Mountain View Voice

News - August 27, 2010

MV Whisman sets new policy on nepotism

New rule to guard against conflicts of interest, impropriety

by Nick Veronin

Responding to a recommendation from the California School Boards Association, the local elementary-middle school district has a new policy to guard against nepotism in its ranks.

Prior to adoption of the policy, the Mountain View Whisman School District did not have any specific rules prohibiting district employees from being supervised by a relative or someone with whom they share an intimate relationship, said Superintendent Craig Goldman.

"I think that there are many members of the community that will appreciate an explicit policy on this issue," Goldman said.

The board of trustees for the district adopted the policy at its Aug. 19 meeting. All members present voted unanimously to approve the policy. Steve Olson was the only board member not present at the meeting.

When asked why a policy was not already on the books, Goldman said that the district had rules related to sexual harassment and conflict of interest. "We see this policy as one that adds clarification, not that is fundamentally different than what we had before," he said.

The new rule "prohibits the appointment or continuing assignment of any person to a position for which his or her relative (or a person with whom he or she has an intimate or romantic relationship) maintains management, supervisory, evaluation, or promotion responsibilities."

Goldman said that the rule is not meant to discourage district employees from recommending relatives or dating.

"The policy does not prohibit district employees marrying, being related, or having romantic relationships," Goldman said. "It sets a standard around supervisors and subordinates, and creates a mechanism to ensure that conflicts of interest don't exist."

If two people enter into a romantic relationship that violates the new policy, they will be able to work with the superintendent toward a "collaborative resolution." If none can be reached the superintendent has the authority to reassign one or both of the individuals involved.

Goldman said that the district's decision to adopt the policy is not directly related to the controversy that surrounded former superintendent Maurice Ghysels over his affair with Carmen Mizell, the principal of Landels Elementary School. Rumors circulated on the Voice's Town Square forum over supposed favoritism that caused Ghysels to transfer Mizell from her position at the lower-performing Castro School.

Ghysels denied those rumors, saying that as soon as he and Mizell became romantically involved he transferred his supervisory role to Mary Lairon, the assistant superintendent.

"Soon after his relationship was established," Goldman said of Ghysels, "there was a change in the supervisory structure. That would have been consistent with the new board policy."

Goldman said that the board of trustees is sensitive to the possibility of a superintendent becoming romantically involved with any other district employee. His contract and future superintendent contracts will contain a clause delineating how the district will proceed in the event that such a relationship should arise.

The objective of the new policy is to "maximize staff and community confidence in district hiring, promotion and other employment decisions by promoting practices that are free of conflicts of interest or the appearance of impropriety."

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