By Renee Batti
Rumblings of discontent in the online community didn't materialize into public resistance when the Menlo Park City School District board unanimously approved a three-year contract on May 10 that will install Maurice Ghysels in the district superintendent's office beginning July 1, at an annual starting salary of $205,000.
The board and Mr. Ghysels signed the contract at a special public meeting after a closed session in which the board discussed the hiring
Although there was a lively discussion and much criticism on the Almanac's online forum urging people unhappy with the choice to show up at the meeting and protest, there was no public comment before the contract was approved. Most of the criticism centered on Mr. Ghysels' conduct when he was superintendent of another elementary school district on the Peninsula, and began a romantic relationship with a principal he supervised.
Mr. Ghysels will replace Ken Ranella, who has held the position since 2002. Mr. Ranella announced his retirement in January, effective June 30.
The salary and benefits package represents a significant decrease in compensation for the position, according to Mr. Ranella, who in his final year will be paid $245,803 in total compensation. He said under his contract, he pays the costs for his benefits, which amounts to around $12,000 annually.
Although he didn't have the exact numbers, Mr. Ranella said that his successor, by agreeing to a base salary of $205,000 and having the district pick up the costs of his benefits separately, will be compensated overall at a lower rate. The board "recalibrated the compensation" for the job in light of the changing economic landscape, he said, adding that "the market has gone down."
The new superintendent will also be paid $5,000 for relocation costs, a monthly allowance of $250 to cover expenses for attending community events and other activities that involve representing the district, and $250 per month for driving his own vehicle to district-related activities within San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, under terms of the contract. In addition to his salary, he will receive the same health and welfare benefits received by the district's teachers.
Mr. Ghysels' contract grants him 25 vacation days a year, with a maximum of 10 days carried over to the following year in unused vacation time.
Mr. Ghysels was one of 27 applicants for the position, and one of the six finalists interviewed by the board.
A number of Mr. Ghysels' family members and supporters attended the meeting, including his parents, sister, daughter and son-in-law, and Carmen Mizell, whom he described as "my better half" and later as his significant other. Mr. Ghysels came under fire in 2009 when he was superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman School District and it was revealed that he and Ms. Mizell, the principal at one of the schools he oversaw, were involved in a romantic relationship. Both were married to other people at the time.
Some members of the school community complained that a conflict of interest existed, particularly in light of Ms. Mizell's transfer in 2008 to a high-performing school, according to an Oct. 26, 2009, article in the Mountain View Voice. Other parents and community members stated their continuing support for both the superintendent and the principal, the Voice reported.
Board President Maria Hilton told the Almanac that board members "knew about (the relationship with the principal) even prior to interviewing him," and after "doing our due diligence" were satisfied that Mr. Ghysels' conduct in Mountain View shouldn't disqualify him for the Menlo Park position.
During the special meeting, Ms. Hilton noted that after the six finalists for the job were interviewed, board members voted, in a blind-ballot process, to rank the candidates. All board members ranked him No. 1, she said.
All five board members made statements praising their choice for superintendent. Terry Thygesen said she was a member of the board that hired Mr. Ranella, and was dismayed when he announced his retirement earlier this year. But she said that while helping with reference checks on Mr. Ghysels, she had been impressed by "the breadth and depth of support (he) has" within the school community "at all levels."
Mr. Ghysels received a doctorate in education from the University of San Francisco, and an undergraduate degree in economics from San Jose State University. His career in education, which includes a stint as a high school principal, a middle school principal, and deputy superintendent at the Campbell Union School District, sandwiches an interlude in the private sector with CitiBank and with a short-lived start-up company.
"I never wanted to leave education for very long — it's my first love," he told the Almanac.
He said he is proud of his work at the Mountain View district, particularly in the areas of "student achievement, student attendance, and student inclusion." But, he said, "It was a 'we' thing, not a 'me' thing." Building a collaborative environment with strong teamwork "allowed us to achieve a lot together."
Saying he'll have big shoes to fill when he comes onboard in his new job, Mr. Ghysels said he looks forward to forging relationships in the community, including with businesses and educational institutions.