HAYWARD SCHOOL BOARD
By Steven Tavares and Shane BondIt’s not often a reporter is called out by name by an elected official in front of a crowded board meeting, but at this month's Hayward school board meeting the East Bay Citizen again found itself in the middle a hot topic of discussion. However, without much context it only proved to be a non-sequitur to many in the audience and those watching at home. Before the board even discussed the approval of a contract for their new interim superintendent, Stan "Data" Dobbs, board members were already talking up the topic during opening comments.
Board member John Taylor oddly took it as prime time to call out to East Bay Citizen about documents the publication had been seeking for over a week, “Mr. Shane I have the papers for you,” said Taylor, waving a handful of documents towards the East Bay Citizen reporter. Then, as the meeting progressed, board conversation dropped hints at the controversy that has been causing havoc behind closed doors with terms like “Stanford” and “certificate” populating their discussion. There was also similar disjointed references made by a member of the Chamber of Commerce and former Hayward Councilman Olden Henson as well during public comments. What exactly were they talking about?
Those documents were the evidence that we had been actively seeking for 10 days that was to prove Dobbs had in fact attended Stanford University for a certificate in Advanced Project Management. The saga was to corroborate the credential but our phone calls and emails to Dobbs about the certificate had unforeseen effects. On Thursday, June 13, we had reached Dobbs by phone but before we had an opportunity to pop the question about Stanford the potential superintendent hung up rattling off an excuse about “being in line at a department store.” We continued with more phone calls and emails but Dobbs refused to respond. Then, the next day, Dobbs floored people at the district with a surprising announcement--he revoked his candidacy as superintendent finalist.
The days following up to this surprise announcement contained rumblings about Dobbs’s lack of an administrative credential but also that he possibility lied on his resume. According to information received by The Citizen a firm contracted by the school district to conduct a background check determined that Dobbs not only never received a certificate from Stanford, despite his resume claiming he did, but he also never even enrolled in the university. This could only amount to one conclusion: Dobbs lied on his resume. If true, it would of been a massive blow to his credibility to lead not only the lowest performing school district in the county but any district period.
The Citizen moved to fact check this information. We contacted Stanford but due to the school’s privacy policies they refused to confirm if Dobbs had or had not attended their school. They offered only one bit of information - that perhaps legal counsel contacted the wrong department. The Citizen had only one option left, contact Dobbs, but he refused to speak with us. However, he seemed more intent on learning how we got his number. Dobbs would later reference what he believed was some sort of an invasion of his privacy, but procuring someone’s phone number is hardly journalistic wizardry by any extent.
Shortly after Dobbs announced he was revoking his candidacy The Citizen received the email announcing his departure. The email sent by the school district’s legal counsel to the board stated that Dobbs claimed he was experiencing “harassment.” Dobbs’s legal counsel claimed he was receiving “harassing phone calls (and questioned how people got his number), leaks of confidential information and damaging erroneous information about his credentials.” Dobbs’s legal counsel then added “its not the kind of environment that any reasonable person would want to work in.”
The move was peculiar because no story had been written yet, instead, we had only asked questions that any reasonable journalist would ask. So we sent out more emails the following days. If a person had received a certificate bearing the name of such a prestigious school as Stanford then why wouldn’t Dobbs share his accomplishment with the world? If he, indeed, had the certificate then what is the problem with furnishing the proof? Still, there was no response. Dobbs’s resume also had other certificates from Ivy League schools like Harvard and M.I.T. that appeared to check out, but this one from Stanford continued to be vexing. One cabinet level administrator in another school district described the certificates as fluff that can be easily obtained as long as one is willing to pay the expenses to attend a handful of classes.
There was one board member who knew exactly what was brewing in the background. Taylor's public offering of Dobbs’s transcripts proving he had the Stanford certificate clearly showed he had been in contact with Dobbs. Never mind the whiff of impropriety exuded when a public official is conversing with the candidate whose contract is currently being negotiated behind closed doors, the evidence strongly suggests Taylor acted as Dobbs’ consigliere while the heat was being applied.
Some board members and Dobbs’ coalition of supporters in the hierarchy of the Hayward Education Association and the Chamber of Commerce freaked out after receiving notification that Dobbs dropped out on Friday, June 14. Shortly after, board member Lisa Brunner called for a special closed session meeting to discuss Dobbs’s contract. Since she was not the board president and acting alone, Brunner had no power to call such a meeting. According to board bylaws, it is the board president’s duty or the direction of a majority of the board approved at a previous board meeting. More importantly, board members are explicitly prohibited from discussing contract matters in special closed session. Board President William McGee would later admit the board violated the Brown Act.
In the rush by some board members to change Dobbs’ mind, Taylor was still in contact with Dobbs. In fact, in public comments and an interview with The Citizen, it was clear Taylor was well aware of the questions and evidence we were repeatedly asking Dobbs. After the special meeting on June 18, when asked if Dobbs had a certificate from Stanford and, if so, why wasn’t he providing it, Taylor opened the cover on his iPad to immediately and comically display an image that appeared to be what Taylor called Dobbs’ “transcripts.” “Transcripts are public record,” Dobbs said assuredly. “Anybody can get them.” Except, this is not true and attempts to gain confirmation of Dobbs’ attendance at Stanford were repeatedly denied by an official at the university. However, we never asked for a transcript, specifically, just some proof of his certificate. The next day, during the June 19 meeting to approve Dobbs’ contract, Taylor openly said he had spoken to Dobbs and that he had released the documents to him to be forwarded to us. In the meantime, none of the other board members, excluding Dr. Luis Reynoso seemed interested in the matter whatsoever.
Curiously, Dobbs’ decision to pull out of consideration appears to have given him leverage in subsequent contract negotiations. In the potentially illegal special closed session, both Taylor and Brunner advocated for a vastly more lucrative contract for Dobbs. Separately they pushed for a one-year contract in excess of between $230,000 and $240,000. Such a princely sum is equal to and beyond the contract given to Evans just 18 months ago. However, Evans’s resume far exceeded that of Dobbs, who has spent all of his career in education. Nevertheless, the board would approve a contract of $229,500 for Dobbs along with $7,500 in moving expenses from San Diego. Keep in mind, Dobbs only left the Hayward School District last November.
Although Dobbs’ stay at Stanford was finally confirmed nearly 10 days after repeated attempts to speak to him, a laundry list of questions still persist. Why the immense obfuscation culminating in Dobbs’ sudden, but brief, bailing from consideration? Why did the school board disregard a host of questions about Dobbs concerning his reasons for abruptly leaving the school district six months ago and why does he want to return? And for a school district long downtrodden by low performing students, why was there never any discussion about what this candidate would do to improve work in the classroom? Instead, he was generally praised for having a good working relationship with the business community and championed by the president of teachers’ union despite inflammatory anti-union comments made by Dobbs in February to a San Diego news site. On the same night his contract was approved, Dobbs' business acumen during his short time at the school district's business department was destroyed when it was revealed it is again broke.
In addition, a potentially illegal special meeting commenced featuring Taylor tiptoeing the bounds of public ethics by possibly maintaining contact with the candidate while pushing for an exorbitant public contract. "What was the rush?" said board member Reynoso. Was Dobbs’ appointment pre-ordained by the same cabal of business leaders that have longed sucked blood out of public finance in Hayward? In this case, despite Dobbs’ trepidation in taking the job, apparently, they just wouldn’t take no for an answer.