School board offers apology, takes next steps in superintendent search

Trustees name deputy superintendent Micaela Ochoa to also handle top post on interim basis

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.”


16 people like this
Posted by Incompetence
a resident of Downtown
on Jan 18, 2017 at 8:20 am

Who would want to work for this dysfunctional board? No one. Bet they receive Zero applicants.

33 people like this
Posted by Ptown KH
a resident of Highland Oaks
on Jan 18, 2017 at 9:30 am

Ptown KH is a registered user.

Is anyone else a little unnerved by each trustee choosing a community member for this panel? If the board couldn't successfully vet and interview a Superintendent, how will anyone else they choose be any more competent? I think there should be another way for the community to be involved here.

26 people like this
Posted by OhBoy
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 9:55 am

OhBoy is a registered user.

I see from the agenda that Susy Chan director of finance has left. I did a bit of digging around and see she has gone to Castro Valley. I wonder if Joan Laursen had anything to do with the move since Laursen now works full time for Castro Valley? If it isn't conflict of interest, it sure has the appearance of one. When one of our Trustees works for another school district (in finance I believe) then key employees from finance leave for that district it just doesn't smell right.

Just an FYI there was a panel (of staff, community members etc) involved in this last hire as well, they just weren't involved in picking out a search firm which was what was proposed last night.

I was a little disappointed in Steve Maher saying he didn't know anything about hiring a superintendent which is rather sad seeing how that's the main duty of the board of trustees. If he wants to gather a "round table" to educate himself on how to hire someone that's great but he needs to get that done yesterday. We need a decent superintendent sooner rather than later. The longer we go without one the worst it is for our community.

35 people like this
Posted by Royc
a resident of Livermore
on Jan 18, 2017 at 10:02 am

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I am concerned the firing is such a secret. If it was for cause why can't the public be made aware. If it was for a criminal act why not prosecute. If it was an easy decision what is the secret.

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Posted by OhBoy
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2017 at 10:04 am

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Roy, the firing wasn't for cause. That has been established. The press release didn't even call it a "firing" but something akin to "a mutual parting of the ways".

21 people like this
Posted by Royc
a resident of Livermore
on Jan 18, 2017 at 10:20 am

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We all know there is more to it than that. If he wanted out Pleasanton would not be on the hook for 1 yr salary. The school board must have wanted this especially with the suspension so what did they learn or miss in the hiring. Sounds to me like the incompetence is with the school board once again. I agree having a member of the school board working for another district in admin is troublesome.

14 people like this
Posted by P-town Matt
a resident of Jensen Tract
on Jan 18, 2017 at 5:53 pm

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This decision caused taxpayers a great sum of year severance pay, medical insurance and a headhunters fee. More or less about $275k to $300k. That would have put a nice dent in some deferred maintenance.

21 people like this
Posted by no user name
a resident of Downtown
on Jan 19, 2017 at 1:18 pm

no user name is a registered user.

"Who would want to work for this dysfunctional board? No one. Bet they receive Zero applicants."
Are you kidding? I'll take that job in a heartbeat. Get hired with no qualifications and questionable background. Work for a couple of months. Do something, anything, whatever, and get fired. Put over a quarter of a million dollars in the bank. Repeat as desired. Yup, there will be lots of applicants who would take that deal.

Posted by Get the Facts
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood

on Jan 19, 2017 at 3:43 pm

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Posted by Rooby
a resident of Birdland
on Jan 21, 2017 at 9:41 am

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I disagree completely. That is all in the past. I am a PUSD employee and the district is rotting from the head down. Bad decisions and worse hires. My heart goes out to the students.

2 people like this
Posted by Also Concerned
a resident of Del Prado
on Jan 21, 2017 at 10:48 am

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Should all of this reported to the State Superintendent of Education/Schools? I think the Board and all concerned in the PUSD have not been able to make good decisions. When we were in Bakersfield years ago we had to take it to the State and things got cleared up.

4 people like this
Posted by DKHSK
a resident of Bridle Creek
on Jan 21, 2017 at 10:51 am

DKHSK is a registered user.

You say the school board apologized?

Well then, all's forgiven! Let's waste another $275k!


5 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jan 21, 2017 at 11:07 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Dan, it didn't save a dime, granted. I thought they should acknowledge their error, except Maher. Isn't that what you do if you make a mistake? I'd rather they start from a place of humility than arrogance.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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