Pleasanton Weekly

News - December 6, 2013

School board awaiting information on principal's ouster

Decision could come at Tuesday's meeting

by Glenn Wohltmann

More than five weeks ago, Walnut Grove Principal Jon Vranesh was placed on paid administrative leave, but an anonymous source has confirmed to the Pleasanton Weekly that as of yet there are no written charges against him.

So far, no action has been taken against him, but that could change at the Pleasanton school board's meeting Tuesday, which will also include the board's annual reorganization.

The school board called a last-minute closed session on Nov. 26 during the district's Thanksgiving break in which it was to consider "Public Employee Discipline/Dismissal/Release." The board took no action regarding ousted Walnut Grove Principal Jon Vranesh, despite a push for the board to say what led to his being placed on leave.

Thirty people, including colleagues, parents of current and former students and friends, attended the meeting. Ten spoke before the board went into closed session, but Board President Jeff Bowser left the session after less than five minutes to tell waiting audience members that the board would make no decision that night.

Bowser originally tried to limit comments, as was the case in the board's Nov. 12 meeting, when Vranesh supporters were first told they wouldn't be allowed to speak, but were then restricted to a minute apiece. At the Nov. 26 meeting, Bowser bumped the time limit to two minutes per speaker when questioned by board member Jamie Hintzke.

Many who spoke before the board went into its closed-door meeting raised the same questions and criticisms as they did in the last school board meeting: a poor job of letting parents know Vranesh had been placed on leave, no word on why the action was taken and requests for him to be reinstated.

"The lack of communication has not helped the parents," said Walnut Grove parent Jeremy McCarthy. He said he learned of Vranesh's being placed on administrative leave when his kids started asking where the principal was.

"All you guys have done has created mistrust in this community," said Bruce Henry, who questioned whether the issue was somehow related to Bowser's run for county school superintendent.

Three of Vranesh's colleagues from his time at Pleasanton Middle School read a letter signed by 30 of those he worked with, noting that Vranesh "always strived to create a safe school environment for all."

Two other colleagues also spoke, saying Vranesh "always had the kids' best interest in mind."

One parent questioned the board timing for its closed door session held during the school's Thanksgiving break.

"This issue has dragged on for five weeks," said Erin Lyions. "I do not believe the timing is a coincidence."

Vranesh attended the board meeting with his attorney, Paul Kondrick. Neither spoke.

It remains unknown what led to Vranesh's being placed on leave. However, Vranesh offered a prepared statement after it became known he had been replaced by an interim principal.

"I put the Pleasanton Unified School District on notice months ago regarding situations that negatively affect staff safety, working conditions and a conducive environment for instruction and student learning," Vranesh said. "Rather than taking effective action to eliminate those conditions, they put me on administrative leave."

Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi, however, said that's not the reason for Vranesh's being placed on leave.

"We have explained the reasons for this personnel action to both Mr. Vranesh and his attorney," Ahmadi said in a response to Vranesh's statement. "The rules covering employee privacy do not allow us to comment on them publicly at this time."

At the Nov. 26 meeting, parent Chris Jacob questioned whether Vranesh's safety concerns were ever addressed.

"We don't know what these issues were, whether they were ever looked into or not," Jacob told the board, adding if it's a safety issue, "you should all be held accountable legally."

Meanwhile, the school has its third principal in less than six weeks. Vranesh was originally replaced by interim principal Richard Puppione. He stepped down Nov. 21 due to health issues.

Steve Maher has come out of retirement as the school's interim principal, according to a message from Ahmadi posted on the Walnut Grove school website.

Maher, a 40-year veteran of the district, began his official duty at Walnut Grove on Dec. 2 and will work with Puppione to make the transition.

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