to the Bay Area to work as the chief learning officer of a consulting company for a year.

When Ghysels, who will earn $165,000 a year, officially begins his four-year contract July 25, the first item on his agenda will be to introduce himself to the community and reassure its members that he will stay longer than his predecessors.

[In return he will get a $5,000 a year raise while the teachers and staff get nothing... yep that's fair and that's progress. No need for alarm. Save that for when he renegotiates his next contract... get ready for Citi-type tactics for increased compensation.]

Ghysels hails from one of the ultimate CEO fiascos--Citibank--where he did a few years. Is that where he became accustomed to a nice fat salary? Isn't it amazing now when Citi is partially owned by taxpayers and while our own superintendent, along with the current CEOs and executive officers of Citi keep trying to argue for more compensation? If I remember correctly, he also was a CEO of an educational firm out in Pleasanton which he also helped run aground. So yes, the CEO comparison is apt. And we should just keep shelling out more taxpayer money to them. Oh yes, they'll find a way to spin a profit or make something positive of it all, but in the end the taxpayers will be left on the street and their children without adequate supplies in and well-paid and motivated teachers in the classroom.

And let's not forget his side job as a consultant while on the taxpayers dime as well.
Web Link

Check out the other thread on this topic for more insight. Get mad, go to school board meetings, demand an end to this, and vote the board out if you have to!

Posted by jon, a resident of Castro City
on Jul 18, 2009 at 7:36 am

The public should always be aware of waste and abuse in the public sector, and this may very well be another case of it.

Posted by Oh Please, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 21, 2009 at 8:10 pm

I just saw that new $500,000 parking lot. What a waste. What kind of people approve of such things in this type of economy? It's just unbelievable until you drive by and take a look at it for yourself.

Posted by parent, a resident of Shoreline West
on Aug 3, 2009 at 8:40 pm

I am told that the Graham parking lot ONLY cost $340,000.

The school district board and administrators are NOT going to reply to any posts on this board. They just lie low and wait for it to blow over. And continue to spend public funds as they like, regardless of public comment.

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