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School district trustee may be censured

Original post made on Sep 13, 2013

A pair of Mountain View Whisman School District board members are launching a formal investigation into the behavior of their colleague, Steven Nelson, with the intention of formally censuring the trustee for a lack of professionalism.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, September 13, 2013, 12:00 AM

Comments (35)

Posted by Observer, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 13, 2013 at 11:35 am

As someone who has seen Mr. Nelson in action, this censure it long overdue. He is belligerent, rude, insulting, and abusive toward his fellow Board members and district staff. It goes beyond learning a new role. It's a matter of being respectful of other human beings. He says, "it's been rough." Imagine how those whom he attacked feel. I am glad that he acknowledged that he thinks he has overstepped although I don't think is a strong enough term. The question is - can he learn from this censure and interact in a productive manner going forward?


Posted by Observer, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 13, 2013 at 1:18 pm

As someone who has seen Mr. Nelson in action, this censure it long overdue. He is belligerent, rude, insulting, and abusive toward his fellow Board members and district staff. It goes beyond learning a new role. It's a matter of being respectful of other human beings. He says, "it's been rough." Imagine how those whom he attacked feel. I am glad that he acknowledged that he thinks he has overstepped although I don't think is a strong enough term. The question is - can he learn from this censure and interact in a productive manner going forward?


Posted by Charlene, a resident of Castro City
on Sep 13, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Charlene is a registered user.

I like Steven Nelson for being different. Stop trying to ruin his reputation.


Posted by Charlene, a resident of Castro City
on Sep 13, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Charlene is a registered user.

For Pete's sake, let him speak his mind! He's new at this. He may be a pain, but he's human!!!


Posted by Seen it, a resident of Whisman Station
on Sep 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm

@ Charlene - Having a different opinion is fine. Being abusive in the way you talk and interact with people is not fine. A Board member should be able to express his or her opinion without shouting, interrupting, and insulting people. If you haven't observed him during a Board meeting, you should before you stand up for him.


Posted by Member, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 13, 2013 at 8:18 pm

I've attended many board meetings and Mr. Nelson's is extremely unprofessional,abusive, and certainly isn't a role model for the students of Mountain View Whisman School District. It doesn't appear he is interested in improving things for our students, but more to have his voice heard. I'm extremely disappointed that someone who misbehaves so poorly in public is allowed a leadership and decision making role for the future of our children and staff.


Posted by P. Lee, a resident of Waverly Park
on Sep 13, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Dear Voice,

I am beginning my 16th year as an active parent in the MVWSD. As I was waiting in the District office for a meeting to start this morning, I was shocked to read your article regarding Trustee Nelson possibly being censured by the board.
I am not at all shocked by the alleged behaviors of Trustee Nelson. I have met him a number of times and have had more than a few conversations with him over the years at district events and meetings. Although our conversations were always cordial, the predictability of his alleged behavior was so obvious to me that I did not vote for him. I knew he would be trouble from day one on the board. The View's prior reports related to his interactions with the board affirm my voting decision.
Instead, I am shocked that the board is only considering such a mild reaction of censuring Trustee Nelson. According to your report this morning, the board has already spent more than reasonable time, efforts, and resources to address Trustee Nelson's "personal style of dissent." It seems that his alleged behaviors have escalated to the level of harassment and could be construed as abusive. The perceptions of and reactions to Trustee Nelson's behavior are creating a hostile working environment for his fellow Trustees as well as for many district staff. They are affecting the normal operation of the board and the district as a whole.
I can understand why Superintendent Goldman, the targeted Principals, and other district staff would be reluctant to file a restraining order against Trustee Nelson. Also, it would take a long time, money, and efforts for voters to recall a Trustee in a special election. Meanwhile the alleged harassment and abusive behaviors must stop immediately.
The censure amounts to a slap on the hand and can only be a first step. I doubt if it would do any good to change Trustee Nelson's behavior judging from his past history. Therefore I believe all of the other Trustees have the responsibility to act decisively and quickly to restore a healthy working school district as soon as possible and before any further damages can be done by Trustee Nelson's alleged behaviors.
If the long list of all of his alleged behaviors are true and have been documented, I think the board ought to step up a few notches and immediately seek a court order to suspend Trustee Nelson from acting as a Trustee on the basis of causing work place harassment. Also, the board ought to seek a restraining order to bar Trustee Nelson from contacting the targeted Trustees, Principals, staff & Superintendent Goldman in hostile ways. Trustee Nelson ought to be able to continue to exercise his right to free speech in public forums, but he is not entitled to harass and abuse others in public or in private. Call on the County and State overseers if necessary. The alleged abuses must stop immediately!

P. Lee
Waverly Park


Posted by Castro Parent, a resident of Castro City
on Sep 13, 2013 at 10:44 pm

Wheeler is the one that should be censured. I welcome Mr. Nelson challenging the status quo. Altough I like Mr. Goldman, I find most of the district administrators and principals to be chair warmers who are out of touch with the new demands of teaching with many having not taught in front of a class full of kids for decades. We need a new generation of leaders in the district and I applaud Mr. Nelson for shaking things up.


Posted by Scott, a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Sep 14, 2013 at 12:52 am

Trustees should raise questions - not just go along. Many school waste money and fail to prepare students for the real world. But don't tell anyone! That would be "unprofessional."


Posted by P. Lee, a resident of Waverly Park
on Sep 14, 2013 at 6:04 am

The reasons for censuring Trustee Nelson is not because he has opinions and ideas that are different. It is because of the ways he chooses to express them. Unfortunately for him, he builds his own negative reputation by his own conducts. He does not need any help from others to ruin it.


Posted by Otto Maddox, a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 14, 2013 at 7:21 am

I've actually had first hand experience with Mr. Nelson. I can see why some people would want to censure him. To be in nicely.

While I have agreed with much of what he says and wants to do his approach is over the top.

But spending a few minutes in his presence would tell you his social skills are lacking. He is very blunt and beats a dead horse until there is nothing left to beat. Then finds another dead horse to continue beating.

If he could get his social games up to speed I could support him. But right now I can't wait for his term to end.


Posted by Otto Maddox, a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 14, 2013 at 7:25 am

While I've always liked Mr. Nelson's opinions on spending and making public servants follow the rules once I had the "opportunity" to witness his behavior first hand I can't stand the guy.

He act like a child not getting what he wants. I don't think know what the word compromise means.

If he wants to make any difference and change anything he first needs to learn how to deal with people.

We'll see how we responds to being censured. I'm pretty sure we won't care.


Posted by MV Resident, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Sep 14, 2013 at 8:07 pm

The previous board of the MVWSD consisted of:

A Sr. Associate Dean for Finance and Administration at Stanford University,
The Head of Global Sales People Programs at Google,
A Senior IT Manager for Education at Symantec,
An experienced Trustee, counselor and lawyer,
An experienced Trustee with an engineering degree from Stanford.

This is a board most companies would love to acquire.

In conjunction with Superintendent Goldman and his staff, that board
took MVWSD to multiple next levels in academics, application of
technology, test scores, differentiated education for underperforming
students, and enabled major capital improvements by passing a $198M
improvement bond.

With no business experience of his own, Nelson could not distinguish
between competence and collegiality in a business setting with "rubber
stamp." The voting public made the same mistake, having been lulled
into a sense of complacency by that same competence. Now, the public
sees the real Steven Nelson, the Board spends its energy coping with
him, and Nelson provides a continuing disservice to the residents of the
MVWSD through his unprofessional conduct.

A judge clearly ruled in a judgement against Nelson* in 2012,
"Petitioner's belief is an inadequate basis for a writ"** when he
attempted to co-opt the legal system to get his way with the school
district. Now Nelson exhibits the same behavior on the school board. As
P. Lee pointed out in the earlier post here, legal action is warranted
again, but this time to bring Nelson permanently to acceptable
standards of conduct.

* Case No. 1-12-CV-220899, Ex Parte Order,
Web Link

Judge Halts Challenge Language to School District Bond
Web Link


Posted by Board Advocate, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 14, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Nelson's behavior is classic abuser behavior. Inflict lasting
emotional and professional damage, face potential consequences,
display false contrition to deflect the consequences, repeat. He's
been doing it for years in numerous public venues; now he's been
elected to a position of trust and cannot easily be removed.

The MVWSD is the Board of Directors of a $45M (annual) public
enterprise with an additional $198M mandate for capital improvements.
If this were any private board, Nelson would be escorted from the
boardroom by Security and summarily removed for violation of business
codes of conduct. It is a pity the public doesn't have the same recourse.

See: Web Link


Posted by incognito, a resident of Waverly Park
on Sep 15, 2013 at 12:45 am

@MV Resident,

A Sr. Associate Dean for Finance and Administration at Stanford University,
The Head of Global Sales People Programs at Google,
A Senior IT Manager for Education at Symantec,
An experienced Trustee, counselor and lawyer,
An experienced Trustee with an engineering degree from Stanford

All the more reason to be completely bewildered that such highly educated individuals as these would listen to the Superintendent and district staff give their presentations, ask few if any questions and superficial ones at that, and then proceed to vote unanimously in agreement with very little discussion. The Superintendent knows exactly what he wants, can give a million reasons why what he does NOT want will not work, and does not welcome differing opinions. In fact MVWSD has a long history of boasting about how much they value community and parent input, which they gather by giving bi-annual surveys and scheduling community input meeting during vacation week!

Yes, Mr. Nelson has no social skills whatsoever, but at least he is something other than a smiling, nodding seat warmer. There must be a reason why, after his publicized conflicts with the district, he still received a large number of votes and beat out other highly qualified candidates.

@MV Resident

In conjunction with Superintendent Goldman and his staff, that board
took MVWSD to multiple next levels in academics, application of
technology, test scores, differentiated education for underperforming
students, and enabled major capital improvements by passing a $198M
improvement bond.

Oh please! Don't you think that the people INSIDE the classroom who interact with students all day long and deliver the instruction...don't you think THEY have something to do with student achievement?

And let's not even get started on the $200M of tax-payers money that the Superintendent needs for $400M worth of work, replacing buildings that underwent extensive renovation a whopping TEN years ago, and his plan to ADD TWO-STORY BUILDINGS TO ALL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CAMPUSES. You can continue that conversation over on the other discussion about the rapid pace of development and building projects in MV. My gosh it's easy for the school district and the city council to spend other people's money on new buildings for their staff. Thank you Mr. Nelson for having the courage to question the huge amount of time, money, energy and effort that is going into facilities, while the district quietly makes drastic cuts to programs such as 5th grade music and art.


Posted by Another watcher, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 15, 2013 at 8:15 am

As MV resident said above, Mr. Nelson's actions provide a disservice to members of the community, but more importantly he provides a disservice to the students of the district. He is so focused on his own personal agenda, he does not represent the needs of the students. Sad since that is what it is supposed to be all about.


Posted by David R, a resident of another community
on Sep 15, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Steven Nelson would be a better fit for the Bullis Charter School board.


Posted by USA, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 15, 2013 at 7:23 pm

In the business world, a board member must have many years of successful management. Electing people for a school board who have no experience is a crap shoot. It appears that Nelson came up snake eyes.

Background and election results: Web Link


Posted by MV Resident, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Sep 16, 2013 at 12:23 am

@Incognito

Facts are the Enemy of Truth.

Putting "ADD TWO-STORY BUILDINGS TO ALL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CAMPUSES" in screaming capital letters does not make that a bad idea, it is nothing more than your opinion that there is something wrong with two story buildings. Your deliberate misstatements regarding public input, actively sought until there were no additional questions from the community, is another example of simple fact contradicting your Truth.

But most important, you willfully ignore what the proposed censure and this conversation is about in order to turn this into a platform for your opinions about the Board and the Superintendent. It is not about what Steven Nelson's opinions and allegations are, it is about the abusive behavior he constantly displays in trying to foist those opinions onto others. In your opinion, the Board is a rubber stamp for a Superintendent whose practices you oppose, and that seems to excuse in your mind inexcusable inappropriate unprofessional abusive behavior.


Posted by Current MVWSD parent, a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Sep 16, 2013 at 8:47 am

I am familiar with Mr. Nelson and am not surprised by the article finally addressing his appalling behavior. To put this in a different, but relatable perspective, if the students that Mr. Nelson represents behaved half as badly as Mr. Nelson does on a regular basis, they would be: 1) given detention, 2) be recommended to see a CHAC counselor, 3) given a private tutorial on "bullying" and 4) ultimately expelled. I find it abhorrent that Mr. Nelson conducts himself in a way that does not model the behavior that us parents and our schools demand of our children and expect on a day-to-day basis with each other.

I am neither for-or-against the current board, the past school board, or the school district employees, but I do believe those individuals in public service deserve better than having to "work" alongside Mr. Nelson. Yes, at times Mr. Nelson's points are valid, but they have long lost their meaning when the messenger is so painful and obnoxious to listen to. I applaud the current board and the district for sticking it out this long before filing the censure. The fact that Mr. Nelson was elected in the first place shows how ill-informed our voters were and how they will believe anything they read (Mr. Nelson had listed one of his professions as "teacher"--which was misleading at best). Our community came up very short when Mr. Nelson was voted in last November.

And specifically to "Incognito": -- regarding your comments about recent school renovations--my children's school, Castro, has seen no such renovations in over 10 years and the other schools I frequently visit, Huff, Landels and Bubb are also in a sorry state. Perhaps if you had children in these schools, you would want upgraded electricity, working HV/AC, and God-forbid, a safer campus so we can keep our children safe during school hours. And given the current enrollment at these schools (Castro is over 650 children) I welcome new buildings and a new design-whether a one or two story campus--current conditions must change. Our children and teachers/staff deserve better.


Posted by lee, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 16, 2013 at 9:07 am

LOL! he got the people's votes.


Posted by UC Davis Grad, a resident of Cuernavaca
on Sep 16, 2013 at 6:12 pm

The question that I have concerning this story is, given Mr. Nelson's documented outbursts in the past, WHY did he get elected to the board? And why was he allowed on to the ballot in the first place?


Posted by Not Amused, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 16, 2013 at 6:39 pm

@ Lee,

Mr. Nelson may have gotten the people's vote, but that doesn't give him the right to abuse, insult and demean his fellow Board members and district staff. It's not a laughing matter. If one of the district's employees chooses to file a lawsuit for hostile work environment, the district stands to lose lots of money.


Posted by John, a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 16, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Go Steve! A voice for the under represented taxpayer and abused residents of this developer owned city. Just wish he could get on city council, or someone like him.
Attack the ivory towers!


Posted by Teacher, a resident of Gemello
on Sep 17, 2013 at 6:24 am

As others have said, Nelson's political or economic views are not the issue. It is his inability or unwillingness to participate in civil discourse. Just look at how the board meetings have deteriorated. To manage his childish behavior, the board is reduced to pulling sticks and counting the minutes and seconds of each members comments. This is not an environment conducive to thoughtful decision making. I feel sorry for Mr. Nelson. He doesn't understand that reasonable people can have different opinions. Instead he seems to think if you disagree with him, you didn't understand his argument, so he makes it again and again. I feel sorrier for the rest of the board and the staff who have to sit through his outbursts when I'm sure they'd much rather focus their energy on common core standards, student services, staffing needs, or any other issue that impacts student achievement. I feel sorriest for the community and especially the students, who deserve better.


Posted by Old Steve, a resident of Rex Manor
on Sep 17, 2013 at 9:39 am

From grandstanding with a famous fire chief over sprinklers for schools, to contradicting well sought public input over performing arts spaces, to name-calling design professionals, he as a board member helped select; Mr. Nelson, were he objective, would call his own tenure a "disaster" from a public conduct perspective.

The current board brings a number of different perspectives to every issue they discuss. Mr. Nelson uses most of his question time to talk about his own ideas, then wonders why he doesn't get more time to actually ask his questions. I believe the old saying applies precisely to board members:
"You have one mouth and two ears. You must strive to use them in the proportions in which they were granted to you!"


Posted by NothingNew, a resident of another community
on Sep 17, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Regarding the last paragraph in the article, the comment by Phil Palmer, "He's learning . . . ", that is not true. This behavior is nothing new to Mr. Nelson. Back in the '90s, he was on the board of two local astronomy clubs. I am a member of one of those Boards. In each case, he was kicked off those boards for abusive and disruptive behavior. He is NOT an asset -- he has his own agenda. If you think he is there to be the watchdog of the "ivory tower", and that it is good for him to shake up the status quo, it's not. He is the wrong person for ANY board position.


Posted by MVWSD teacher, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 17, 2013 at 5:48 pm

So, how many of you actually attend the board meetings? They are unbearable since Steve Nelson has been on the board. The 2 other new board members didn't need to learn how to behave and present themselves in a professional manner.
What are the next steps for the other functioning members of the board to take for as we all (or at least those of us who have been to most of the meetings since Steve was elected) know; Steve is not a man who is capable of change. Many have tried and have offered him advise, all to no avail. I can't believe that Steve doesn't have the decency to step down, knowing that this is not his personal forum.
Knowing the board and the superintendent, I believe that there are next steps to be taken and that they are in place and ready to go as soon as Steve shows his true self again. I give it 2 meetings before he is back to his old self. I understand that Steve likes the attention that he gets as a board member - but he doesn't belong on the board.

Steve, if you can't control yourself, step down. It's the right thing to do for the students and the district.


Posted by member, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 17, 2013 at 8:42 pm

I too teach in this district, and I have been at many board meetings, and it is not only upsetting to watch Mr. Nelson "grandstand" but it is laughable as well. Is that the modeling we want from our district leaders? Mr. Nelson's unprofessional, abusive manner needs to be dealt with. He has acted abusive in front of students as well as adults. I urge you Mr. Nelson, do the right thing and step down. You are not being productive but destructive. Board Members are expected to model appropriate ways how to problem solve and make decisions. You are not a positive role model for our students and their families.


Posted by and another district teacher, a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 18, 2013 at 3:24 pm

If what Nothing New says is an indication, I don't think we can rely on Mr. Nelson to step down on his own. The board doesn't have the power to remove him, but they can censure him, and I hope they do so soon. Even if it doesn't change Nelson's behavior, it will let those who have to work with him know they can ignore his antics and focus on their real work.


Posted by MVWSD teacher, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 18, 2013 at 5:57 pm

If you want to hear about the move to censure Steve, come to the board meeting tomorrow evening. It is on the agenda to be addressed.


Posted by Ellen Wheeler, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Sep 18, 2013 at 9:10 pm

I'm writing to clarify a comment by MVWSD teacher of Old Mountain View. The agenda item on our board agenda on 9/19 is to discuss and vote on a possible addition to our Board Bylaws. This new addition to Code of Conduct would allow the board to censure another board member, if it so chooses. This item is scheduled to begin at approximately 8:50 PM and is scheduled for 30-40 minutes. The board will not be voting on censure of any board member at this meeting. As always, members of the public are welcome to attend and to make comments to the board. We also always welcome emails to the board at our trustee address (trustees@mvwsd.org)
I am president of the MVWSD board of trustees.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Castro City
on Sep 19, 2013 at 7:03 am

So two trustees take the issue to the press, and then many anonymous posts follow on the Town Square comment board, and then one of the trustees whoops up the discussion even further? Seems a little too engineered and hypocritical. And then we find out they must first amend the bylaws to allow for censuring before they can actually censure? Looks like Mr. Nelson will actually get to walk on this one.


Posted by Wer Dunn, a resident of Castro City
on Sep 20, 2013 at 6:46 am

Sometimes you don't have to step on a bug...you just have to shine a light on it. Mission accomplished. Now please move forward with the business part of your jobs.


Posted by Observer, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 20, 2013 at 7:07 am

I wish I could agree with Wer Dunn. To anyone who attended or viewed the Board meeting last night, it is obvious that Mr. Nelson has not yet gotten the message that his behavior is not appropriate. He hasn't changed a thing. The Board did vote to place a resolution of censure on its next agenda, but that likely won't change anything either because Mr. Nelson sees nothing wrong with his behavior. It's too bad that this will continue for 3 more years until the end of his term unless someone starts a recall election.


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