Ayinde Rudolph, superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman School District, receives a $ 1.2 million soft loan from the school district to buy a home in the area after the school committee voted Thursday to give its highest paid employee the Grant discount.
The 4: 1 decision was deeply criticized by parents and district residents who criticized the decision as an improper use of taxpayers ’money intended to pay for student benefits. A Online petition The call for the board to reverse course received 1,000 signatures Monday, with many commentators arguing that the money would be better spent on students and staff during the coronavirus pandemic.
Rudolph has been in the district for five years and earns $ 281,000 14% raise last year from the school council. Instead of giving a raise this year, the school board members said they felt that a district-provided home loan – with a low interest rate – would be the best way to keep the headmaster and give him a good reason to to stay in the community.
“We are a firm believer in Dr. Rudolph’s leadership and that truly commits him to our community,” said Chief Executive Officer Tamara Wilson. “I’ve sat in board meetings and heard him being accused of using us as a stepping stone to bigger and better things and that we were a ‘stop’ along the way, and this shows his commitment to wanting to stay in the community.”
The agreement states that Rudolph must buy a home either in or right next to the Mountain View Whisman School District and that the 30 year loan has an interest rate based on the applicable federal rate (AFR) which varies and hangs from month to month on when Rudolph buys a house. In July it was 1.17%. The loan amount will come from the district’s reserve funds.
Even when used as a retention tool, the money in a long-term home loan represents an “irresponsible and reckless use” of taxpayers’ money, said district resident Mainini Cabute. She said the money would be better spent on school staff, including hiring new counselors and school nurses or training teachers to provide better distance education.
The district shouldn’t be able to make home loans, “she said.” The district’s funds are for the education and development of our district students. “
The online petition launched by Cabute and his parent Prem Andrzejek also accuses the district of failing to disclose the home loan and not allowing public submissions prior to the vote. Parents are “angry and appalled” about the lack of transparency, says the petition.
The trustees defended their decision at Thursday’s board meeting, saying that home loans are a common way to attract high-level administrators to an area where housing is a premium – both in the corporate world and the public sector. In 2015, the neighboring Palo Alto Unified School District provided former Superintendent Max McGee, who was on a salary of $ 295,000 at the time, with an interest-free loan of $ 1.5 million. McGee later resigned and passed the title of the house to the county.
In 2018, Palo Alto hired Unified Superintendent Don Austin, who did not receive a home loan.
Devon Conley, a member of the Mountain View Whisman school board, said no employee in any city or school district actually makes enough money to “simply” buy a home in the area. She stressed that while superintendents are paid high salaries, they often spend most of their careers on modest salaries as teachers and school principals.
“If we don’t offer employer-based housing benefits to future superintendents, we’ll only get people who are independently wealthy,” said Conley. “They will not understand the needs of our students or the concerns of our teachers and staff.”
Trustees also repeatedly said that the public could not have been pre-judged about the loan because of the Brown Act, which only allows the board of directors to negotiate contractual arrangements with employees in closed session. Cabute said she was not convinced by the argument and that the Brown Act should not be used as a full defense of preventing the public from accessing the terms and allowing more feedback.
What is unusual about the loan is the timing. While home loans are widely used to attract new talent into high-cost areas like Mountain View, Rudolph was superintendent in the Mountain View Whisman School District for five years. The job has a notoriously fast turnover rate, with superintendents being average in urban areas just over three years in any district.
Board member Ellen Wheeler, the only trustee who voted to hire Rudolph in 2015, said in an email that home loans were not part of the hiring discussion five years ago. But today is a good opportunity to keep Rudolph in the school district at a time when many other superintendents are walking out the door.
“We are very pleased that Ayinde has already told us several times that he would like to stay in our district for a long time,” said Wheeler. “His experience in these extraordinarily complex times is very valuable to the success of our school district. If he left it would be very difficult to find someone who could demonstrate the skills Ayinde has developed over the years.”
As for lending during the coronavirus pandemic and related economic uncertainty, Wilson said the district had the money. Property tax growth for the 2020-21 school year remains unaffected by the immediate effects of the coronavirus, and she said property values would have to plummet pretty deep to weigh on the budget. She pointed out that the county’s average home sale price is about $ 1.8 million, while the average estimate is closer to $ 910,000.
“With new residential and commercial construction in Mountain View still thriving, the prospect for property tax revenues is good,” said Wilson. “Even if there was a downturn, property values would have to fall by at least half to fall below the current average appraisal.”
Wilson said the school district could also maintain its “healthy” reserves while increasing spending during the pandemic. For the upcoming school year, the district has budgeted $ 700,000 for a permanent “virtual teaching team” that will support distance learning and restricted access to school premises and has already purchased laptops and tablets for all students. An additional $ 300,000 has been allocated for unforeseen expenses, which Wilson says will remain in budget indefinitely to meet future emergencies.
The only dissenting vote on the superintendent’s contract was board member Jose Gutierrez, who said he supported the $ 1.2 home loan but still wanted to say a symbolic “no” to the contract. He said he didn’t want people to think trustees “don’t care” or fail to understand the parents’ frustration on Thursday night.
“This is not a sham process, this is democracy,” said Gutierrez.