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School Headlines: Carnegie Hall, Grand Juries & More

By Jackie Burrell
Friday, April 3rd, 2009 at 11:07 am in Schools.

Toy school bus
Here are the latest East Bay school headlines, in case you missed ‘em:

A grand jury has issued a grim indictment of the Mt. Diablo School District’s former superintendent and board, saying its leadership and financial dealings – bills paid without board approval, payroll tax penalties and improper handling of contracts – put the school district in jeopardy. According to reporter Theresa Harrington’s story, the grand jury concluded that superintendent Gary McHenry – not the board – controlled board agendas, that he withheld financial information from trustees, and that his actions stymied the exchange of information between departments, where several staff members have resigned. The grand jury also noted that McHenry failed to seek approval from trustees on several contracts and that he authorized paying a disputed $110,000 legal bill without required board approval – and called on the district and board to revamp its dealings, to retrain trustees, get the board president involving in setting the agenda, and ensure that the board gets and understands the finances it is responsible for, i.e., hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.  The findings are no surprise, says new board President Gary Eberhart, who began calling for superintendent Gary McHenry’s ouster a year ago. McHenry resigned earlier this year, Eberhart says, and a new board majority and interim superintendent Dick Nicoll are already working on those issues.

Meanwhile, school districts everywhere are wrestling with budgets in these bleak economic times. The Livermore school district is contemplating laying off 100 teachers and counselors. But three Richmond elementary school after-school programs have been spared the budget axe, thanks to the Scully Foundation, Chevron and Kaiser Permanente’s infusion of financial support.

In happy news — and heaven knows, we need more of that — College Park High School’s Symphony Orchestra just received an invitation to play at Carnegie Hall in the 2011 New York International Music Festival. Major congrats are in order for music director Johnny Johnson and his talented young musicians!

And California’s just released 2009 Distinguished Schools list includes a gratifying array of Bay Area schools including – and yes, we’re quite, quite sure this is an incomplete list, so hit “comments” and post your additions – Lamorinda’s Acalanes, Campolindo and Miramonte high schools and Stanley middle; and San Ramon Valley’s California High, Monte Vista High, San Ramon Valley High, Charlotte Wood Middle, Diablo Vista Middle, Iron Horse Middle, Los Cerros Middle, Pine Valley Middle, Stone Valley Middle and Windemere Ranch Middle.

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