The CUSD Board announced on March 15th that a decision had been made to release Superintendent Wendy Gudalewicz from her contract. A previous post found here listed many of the Superintendent’s lapses in judgment that contributed to her dismissal. Yes, but why now? Superintendent Gudalewicz has been criticized by parents and community members for a long time, while the Board has steadfastly stood behind her. Why now?
While her critics placed thousands of cracks in the Superintendent’s veneer, her ultimate demise was preceded by a series of consequential moments and then a turning point. From there, it was reinforcement, acceleration, realization, and then BOOM – the unanimous vote on March 14th.
First, a well respected community member, who had long participated in district affairs, shifted their views on District leadership. They began to speak up on community forums and at meetings about the lack of integrity, transparency, and governance within the District.
Second, Liang Chao was elected to the Board of Trustees, replacing longtime Board member, Josephine Lucey. Ms. Chao joined the Board with a bang and has brought lightning and thunder to every board meeting since. A strong advocate for the community, Liang Chao is direct, persistent, and fearless.
Third, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) opened investigations of two CUSD Board members: Josephine Lucey for mailing election propaganda at the public’s expense and Anjali Kausar for alleged conflicts of interest. Both investigations are still pending.
Then came the turning point: Oath-gate. Superintendent Gudalewicz was caught administering an oath of office that contained extra words during the swearing-in ceremony for newly elected Board members, Liang Chao and Phyllis Vogel. When veteran journalist Scott Herhold of the Mercury News published “An Extra Loyalty Oath In Cupertino Schools? Nah!,” prominent local officials took notice. They spoke out publicly in opposition of Superintendent Gudalewicz and the Board’s failed oversight.
These public officials began doing their own research, questioning District leadership and validating what they were hearing from community members. Part of their discovery included email conversations between Board members and the Superintendent. These internal communications highlighted conflict between Liang Chao and other Board members and revealed the deliberate intent of District leaders to exclude community participation in decision-making. These revelations were offensive to the veteran public officials, and they set the wheels in motion to bring accountability to CUSD leadership and restore the community’s trust and confidence in local government.
They knew they had two votes to remove Superintendent Gudalewicz in Liang Chao and Kristen Lyn, but they wanted it unanimous. They worked on Soma McCandless, who eventually found her moral compass and committed to doing the right thing.
Phyllis Vogel is a veteran herself, serving nearly 50 years in public education. She was Board president when Wendy Gudalewicz was hired and has been an ardent supporter since. But with her sidekick, Josephine Lucey, gone, Phyllis listens to voices of reason when it’s politically important. She couldn’t bluff the prominent public officials and eventually stood down.
Meanwhile, Anjali Kausar was off to a rough start as President of the CUSD Board. In her capacity as CEO of Cupertino Chamber of Commerce, she was still reeling from the failure of ballot initiative Measure D. Her inability to lobby local businesses and their patrons to vote for Sand Hill Property Company’s proposal to redevelop Vallco was frowned upon by the Sand Hill powers that be. Liang Chao’s overwhelming victory at the polls to unseat Josephine Lucey on CUSD Board further irritated Sand Hill because Liang publicly opposed Measure D. Following the election, Sand Hill knew that for any Vallco proposal to be approved by the city council, relations with the CUSD community must improve first.
Anjali Kausar energetically took on both challenges, simultaneously exerting power as CEO of Cupertino Chamber of Commerce and President of CUSD Board of Trustees, to reinvigorate Chamber members and neutralize Liang Chao. That is, until charges of conflicts of interest between the two roles surfaced. Read about the FPPC complaint and investigation here and here. When confronted at a Board meeting about her conflicts of interest (see here), Anjali had a meltdown and attempted to justify her actions (see here).
With both her reputation as CUSD Board President and her paid position as the Chamber CEO on the line, Anjali Kausar had to make sacrifices. Her basic instincts of self-preservation took over. When Ms. Kausar was confronted by the public officials about her role in the Board’s oppressive behavior and the Superintendent’s abuse of power, she pointed a finger at the Superintendent.
Now with Anjali humiliated, Phyllis Vogel aligned with the public officials and sprung to action. Superintendent Gudalewicz didn’t help her situation by cancelling the Yosemite trip without input, analysis, or alternatives. And instead of facing 700 upset parents to tell them the truth, she tweeted a selfie from a basketball game in Las Vegas (see here).
While the Superintendent was away at the game, consideration of her dismissal was added to the closed session agenda items for the March 14th Board meeting. The Superintendent was made aware and quickly lined up personal confidants to speak on her behalf at the meeting. It didn’t matter. The decision had already been made.
See the video of the Board’s announcement here.