Starting the school year off right | September 3, 2010 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

Opinion - September 3, 2010

Starting the school year off right

Showing that they have learned a lesson, the Mountain View Whisman school board has adopted a new policy on nepotism to prohibit employees from being supervised by a relative or someone with whom they share an intimate relationship.

The action fills a large gap in the district's personnel policy, which became painfully obvious in July 2009 when Superintendent Maurice Ghysels informed the district's trustees that he and Principal Carmen Mizell were in an intimate relationship. Ghysels gave no thought to ending the relationship or resigning. Instead, apparently on his own, he decided to transfer oversight of Mizell to the assistant superintendent and go on with his job.

Under the district's personnel rules at the time, the board was powerless to dismiss Ghysels or take any other action. There simply was no policy on the books that barred supervising employees from having a romantic relationship. The district had rules related to sexual harassment and conflict of interest, but not nepotism. Instead, the district relied on the California School Boards Association for updates on policy, but received no guidance at the time, according to Stephanie Totter, the district's assistant superintendent for administrative services.

Craig Goldman, who became superintendent in July, when Ghysels left the district, said the new policy is not meant to discourage district employees from recommending relatives or dating. Nor, at this point, does it cover the superintendent, who will sign a separate agreement with the trustees.

"The policy does not prohibit district employees marrying, being related, or having romantic relationships," Goldman said. But it does set standards for supervisors and subordinates to insure that conflicts of interest don't exist, he said.

That is the key provision. In most cases, employees who are not in a direct reporting relationship can be related or in a relationship with no harm or conflict to the district. Only if one supervises the other does it become a problem.

As it turned out, it took nearly a year for Ghysels to find another job, which meant that he continued to draw his full salary long after the trustees had announced that Goldman would take over. It was an awkward situation that might not have happened if the policy, including coverage for the superintendent, had been on the books in the first place.


Like this comment
Posted by Laid Off Teacher
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2010 at 9:20 am

Awkward situation last year indeed. Goldman is smart to get out ahead of it right away and attempt to close the issue. Good luck to him on cleaning up the rest of the corrupt culture and sense of entitlement at the district office created by Ghsyels.

HOWEVER, AND SOMEONE PLEASE EXPLAIN THIS ONE AWAY: There is still a conflict of interest with ex-Ghysels approving the hiring as a teacher of one of the board members, Higgins, that once supervised his salary, and then had placed in employment at his lover's (Mizell's) school! And when Higgins is laid off with other temporary teachers, she is amazingly one of the first to be hired back! No doubt one of the benefits of public office!

I'm sure it will take more hand wringing from Ms. Totter (former subordinate) to do the right thing and stop hiring and rehiring ex-board members (former supervisors). And of course, Totter received more than a few promotions (more like position title changes) and salary increases under Ghysels/Higgins to do exactly the same job! The playing field is hardly level for other beginning teachers when that occurs! These people never learn.

Like this comment
Posted by District Insider
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Sep 7, 2010 at 6:53 am

Finally an editorial with some teeth that's not afraid to take on the party line. Well done!

Awkward position for sure. Ghysels was able to go job hunting for a year while he two-stepped out of the district with the board providing the accompanying music.

"The district relied on the California School Boards Association for updates on policy, but received no guidance at the time, according to Stephanie Totter."

Classic cherry picking. Totter never went out of her way to find clarification, but is infamous for dumping plenty of obscure, hair-splitting, at times vindictive personnel policies on teachers, staff, and parents and community members throughout the district in order to put people in their place in her mind. Hypocrite! Other equally large or larger districts had such policies in place that could have been consulted, and the district supposedly had competent legal advisers that could have provided clear guidance. In order to "receive" guidance, you have to request it.

Ghysels, who suffered from corporate envy, clearly had the district office and board over a barrel on this one and took full advantage of it.

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 8, 2010 at 5:02 pm

A good smart move by Mr. Goldman to start his new tenure. There is still more work and trash to be taken out, however, which I'm sure will be done over time.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields


Top restaurants to check out

Mountain View Voice readers have officially decided. See which local restaurants and businesses can now claim the title — Best Of Mountain View 2017.

View Winners