Former Mountain View Whisman School District employee and school board candidate Manny Velasco signed a settlement agreement with the district when he quit his job earlier this year. The agreement prohibits him from entering district property or working for the school district again, even as a volunteer.
The agreement, signed on Jan. 10, puts to bed disputes between Velasco and the district's leadership and prevents lawsuits between the two parties. In exchange, Velasco received just under $37,000 for pay through June of this year. The settlement was not publicly known until the Voice requested a copy from the district last week.
Velasco said he does not believe the agreement poses a conflict in his bid for the school board, and questioned why the district would provide a copy of the settlement. He said his candidacy is based solely on his desire to support students and their families after working with them firsthand for more than a decade.
"My purpose for running, as was my purpose during my 15 years of service at the district, is to ensure all students have a fair and equitable learning environment," Velasco said. "The district is the heart of our community and our schools should be the standard of education."
Velasco has served several roles in the district, first as a special education instructional assistant and later as the district's School Linked Services coordinator, tasked with engaging more parents and linking underserved students to community services. His last job was as a School and Community Engagement Facilitator for Bubb, Huff and Stevenson elementary schools.
By signing the settlement, Velasco immediately terminated his job with the district and agreed "not to pursue, apply for or otherwise seek employment, volunteer, or other service opportunities with the district or any of its schools, in any capacity." It also prohibits him from entering any district property unless it is an event where members of the public are invited to attend.
The agreement also references a formal recommendation for disciplinary action, which the district agreed to drop and seal in a separate part of Velasco's personnel file. Velasco would, in turn, drop his request for a hearing. No other details have been released about the personnel dispute or the disciplinary action recommended by the district. Velasco said he received sterling annual reviews for his performance over the years, and sought a smooth transition up to his last day of work in January.
Both Velasco and district officials declined to reveal the reason behind the settlement, saying they could not discuss any specifics due to confidentiality stipulations.
In a statement, district spokeswoman Shelly Hausman said the district has no intention of preventing Velasco from running for the school board or interfering with his campaign as a member of the community. But that could change if he wins the election this November.
"Should Mr. Velasco win the election and decide to accept the trustee position, the district will examine its options and pursue legal remedies," Hausman said, declining to say what those remedies could be.
Velasco, for his part, said he is completely within his rights to run for the school board and can effectively serve as a trustee under the constraints of his settlement -- something that was explicitly asked about when the agreement was drafted. Being a school board member makes him neither an employee or a volunteer, Velasco said, and the ban on entering district property just puts him in the realm of a community member.
"As a board member I would adhere to the past practice where board members visit schools only when accompanied by district administration," he said. "Even so, if necessary and appropriate, the agreement can be modified."
A similar situation took place last month in the San Mateo Community College District, where school board candidate Eugene Whitlock was found to have signed a settlement agreement that severely curtailed his interactions with the district. Whitlock is the district's former head of HR, and took a $2.3 million settlement that prohibits him from contacting the district or its colleges -- either directly or indirectly. Whitlock has since withdrawn from the race.
Velasco pointed to a 2008 case in which Alum Rock Elementary School District sued one of its former employees, Dolores Marquez, to prevent her from serving as a trustee after she had signed a similar agreement. Velasco said her right to run was protected under the First Amendment, and that the court eventually ruled in her favor.
Velasco said it would not only be erroneous for the Mountain View Whisman School District to claim the agreement prevents him from serving as a trustee, but would also amount to intimidation.
"The insinuation that the district could create an agreement to coerce me out of running for office seems to be something that goes against the values of our district and not something I believe taxpayers would want their money to go toward," Velasco said.
Velasco is one of five candidates vying for three seats on the school board this November. He is competing against incumbent Laura Blakely, former trustee Chris Chiang, Crittenden parent Patrick Neschleba and district parent Laura Ramirez Berman. Two incumbents, Jose Gutierrez and Tamara Wilson, did not run for re-election.