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School board finds 'merit' to complaints, will replace Walnut Grove principal

Allegation: Vranesh created a hostile work environment

In a marathon closed session that lasted more than seven hours, the Pleasanton School Board decided to replace Jon Vranesh as principal of Walnut Grove Elementary School.

In a statement made at 3:15 a.m. Wednesday morning after the closed session meeting, Board President Jamie Hintzke, said "In closed session by a 4 to 1 vote, the board found merit to complaints filed against an administrator of the district. The board has directed the superintendent to issue a written decision to the parties in this matter."

Board member Valerie Arkin voted against the action.

"With all the information that the board had, the action that was taken, that motion, I didn't feel it was warranted," Arkin told the Pleasanton Weekly. Another board member, Jeff Bowser, would not comment on the board's actions and none of the others could be reached for comment.

With the search for a new principal underway, Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi confirmed that Vranesh remains on paid administrative leave, which began Oct. 25, 2013. She would not comment on the district's next steps in the ongoing dispute.

"There was not a dismissal or any disciplinary action," said Vranesh's attorney, H. Paul Kondrick. "We don't have a next step."

The reasons for the board's action to replace Vranesh have not been made public and were not included in documents provided to the Pleasanton Weekly this week by the district in response to a Public Records Act request received this week.

However, among the documents was a Nov. 7, 2013, letter from the district's attorney, Kim Kingsley Bogard of Kingsley Bogard LLP in Folsom, to Kondrick states, "As previously stated, the allegations are that (Vranesh) created a hostile work environment at Walnut Grove through, among other things, the use of vulgar/derogatory terms to describe female employees of the district."

The letter also claims these allegations were made by "several women" and that Vranesh also "made statements to subordinate employees which were interpreted as threatening and intimidating in nature."

"Mr Vranesh, under penalty of perjury, denied the use of any inappropriate language in the workplace, including at Walnut Grove," Kondrick told the Pleasanton Weekly after the special board meeting held Tuesday.

In addition, Vranesh, in an email to district representatives dated Oct. 29, said he "emphatically and unconditionally stated I didn't use those words in the workplace."

He also said in his email that he discussed the matter with Ahmadi, who, he stated, said "I know, that's ridiculous" and acknowledged that Vranesh "would never use that language or treat co-workers so crudely."

In the email he also accuses the board of stopping a meeting when he asked that his attorney be present, and that the board and district officials "were not prepared to discuss specific issues" or allow him to respond.

Vranesh claims the issue began a year ago with a complaint he made to the district about student and faculty safety concerns.

An email dated Dec. 15, 2012, the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., shows Vranesh asked the district to install springs on the gates so they close automatically at Walnut Grove, that emergency numbers be repainted so students can line up in the case of an emergency, that the alarm system at the school be turned on.

District Assistant Superintendent Luz Cazares said those requests have been addressed.

Vranesh filed a more formal complaint with the district in an Oct. 30 email. In it, he cites 12 concerns, including "failure of the District to take action on the Principal's reports of safety issues, including intimidation of teachers, within Walnut Grove Elementary."

Claims also include:

"Retaliation against (name redacted) for reporting safety issues, including intimidation of teachers, within Walnut Grove Elementary; Failing to act in good faith and deal fairly with employee (redacted); Placing (redacted) on administrative leave without good cause; Failing to conduct an investigation of (redacted) as (redacted) of Walnut Grove Elementary, or otherwise, that was appropriate under the circumstances, including the district's lack of reasonable grounds for believing that (redacted) had engaged in any actionable misconduct; Taking adverse personnel action against (redacted) without a reasoned conclusion, supported by substantial evidence."

Vranesh also cites defamation of character, "conflicts of interest," "harassment," "intimidation" and "discrimination - in terms and conditions of employment."

The well-liked, long-term employee who has been principal at Walnut Grove since 2011 after several years in other positions within the district, Vranesh has had numerous supporters speak at board meetings, asking why he was removed from his post and praising him. About 40 supporters were at at Tuesday's special board meeting before the board members went into closed session. That number dwindled to about 20 by the time the board emerged after 3 a.m.

Former City Councilwoman Sharrell Michelotti, one of seven who spoke, pointed to the "Community of Character" sign, which lists behavior characteristics the city and school district pledged to model and advance in the community, and spoke about one of the traits - integrity.

"In my mind, Jon Vranesh has not only lived this," Michelotti said, "but he has instilled that in students and teachers."

She added the district is "holding the life and reputation" of Vranesh in their hands.

Chris Jacob expressed frustration with "the shroud of mystery" surrounding the case, and called the district's handling of Vranesh "a textbook disaster."

"A lot of people don't trust the board any more," Jacob said. "Ms. Ahmadi, you are not trusted."

A Walnut Grove parent who called herself "Jennifer O" asked that Vranesh be cleared of any wrongdoing.

"Clearly some serious games are being played and we as parents are not amused," she said. She also asked the board to publicly respond to safety issues brought up be Vranesh. "We would like a full report no later than Jan. 10," she said.

The Pleasanton Weekly has submitted a request for documents related to Vranesh's removal as principal, including an investigator's report.

Vranesh's forced departure from Walnut Grove marks the seventh principal of the district's 16 schools who has left in the last year. That includes principals at all three high schools, at Donlon, Mohr and Walnut Grove elementary schools, and at Pleasanton Middle School.

Arkin said she's aware of the number of departures and said that's something the board may have to consider. She noted that principals now have new responsibilities, in part due to new state learning standards, and have an increased workload.

Ahmadi conveyed the board's decision in an emailed statement to Walnut Grove Elementary parents on Wednesday,which read, in part: "We remain very limited in our ability to discuss this case publicly, but I wanted you to be aware of the results of last night's meeting, which lasted late into the night. Personnel matters take time and involve numerous measures to protect the privacy of those who file complaints and those who are the subject of complaints."

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by The 'mentally unstable' tactic
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2013 at 6:00 pm

(Posting edited by Pleasanton Weekly Online staff to remove inappropriate comments.)
...

What some superintendents do is claim principals and administrators are "mentally unstable" like this article 'Ex-San Juan administrator alleges schools chief defamed and bullied her' from the Sacramento Bee. Web Link. The superintendent in this case claimed the administrator was "a liar," "not credible," incompetent" and "mentally unstable."

In most cases, the superintendents try to find others in their organization to do their dirty work for them ( which seems to be the case in PUSD and hire so-called investigators ) that write what the superintendent directs them to write, with the investigators 'interviewing' the staff members with leading questions ...
...
Ultimately it backfires which is why San Juan Unified is now facing a $17 million lawsuit, with board members that were part of this repugnant exercise in disgusting behavior being sued as well.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hal
a resident of Castlewood
on Dec 19, 2013 at 6:12 pm

I hope that man has a great lawyer! This is shameful and embarrassing for Pleasanton.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Walnut Grove Elementary School
on Dec 19, 2013 at 6:25 pm

I am sorry Mr. Vranesh. I am sorry for what your family has been put through. I know you are a Pleasanton kid and vested in our community. We have done you wrong.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Not sure what the title of the article means, "Board finds Merit to the Complaints". Was Mr Vranesh given the opportunity to confront those making the complaints? Were the people making the complaints at the closed meeting?

Appears a trial was on conducted without defendant, witnesses or accusers, Is this the American way or the way the Pleasanton school board handles things?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by I
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2013 at 7:07 pm

I am sorry JV that you did not have the discretion and that your failure to do so resulted in your ousting. It is a sad state where a person in power cannot harass and demean their employees -telling them that they are a.... And suggesting their need for servicing. Really such actions require removal. Despite my current disdain for our school board... This is true


 +   Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Birdland
on Dec 19, 2013 at 8:15 pm

Wonder how many administrators will be spending their winter break working on their resumes....


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tim
a resident of Birdland
on Dec 19, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Thank you Valerie Arkin for listening to the community. Please do whatever you can to quickly get rid of Parvin Ahmadi. Ahmadi has done nothing positive for PUSD (principal resignations, appointing a current principal who was booed by parents when her appointment was announced, failing to get support from the community on the parcel tax, ignoring input from parents, fostering a culture where our children take a backseat to politics). She needs to go before she does further damage.

The morale of some WG employees is at an all-time low since JV was forced out. Ahmadi and the board only care about money and politics. Finances may not look so great next year once alienated parents stop donating money and decide to withhold their kids from school on selected days.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Foothill Place
on Dec 19, 2013 at 8:48 pm

Fremont Unified you can have Parvin back. Lodi please take Odie. We have loyal administrators who live in this community, who have kids attending PUSD, who have a steak in our children's success....... Oh wait hang on... I was wrong we used to have administrators who lived in our community and who's kids attended PUSD.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jtjh
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Dec 19, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Jtjh is a registered user.

>> About 40 supporters ..... ..... That number dwindled to about 20 by the time the board emerged after 3 a.m. <<

The number "dwindled"... ?

It seems to me remarkable that there were twenty members of the public who felt so strongly about the matter that they were prepared to sit there until 3 a.m. in order to hear the outcome.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by curious
a resident of Birdland
on Dec 19, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Do any of the current cabinet members live in Pleasanton? They seem completely out of touch with our community.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by so sad
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2013 at 9:39 pm

A janitor who didn't keep Walnut Grove school clean and safe. A Principal who complained about it.

This janitor also happens to be the Classified Union President.

Two teachers who didn't like the pressure of having to work so hard.

Sadly, this entire debacle is just this simple.

Maybe Jon did call the two teachers "b..h", maybe he didn't. If he said it or not, this witch hunt happened because these folks wanted Jon out so they could continue doing their half-fast job.

The real mystery is why the Parvin and Board went so far with this. Under normal circumstances, the janitor and 2 teachers (or should I say instructional coach?) complaining about a principal would have not even warranted more than meeting or two. Was it over-reaction and lack of foresight and leadership, or a covert plan to force a person out?

PUSD and the accusers will eventually have to pay for this fiasco. Ironically, they may wind up losing their jobs and professional reputations too when the cost of the lawsuit/settlements are finally calculated. But by then, there may not be any good administrators left in this district to pick up the pieces. 7 gone in one year. That is half!!!! 50% turnover is without precedent and now that the principals/VPs see how the district has treated JV, more will leave by the end of this year. No school or district can make it without strong leadership. How can Parvin and the board be so shortsighted? As bad as this has been, it will grow into an even bigger crisis that can severely damage this district for years to come. In private corporations, the CEO would have resigned by now. Parvin should really consider turning in her letter of resignation to the Board over this debacle. That is the price of leadership.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ann
a resident of Birdland
on Dec 19, 2013 at 9:58 pm

A very sad time for Walnut Grove...and our town. If we keep forcing people out and only hire from outside the district, why would anyone with talent want to stay? We will be left with the people no one else wants. And to think, my family moved here for the schools! I'd laugh if I weren't so sad.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Good report
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2013 at 10:35 pm

This is really good information, especially the links to emails and documents. Good work Plessanton Weekly. I feel really bad for JV and the WG community.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by POD
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2013 at 10:38 pm

A lot of great blogs by Pleasanton residents. Too bad you are not on the school board. I would like to make two points.
First, It is clear from reading all the web links ( do read them if you haven't) that Superintendant Ahmadi is a central, negative figure in JV's list of complaints. She is complicit in the accusations brought forth by the "few" who allegedly were offended by JV. And yet the School Board, in all its combined wisdom, has asked Ahmadi to return to them by mid January with recommendations regarding discipline etc. of JV. Now here's the kicker…how can anyone expect Ms. Ahmadi to be fair, impartial and neutral to JV? She is, in essence, charged by JV to have caused or motivated the accusers by her actions or, better yet, lack of actions. I am sorry but none of us would want to have our professional fate in the hands of a person who had a negative role the process. There is at least a "conflict of interest" here and perhaps a lot more. Yet our elected officials deliberated for 5 hours (until 3:30AM) and came out of closed session and asked Ahmadi to report back with recommendations about JV's future in the District and perhaps future in education. Hmmm, I wonder what she will come up with? Just like JV was taken from his supervisory role of his staff when complaints were being addressed, Ms Ahmadi must be removed from her supervision of JV due to conflict of interest, fairness, and other concerns. Our enlightened school board MUST find some impartial person to judge JV's fate in the interim.

Second, how could the "impartial" investigator, Ms Ahmadi, and now the school board find "merit" in the allegations of the accusers while finding no "merit" In JV's. Mr. Vranesh's career over the past 15 years has been studded with nothing but glowing reviews by his peers and the by the same people in the District Office that now treat him as a leper since he has been attacked by a few. Yet his testimony has NO "merit". This has to be a joke or better yet a conspiracy. And, finally, I guess all the support that JV has gotten has no "merit" as well. The school board has heard and seen over 60-70 concerned citizens get up in JV's behalf and, by the way, there was NOT ONE detractor at those meetings. Yet, that made no favorable impression on the board. So much for "elected representatives" of the people. Even a blind squirrel will find a nut or "merit" sometime. Oh... JV has a 12 point complaint that he has requested for investigation several weeks ago. It has been ignored and may be acted on in the future. How's that for looking out for his interests? Oh, Ms Ahmadi will be conducting that one too. Hmmm... I wonder how that will come out? (especially since she is central to JV's complaints.)
Finally, we the people of Pleasanton need to unite and form a petition to recall the whole den of incompetents of PUSD. If not a petition, unite to do something to get the attention of someone outside of PUSD for a sane look at this situation. For the first time, I am ashamed of calling Pleasanton my home town and I have invested my life here.
What's our next step? Any suggestions?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by ???
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2013 at 10:52 pm

Thank you PW for making the attached correspondence public. I am disgusted by how this situation is being handled by the district administration and members of the Board of Trustees whom we place our trust in to do the right thing by educating our children. There has to be more to this story then what's being told--the actions just don't make sense!!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by The 'mentally unstable' tactic
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 20, 2013 at 1:13 am

PUSD personnel actions on Web Link moved Valexis Sutton as custodian of Walnut Grove from being a Special Education Assistant at Hart Middle School. Valexis Sutton [Santos] would appear from this Manteca article Web Link to be the daughter of CSEA union president Alex Sutton Web Link the California School Employees Association union in Pleasanton.

Also note on October 9, 2013, right before Ahmadi put Vranesh on leave, PUSD posted a job posting for a roving night Elementary custodian. Here it is: Web Link .

Within 8 days, Jon Vranesh was put on leave on October 17, 2013.




 +   Like this comment
Posted by Megan
a resident of Birdland
on Dec 20, 2013 at 1:44 am

My heart goes out to JV and his family, innocent or guilty, having your reputation smeared publicly is no fun. I spent the majority of my career working in the PUSD. I've seen several principals who were severely disliked by teachers, staff, parents,( lots of written complaints, schoolwide meetings etc), but I have never seen a principal removed midyear and replaced. Obviously there is more to this story because there is no way the district would ever take the chance of being sued for wrongful dismissal. As much as people don't like it, the district is doing their job and details must stay confidential by law. The comments/actions JV made must have been in extremely poor taste to justify this result. Everyone makes mistakes and has a lack of good judgement from time to time. Now that the board has voted on his dismissal, JV most likely will have the option of going to trial in front of the CA. Board of Ed. That could cost him up to 100k if he doesn't win. The district wont want to go to trial either because it is so costly, so they will probably offer a settlement. I can't imagine he would want a dismissal on his permanent record. If he goes to trial and wins, he gets his job back and lawyer fees are paid by the district. If he goes to trial and loses, he'll be down a lot of money, he'll have dismissed on his record, and most likely his career would be over. I'm sure the guy has more on his mind than xmas carols and eggnog.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by The 'mentally unstable' tactic
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 20, 2013 at 2:25 am

The PUSD spends much of its time in court rather than educating children. It's about time that PUSD's senior executive team and Board be put on notice that PUSD is not their personal political fiefdom; that PUSD is about *education*, and not the raw display of power, conspiracy between the District and union presidents, and petty political retribution (exercised by Superintendent, cabinet and two union presidents) that this district has suffered through for the last few years.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by reassured
a resident of Amador Estates
on Dec 20, 2013 at 6:28 am

Every time I read one more article about all the issues of PUSD, I thank my lucky stars that I chose to yank my child out of the Pleasanton government school system after her elementary school years.

No regrets.

Absolutely none.

I only regret that more parents don't choose alternative education for their children.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by William Tell
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 20, 2013 at 6:51 am

(Post deemed inappropriate by Pleasanton Weekly Online staff)


 +   Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of Walnut Grove Elementary School
on Dec 20, 2013 at 6:54 am

One point in the article I thought was interesting is where JV had to swear under the penalty of perjury , that he didn't use the words towards the teachers. To me that says there were no witnesses to the allegation, so this is a claim on heresay? I'm sure the PW is still gathering information, and it may be in their best interest to interview others that have left. POD good information, thanks


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sam
a resident of Oak Hill
on Dec 20, 2013 at 7:22 am

Chris wrote: "To me that says there were no witnesses to the allegation, so this is a claim on heresay?"

Hearsay is testimony by a person who was not actually at the incident but who is simply repeating what he or she heard from someone who was at the incident. That's not what happened here. There is no hearsay. The teachers involved are apparently making first-hand reports of what they directly experienced from JV. There may or may not be any additional witnesses but that doesn't make the teachers' testimonies "hearsay".


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