The Pleasanton school board has named deputy superintendent of business services Micaela Ochoa to also handle the responsibilities of the top post as it takes steps to address the district superintendent vacancy.
Trustees also have apologized to the community but offered no new explanation for its decision to fire Rick Rubino Jan. 6 after six months as PUSD superintendent.
The board began its first meeting since firing Rubino with the announcement that it had unanimously approved Ochoa's appointment in closed session. She was named interim superintendent through June 30.
“During her tenure at PUSD (since August 2015), she has worked to improve the district's long-term fiscal solvency and stability,” said school board president Joan Laursen. “We are delighted to welcome her.”
Ochoa's proposed new contract will be presented at the next board meeting next Tuesday.
Ochoa has been leading the district since Dec. 19, when the school board placed Rubino on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into an undisclosed personnel matter.
Trustees subsequently voted to terminate the district's employment agreement with Rubino during a closed session meeting Jan. 6. School board president Joan Laursen said afterward the board's decision to fire Rubino without cause "was based on our strong belief that this was not a good fit.”
In accordance with his contract, Rubino received a year's salary – $256,000 – along with health benefits at a maximum cost of $8,400.
District officials have said that an investigation was launched by an independent investigator but not completed. They have declined to comment on why the investigation wasn't completed and the personnel matter that led the board to place Rubino on leave.
Before opening a board discussion on next steps for hiring permanent new leadership, Laursen said she wanted people to understand firing Rubino “was not a hard decision.”
“It would have been the easier thing to do to not face your disappointment and make a big decision like this,” Laursen said. “But we were united in believing this was the right thing for Pleasanton Unified and for our students.”
During that discussion, vice president Mark Miller said the board had followed a common process by utilizing a search firm, background checks and community input in selecting Rubino as superintendent last spring.
“Having said that, we could have done better,” Miller said. “I apologize to the community for that.”
Looking ahead, trustees discussed whether they should utilize a consulting firm again in their search for a new superintendent or handle the process themselves. The district contracted with McPherson & Jacobson LLC to run its last search at a cost of $28,000.
Trustees were in agreement that they did not want to use McPherson & Jacobson's services again despite a guarantee from the firm that it would conduct a new search at no additional charge should their candidate leave within two years.
The firm's owner also offered to personally handle the search in lieu of using the same consultants, Laursen said.
Trustee Jamie Hintzke said she worked closely with the search firm's consultants as board president at the time, referencing unhappiness and "their unprofessionalism” without going into specifics.
“It was completely frustrating,” Hintzke said of her dealings with the consultants. “I don't think it's worth having them make good on their contract.”
The board ultimately approved a new request for proposals from search firms and the formation of a superintendent search subcommittee that will vet the search firms and provide input into the selection process. The subcommittee will be composed of trustees Valerie Arkin and Steve Maher, three school district employees and five community members, each chosen by a trustee.
The board's discussion prompted suggestions from several community members about how to proceed with the superintendent search, including Pleasanton California School Employees Association representative Nancy Bronzini.
“I respect the decision you had to make, but it came with a very big cost,” she said. “Every dollar you spend now is not going to be unnoticed – always keep that in mind.”