Palos Verdes schools hire new superintendent, keep old one on staff

Palos Verdes Peninsula school board picks new superintendent, keeps old one on staff for another year

The Palos Verdes Peninsula Board of Education appointed a new superintendent this week but will keep the current one on staff — at full pay.

Donald Austin, formerly an assistant superintendent of educational services at Huntington Beach Union High School District, will replace Walker Williams, who has held the Palos Verdes position since 2006. He announced that he would retire at the end of the 2014-15 school year.

"I am going to give my best effort," Austin told the board Wednesday evening. "Every day, you'll get all of me."

He begins his new role Monday.

Williams, meanwhile, will remain on staff until his retirement. He will serve as chief executive officer of instructional projects, and continue to receive his current salary of $230,829. Among other duties assigned by the board , Williams will serve as a consultant to Austin.

Austin will make $235,000 plus a stipend for his doctoral degree.

District officials praised the plan.

"It's good timing because school is starting," said John Bowes, assistant superintendent of human resources for the Palos Verdes district. "It'll be good to have a new superintendent in place to help launch the new school year."

Critics, including parents and some educators, said, the hiring of the new superintendent is only the latest example of the district's irresponsible spending. Union members say teaching positions have been lost with no plans to restore them even though there is money for additional jobs.

Former Chief Academic Officer Martin Griffin resigned in fall 2013, amid allegations of poor leadership and on suspicion of uploading pornography — involving himself — to a website. The district agreed to pay him his full salary for months immediately following his resignation.

"They're out of control," said Barry Yudess, a district parent. "Walker Williams is being given a golden handshake to stay on for one more year.... It doesn't make sense to me that we can't spend more money on teachers."

The search for a new superintendent began in February. The Cosca Group, an education consulting team, was awarded a contract to help search for candidates in March. The board conducted two rounds of interviews and hired a third party to investigate the records of all candidates.

"The board wanted to develop a carefully thought-out transition program that doesn't rush anyone out. We want to make sure that our track record of success continues, and not be in a hurry and pick the wrong candidate," Bowes said.

The high-performing district has about 11,800 students in grades K-12.

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