Mountain View Voice

News - July 9, 2010

Jury aims to stop nepotism in schools

New report says policies needed to stop favoritism

by Nick Veronin

Local school boards do not have sufficient regulations to guard against improperly hiring or promoting family members and those involved in intimate relationships, according to a recent grand jury report.

The report, filed June 24 by the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury, concluded that many county school districts, including those in Mountain View, ought to draft policies to prevent "the appearance of bias or favoritism in the recruitment and job assignment process."

The Grand Jury report, titled, "Looking at Policies our Schools use to Find and Place Employees," explains that the countywide assessment stemmed from an investigation into the alleged preferential hiring of a superintendent's relative within one of the county's 32 school districts. "In the course of investigating this issue," the report stated, "the grand jury determined that an inquiry into countywide district hiring and family member supervision practices was warranted."

That inquiry found that some districts in Santa Clara County, including the Mountain View Whisman School District, do not have a policy prohibiting family members or spouses from entering into a supervisory relationship. The grand jury also found that Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, along with many other county districts, have such a prohibition but allow the superintendent to override the decision without the consent or knowledge of the school board.

The grand jury issued a recommendation that school boards should keep a list of related employees, adopt rules that disallow family members and spouses from supervising each other, and require that the school boards get involved any time a superintendent wishes to override such prohibitions.

The report did not name the superintendent whose alleged actions sparked the investigation and Angie Cardoza, foreperson for the grand jury, said confidentiality clauses prohibited her from revealing the individual's identity.

Cardoza said the investigation was not initiated because of the controversy that surrounded Mountain View Whisman school district superintendent Maurice Ghysels last fall. On October 26, the Voice published Ghysels' account of his extra-marital affair with Carmen Mizell, a principal in his school district. Mountain View residents accused Ghysels of preferentially reassigning Mizell, the former principal of Castro School, to the higher-performing Edith Landels Elementary School.

Ghysels denied the allegations and said that once he and Mizell became romantically involved, he transferred his supervisory role of Mizell to Mary Larion, the district's associate superintendent.

Whether or not the unidentified superintendent or Ghysels acted improperly, Cardoza said nepotism "is occurring" in Santa Clara County schools.

"We need to be vigilant," she said, adding that the report was an opportunity for the jury to give the community a "heads-up."

Steve Hope is associate superintendent of personnel and technology for Mountain View Los Altos high school district. He said he has served under four superintendents and none of them have ever made an exception allowing spouses or relatives to enter into a supervisory relationship. He said he couldn't speak for the board and was not sure if they would adopt any of the grand jury's recommendations.

Hope said he didn't see the value in creating a list of all family members and spouses within the district.

However, the report suggests that, "because some districts do not compile familial relationship data, they cannot be certain that they are in compliance with their own policies regarding the employment of relatives."

Cardoza echoed this sentiment. Without documenting employees' relationships it is more difficult to ensure that favoritism and nepotism do not infiltrate the hiring and promotion process, she said.

The report also looked into other hiring practices in place throughout county school districts. It concluded that internal applicants were given precedent over external candidates who may be better suited for the position.

A representative from the Mountain View Whisman school district could not be reached for comment.

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