Town Square

Post a New Topic

Lianides appointed Sequoia superintendent

Original post made on Mar 18, 2010

James Lianides, assistant superintendent and chief business officer of the Sequoia Union High School District, was appointed Wednesday (March 17) by district trustees as the new superintendent of the district, effective July 1.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, March 17, 2010, 11:44 PM

Comments (30)

Posted by James, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Mar 18, 2010 at 5:19 am

Well obviously the School Board had this all planned out to have selected this person so fast -- so much for a search or soliciting input from the public.

I wouldn't want to be appointed with this controversy surrounding the process. Mr. Lianides may be the right person for the job, but we'll never know. Given how important this position is, don't you think the Board should have taken a little more time in looking and tried to correct the taint on their closed door session.

I have my doubts about 4 of the 5 members and their ability to fulfill the responsibilities of their office. It's no wonder why the public loose confidence in their elected officials. I hope people remember this when it comes election time next year.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 18, 2010 at 7:30 am

Now it makes sense why the board met in private. They were discussing an individual and not just the idea of looking inside for the new super. This whole think stinks and the board's arrogance is astounding.


Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2010 at 8:21 am

"....now it makes sense why the Board met in private" It was obvious in the Almanac's first article reporting this story wherein Dr. Lianides name was specifically mentioned in exactly this context. I don't know Dr. Liandides, but while he may be a good choice, the way this was done wreaks of inside dealing and, in my mind, justifies a full investigation of this Board's actions by the State. I know that Peter is planning to pursue a civil suit in this regard, but frankly he shouldn't have to. I for one will be sending a complaint today to the State Attorney General's office reporting this obvious violation of the Brown Act. As for the four members of the Board who engineered this, waiting until January, 2012 to have them out of office is too long.


Posted by outraged, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 18, 2010 at 8:32 am

What a joke. This district already has one indefensible lawsuit filed against it because of the reckless way it handled Everest charter school, now it's going to have to defend itself against a lawsuit over a Brown Act violation. Also unwinable, I predict. All at OUR expense. It's the public's money that's being thrown down the toilet here, folks. I agree with a previous poster: 2011 is too long to wait for these reckless people to be in office.


Posted by outraged, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 18, 2010 at 8:35 am

Guess I was too outraged to read what I wrote before pushing that treacherous SEND button. I meant to say: 2011 is too long to wait for these reckless people to be TURNED OUT OF office.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 18, 2010 at 9:48 am

I hope now everyone understands why challenging the first closed session motion's legality was and is so important. This Board is operating totally behind closed doors on a matter that has profound implications for the community and there has been NO public input on this decision.

I urge everyone to speak out on this issue and demand that this appointment be withdrawn until there is the opportunity for public input.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 18, 2010 at 10:09 am

This selection process was deplorable and beyond contempt. Our trustees have violated our trust.

A complete, unadultered, unabashed insider job. As elected officials, you should be ashamed of yourselves.

Your citizens deserve far better than you deliver.


Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2010 at 10:56 am

I just went on the District's web site (to vent). I happened to take a look at the agenda for last nights meeting. i was further appalled to see that this item - Appointment of Public Employee - Superintendent - was listed under CLOSED SESSION. So first they decide in closed session to rig this thing for the heir, then at the next meeting they do it in closed session, all the while by having SPAM blockers and lawyers run interference on public input. Brown Act or no - this cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged!!!


Posted by Carol, a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 18, 2010 at 12:17 pm

This board is operating outside of the law and not representing the interests of our community. First they pass a bond measure to 'improve the academic environment' but use a huge part of it to fund a sports arena. Then they attempt to exempt themselves from a state requirement to evaluate the environmental impacts of several projects and now they violate the Brown Act. What's next guys?

Voters must hold the Board accountable for their actions.


Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 18, 2010 at 1:23 pm

As many above have said, with all due respect to Mr. Lianides, this process stinks and if not specifically illegal, should be. It could be that for a variety of reasons that the decision is correct, but if it is a correct decision, it should be easily defensible and should stand up to public scrutiny. At this point, the end result is horribly tainted by this process. What the BOTs doesn't appear to understand is that unnecessary secrecy creates a perception of "cover up" and wrongdoing that is probably worse than whatever the truth is. Unfortunately I wish Mr. Carpenter luck in his lawsuit and success in the outcome as there is a need for accountability which the Board appears to consider itself above. Shame, shame, shame...


Posted by Simple Simon, a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Mar 18, 2010 at 2:14 pm

all I can say is "WTF"???

A diplomatic friend of mine from England once told me that Public Education was the highest risk sector for corruption of both public and private American institutions. There is no real oversight on the State level, no checks and balances, highly influential unions and no real mandate for public accountability.

For SUHS District, it is business as usual.


Posted by Harry Turner, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Mar 18, 2010 at 2:52 pm

It's a disheartening abuse of governance process. It looks like a continuation the Board's cozy, inbred control of the Sequoia District that needs the benefits from fresh, new ideas. A search for external candidates might have introduced a leader unencumbered by legacy decisions, commitments and loyalties.

The Brown Act was intended to compel open decisions openly arrived at.

Harry Turner
Ladera


Posted by a concerned taxpayer, a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 18, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Insider? Since when is that a bad thing. The majority of job hires are "insiders". Have you considered that he is the most experienced for the job and that he will be ready to start the job immediately and be supported by the people he works for. Personally, I think that is a good thing.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 18, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Concerned Citizen states:"Insider? Since when is that a bad thing."

It is a bad thing if there are better qualified external candidates.

It is a bad thing if the citizens never have the opportunity to comment on the pros and cons of external vs internal candidates?

It is a bad thing of it discriminates against non-white and or female candidates who were not considered.

It is a very bad thing when the public's business is done in secret.

Here is why the LAW says it is bad:


"In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards,

and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people's

business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations

be conducted openly."

"The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The

people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good

for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining

informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created."

The people reconfirmed that intent fifty years later at the November 2004 election by adopting Proposition 59, amending the California Constitution to include a public right of access to government information:

"The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people's

business, and, therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and

agencies shall be open to public scrutiny."


Posted by David Boyce, Almanac staff writer
on Mar 18, 2010 at 5:13 pm

David Boyce is a registered user.

The governing board of the Sequoia Union High School District did seek community opinion as it worked through the process of seeking candidates to replace the outgoing Patrick Gemma.

The district posted a questionnaire on the web site on Monday, Feb. 22, and kept it up until Friday, March. 5. (Note that the board decided in closed session on Feb. 24 to limit the search to district employees only.)

The questionnaire results are available in paper format from the district office. They will not be available online from the district, as spokeswoman Bettylu Smith explained in response to my e-mail asking if they would be posted anywhere.

"As mentioned in my cover letter to you last week, the questionnaire was developed expressly for the trustees as part of their search for a new superintendent (as one means of informing that decision). Trustees are grateful to those who took the time to complete the questionnaire, and the responses and comments are being considered by the trustees as the search process progresses. The reports will be made available upon request."

The questionnaire is from 2003 and used during the recruitment of Mr. Gemma.

I am making arrangements to get the results ready for online posting in connection with a story that will go up at The Almanac's web site shortly.

Here is an excerpt from my story:

The bulk of the survey was 13 multiple-choice criteria. Respondents were asked to rate a candidate's view of priorities as either very important, somewhat important, or not too important.

The results showed 12 of the 13 items as "very important," including:

– "Sustain and improve the performance of ALL students while closing the gap between higher and poorer achieving students." Very-important rating: 83 percent.

– "Value and capitalize upon diversity in the schools and community as s/he addresses the unique needs of an ethnically, culturally and socio-economically diverse student body." Very-important rating: 53 percent.

– "Address the multi-faceted issues associated with charter schools in an objective manner." Very-important rating: 68 percent.

Some respondents found this tedious, with one person writing: "All the questions are leading -- 'How important is it for the (superintendent) to do a good job on everything within their job description?'"

Said another: "I don't get it. How will this line of questioning be useful?"

That line of questioning is balanced by items asking for open-ended responses, Sequoia board President Olivia Martinez said in an interview. One part is quantitative and the other qualitative and, lacking a better method, the board uses the results as it may, she said.

The multiple choice items "reaffirm that there a consensus in the community as to the importance of what these things are," she said. "In a democracy, nothing is perfect."


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 18, 2010 at 5:32 pm

David Boyce reports:"The district posted a questionnaire on the web site on Monday, Feb. 22, and kept it up until Friday, March. 5. (Note that the board decided in closed session on Feb. 24 to limit the search to district employees only.)"

Unfortunately,this process involved no outreach to the community encouraging participation, no online posting of the results, and no discussion of the option of inside vs outside candidates.

More important, it is very clear that the Board had already selected the new superintendent long before the closing date of this so called survey.

The survey was a cover story, a diversion and a sham.

The Brown Act does NOT recognize surveys as an acceptable means of allowing the public to be heard on a pending public decision. There is only ONE legally acceptable method - put the decision on a posted agenda and permit public comment in open session. The School Board made both the decision to restrict the search to inside candidates (illegally in a Closed Session) and the choice of a new superintendent (permitted in a Closed Session but by no means required)in Closed Sessions.

Here is what the Attorney General's Office says about public comment on Closed Session items:
- Every agenda for a regular meeting shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to DIRECTLY ADDRESS the legislative body on any item under the subject matter jurisdiction of the body.
- With respect to any item which is already on the agenda, or
in connection with any item which the body will consider pursuant to the exceptions contained in section 54954.2(b) )i.e. in Closed Session), the public MUST be given the opportunity to comment before or during the legislative body's consideration of the item. ( 54954.3(a).)

What is not clear about the law???


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 18, 2010 at 6:10 pm

The trustees may wish to note that not one single comment on this thread is supportive of their process.

Incredible, simply incredible.


Posted by supportive, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 18, 2010 at 7:06 pm

i think the board made a good decision.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 18, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Supportive: care to elaborate as to why you think the board made a good decision? Or are you just being a contrarian?


Posted by Simple Simon, a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Mar 19, 2010 at 7:39 am

I took the survey (if you can call it that). The questions were all leading towards the Districts pre-determined mandates. It was self-serving in my opinion.


Posted by outraged, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 19, 2010 at 8:23 am

Mr. Boyce, you write: "The governing board of the Sequoia Union High School District did seek community opinion as it worked through the process of seeking candidates to replace the outgoing Patrick Gemma."

The community's opinion of WHAT? The board had obviously already decided to name someone within long before the survey deadline (the decision was made, officially, only 2 days after the survey's posting), then asked embarrassingly ridiculous questions to produce meaningless results.

Mr. Carpenter is right on target: A sham to provide cover for the board's irresponsible and, in the case of the Brown Act violation, illegal actions. To believe that the district was seeking community opinion when it was conducting a sham survey is not a logical conclusion.




Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 19, 2010 at 9:04 am

It's actually not the decision the board made that's at issue. I personally think the selection of Mr. Liandes was a foregone conclusion. As I've said, the only thing bureaucrats treasure more than an apathetic electorate is continuity.

The issue here is PROCESS. The SUHSD did virtually no outreach to public to see what they wanted in a new superintendant. Oh yes, they did post a quick and dirty survey on their web site a day before they went into their closed session to discuss the search.

I guess that should you happen to be one of the half dozen or so people who monitor their web site daily - and assuming you were interested - you got a chance to answer some questions that had no relevance to the search.

The new superintendant will be dealing with incredibly difficult issues - draconian budget cuts, increasingly poor student performance and drop out rates, and charter schools. None of the questions on the survey addressed those compelling issues.

So the trustees did almost nothing to ACTIVELY SEEK public input (like dedicating a special session to just that topic... heaven forbid!) And they went into their closed session with little more than a day for people to stumble upon their survey. It is crystal clear that their survey was cover - nothing more, nothing less. Just something they could point to and say "see, we did ask the public!"

Mr. Lianes may be the best candidate or not, but we'll never know, will we? And the way the Trustees selected the single most important person to lead this district - shutting out the public from comment - was nothing short of shameful.


Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 19, 2010 at 10:07 am

Supportive,
The choice may be good or not. The point is that we can't tell and nor can the board given that the search was so limited. The fact that Dr. Gemma gave less than 6 months notice to leave raises a question about how this was planned. I would have much preferred to have Mr. Lianides appointed on an interim basis to allow a real search for such an important position. But back to supportive liking the choice, aside from the BoT, nobody really has access to the information to be able to know if Mr. Lianides is the best choice.


Posted by We think Washington is bad, a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Mar 19, 2010 at 6:37 pm

As a taxpayer and member of the Sequoia district, I have heard nothing but objectionable statements about the process. I am with others saying perhaps the new Superintendent is good, but how would anyone know? With all the problems with public education and with the budget of $100 million how could there not be an outside search? The budget is larger than most companies in the US--cronyism is at best a problem. It just looks suspicious. Is it any wonder that people want charter schools and those that can afford it send their kids to private school. This is disgusting.


Posted by James, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Mar 20, 2010 at 9:41 am

According to the school district's website, the board's next meeting is March 31. Maybe people should fill the audience and provide feedback during their public comment time. Since there is this much disapproval, the school board needs to hear it directly. The agenda should be posted in advance of the meeting -- www.sequoiadistrict.org.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 20, 2010 at 11:02 am

James -

This is a GREAT idea and I hope others will join you. Unfortunately, I'm out of town that week or I'd be there (I've addressed the board many times before).

Just a word to those who wish to speak. First, it's actually quite easy and takes just a minute or two. There is always a relatively brief "public comment session" where members of the public can address the board on any issue they wish (especially those that are NOT on the formal agenda). This session is usually limited to three or four speakers and usually limited to 2 or 3 minutes per speaker. If the board even tries to limit the session or your comments, you should object strenuously! This is a democracy!

Trustees afford so little time for citizens to address them - although they have no problem spouting off and droning on and on seemingly forever sometimes. If you push back, they will acquiesce. It's actually quite fun to put them on the spot and watch them try to shut you down.

And remember that you must fill out a "speaker card" before the meeting. You only need to put in your name and city (not street address) and identify your topic. If it is on this topic, I would suggest something as simple as "Supervisor Selection Process." Hand the card to the clerk - preferably before the meeting starts, but even during the meeting (should you arrive late) is absolutely legal.

Don't worry about being nervous. Everyone is.

Just speak from your heart and tell them that you're disgusted with their secrecy and their process. And don't let them interrupt you - this is YOUR time. Them trustees have the entire rest of the meeting to explain their position. You have two minutes.


Posted by David Boyce, Almanac staff writer
on Mar 21, 2010 at 2:58 pm

David Boyce is a registered user.

A note to anyone planning to address the board of the Sequoia Union High School District.

Town council meetings covered by The Almanac tend to have public comment periods at the very beginning of the meetings, right after the pledge of allegiance and before the consent calender.

Public comment in Sequoia district board meetings is almost always placed after "special recognitions" (not infrequent), "information items" (sometimes lengthy reports on initiatives or ongoing programs) and sometimes "discussion items" (which speaks for itself).

Public comment periods tend to precede "action items," which are well into the typical meeting.


Posted by Summit Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Mar 23, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Mr. Lianides and Mr. Gemma are very well educated men but unfortunately think they are smarter than the rest of us. This is not the way we conduct business here gentlemen and I am sorry to say, albiet not surprised, that we now will take MORE time and MORE resources from the students to get to the bottom of this.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 24, 2010 at 4:43 pm

I have today engaged an attorney to pursue civil action against the School District and its Board for their violation of the Brown Act.

I believe that their 4-1 motion in closed session to conduct a closed search violated the Brown Act. I also believe that the Board conspired in closed door and or in private conversations to select a new superintendent, without ever disclosing the name of that individual to the public before the appointment was made, in order to deny the public the opportunity to provide comment on the proposed appointment of that specific individual.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 5, 2010 at 1:32 pm

SHEPPARD MULLIN
HEPPARD MULLIN RICHTER ST HAMPTON L
ATTORNEYS AT LAW
990 Marsh Road I Menlo Park, CA 94025-1949
650-815-2600 office I 650-815-2601 fax www.sheppardmullin.com
James M. Chadwick
Writer's Direct Line: 650-815-2605
jchadwick@sheppardmullin.com
April 5, 2010
VIA FACSIMILE AND FEDEX
President Olivia Martinez
Members of the Board of Trustees
Sequoia Union High School District
Board of Trustees
480 James Avenue
Redwood City, CA 94062
tel. (650) 369-1411
fax. (650) 306-8870
Re: Board of Trustees Meetings on February 24, 2010, and March 17, 2010
Appointment of a New Superintendent
Dear President Martinez and Members of the Board of Trustees:
I am writing on behalf of Atherton and District resident Peter Carpenter to request
that the Board of Trustees ("the Board") cure and correct two actions: the Board's February 24
decision, made during a closed-session discussion, to limit the search for a new superintendent to
employees of the Sequoia Union High School District ("the District"), and the Board's March 17
appointment of James Lianides as the District's new superintendent. Mr. Carpenter requests that
both actions be rescinded, and that any and all future actions with respect to the hiring of a
superintendent be taken in strict compliance with the Ralph M. Brown Act.
The Board's February 24 closed-session discussion violated the Ralph M. Brown
Act (Government Code section 54950, et seq., hereafter the "Brown Act"). In particular, that
discussion violated Government Code sections 54953 and 54957.
On February 24, the Board convened in a closed session to discuss the search for
a new superintendent. The Board apparently considered the relative merits of internal candidates
for the superintendent job. The Board went beyond that, however, to discuss the broader policy
issue of whether to limit the superintendent search to District employees, or to look beyond the
SHEPPARD MULLIN RICHTER & HAMPTON LLP
President Olivia Martinez
Members of the Board of Trustees
Sequoia Union High School District
Board of Trustees
April 5, 2010
Page 2
District. For this second discussion, the Board remained in closed session – an action which
exceeds the Brown Act's narrow exception for personnel matters.
The personnel exception, Government Code section 54597, permits closed
sessions to "consider the appointment, employment, evaluation of performance or dismissal of a
public employee." The exception is to be construed "strictly and narrowly." (San Diego Union
v. City Council (1983) 146 Cal.App.3d 947, 954.) It therefore plainly does not permit policy
discussions which go beyond the "appointment, employment, evaluation. . . or dismissal" of a
particular employee. (See, e.g., Santa Clara Federation of Teachers v. Governing Board (1981)
116 Cal.App.3d 831; 63 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen 153 (1980).) The Board's discussion of the broad
policy issue of whether to limit its search to insiders exceeds this narrow exception.
As all members of the Board well know, the Sequoia Union High School District
Superintendent holds a position of considerable power and importance in the community. The
position oversees the education of more than 8,000 students, and steers a large organization with
an annual budget of more than $100 million. The person who holds this position wields
enormous influence. More importantly, he or she holds a position of public trust. The
fundamental and critical decision of how to go about finding the best person for this job is
precisely the sort of decision the California Legislature intended to be conducted in the open.
The fundamental premise of the Brown Act is that "[t]he people, in delegating
their authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to
know and what is not good for them to know." (Brown Act, section 54950.) By excluding the
public from the decision-making process, the Board has shrouded in secrecy an important policy
discussion that should have been exposed to the light of day. Your decision to conduct secret
deliberations on an important policy decision—i.e., the decision not to conduct a search that
might have produced more highly accomplished and qualified candidates for the most critical
position in the District not only violates the Brown Act, but contravenes its central purpose: to
ensure public awareness of and participation in such decisions. Furthermore, this critical
appointment was made without the public even knowing who the candidate was before the
decision was made, thereby depriving all concerned of the opportunity for public comment on
his qualifications.
Therefore, Mr. Carpenter respectfully requests that the Board take immediate
action to cure and correct those violations by rescinding the decision to conduct an internal
search, by rescinding the appointment of Mr. Lianides, and by ensuring that any future actions
with regard to the hiring of a superintendent are made in accordance with the Brown Act.
Finally, the Board should take all necessary steps to ensure that hard-copy and electronic
documents or records relating to the search for a new superintendent are preserved, including
SHEPPARD MULLIN RICHTER & HAMPTON LLP
President Olivia Martinez
Members of the Board of Trustees
Sequoia Union High School District
Board of Trustees
April 5, 2010
Page 3
electronic communications or records that might otherwise be erased or expunged by automated
processes.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your prompt
response, as required by the Brown Act.
SHEPPARD, MULLIN, RICHTER & HAMPTON LLP
W02-WEST:5DAS 1 \ 402567890.2


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

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

The dress code
By Jessica T | 19 comments | 1,819 views

. . . People will never forget how you made them feel.
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,184 views

September food and drink goings on
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 1,162 views

Anglo Menlo Park
By Paul Bendix | 0 comments | 643 views

Council election, and then some.
By Stuart Soffer | 5 comments | 450 views