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Tensions rise in MDUSD as employees face layoffs, tough negotiations, school improvement

By Theresa Harrington
Wednesday, May 12th, 2010 at 8:21 pm in Bay Point, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

Campus supervisor Annie Nolen, right, shakes hands with teacher Skip Weinstock at Olympic High.

Campus supervisor Annie Nolen, right, shakes hands with teacher Skip Weinstock at Olympic High.

By Theresa Harrington
Union negotiations are under way in the Mt. Diablo school district as trustees hope to slash $9.8 million a year through furlough days, increased class sizes and reduced benefits. All bargaining units are at the table except for teachers, who are analyzing the results of a recent member survey.
School support staff represented by Annie Nolen, of the California Schools Employees Association, are facing especially hard times, she told the board Tuesday.
“Most of my members are already at poverty level or below,” she said. “With the new proposal, most would only bring home $400 or less per month. So, it gets worse.”
She acknowledged the important work that teachers do, but reminded trustees that other employees also make valuable contributions to schools and deserve to be recognized during Classified Employees Week, May 17-21.
Mike Langley, vice president of the Mt. Diablo Education Association, said the teachers’ union was sorting through nearly 1,000 surveys received from members about negotiations. Union representatives are expected to present the information to teachers June 7, before negotiations can begin.
Superintendent Steven Lawrence said he intended to send teachers a letter today marking “The Day of the Teacher” and thanking them for their service. He said he feels the same sense of gratitude toward classified employees including secretaries, special education assistants and “people on the blacktops who solve disputes about whose ball it is.”
But the tone changed when teachers’ union president Mike Noce objected to plans for reforming four of the district’s lowest-achieving campuses: Bel Air, Rio Vista and Shore Acres elementary schools in Bay Point and Glenbrook Middle School in Concord. The plans include lengthening the school day, offering summer school and providing incentives for teachers.
“Please don’t go through with this School Improvement Grant application,” he said. “I feel this is being rushed through without bargaining. There are some things we feel need to be negotiated.”
Noce said some teachers at the schools have been told, “If you don’t like it, get out.” So, he said, a transfer system needs to be established.
“There is no state deadline, unless we just want to do a money grab here,” he said. “Why don’t we plan and do it right?”
Noce said the union isn’t willing to sign the grant applications due June 1 as partners in the plans for up to $2 million per school. Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for elementary instruction, told Noce outside the meeting that districts have three years to negotiate items in the plans before implementing them.
During the meeting, Lock said all of the district’s schools with Academic Performance Index scores under 700 are creating plans for improvement. These include the six schools identified by the state as being in the bottom 5 percent, as well as seven other campuses. Meadow Homes Elementary and Oak Grove Middle School in Concord are the two other lowest-achieving schools, who will present their plans May 25.
The other seven schools won’t publicly present their plans to the board, Lock said. They are: Cambridge, Fair Oaks, and Ygnacio Valley elementary schools; El Dorado and Riverview middle schools; and Mt. Diablo and Ygnacio Valley high schools.
Willie Mims, of the Black Political Association in Pittsburg, said school plans should have buy-in from teachers, families and students.
“If students are not engaged, then you are asking for trouble,” he said. “A climate of respect is crucial. Students know and feel when you do not respect them. And if they feel it, then they will not allow you to teach them anything. A wall will go up and it will take a long time to bring it down….But if they know that you care, they will do anything for you…If you respect them, they will respect you.”
To help schools build positive learning environments, Lawrence said he had hoped to reorganize the district office administration by creating a Student Achievement and School Support division under Lock. He said he planned to appoint Delta View Elementary Principal Susan Petersen as the new Director fo Elementary Support, based on her work at that school, which led to tremendous gains in test scores.
“With the moves she has made at Delta View,” he said, “I believe she can be a big asset, particularly in low-performing schools.”
But the board tabled this idea at Lawrence’s request, after he said he was worried about the governor’s revised budget expected Friday.
“Hopefully not,” he said, “but we may need to be reducing more positions.”
Langley asked the superintendent to clarify whether employees in the new department would be getting big raises. Many employees are still bitter about raises totaling $55,000 given to five district office employees before Lawrence arrived, including $28,000 to the general counsel, boosting his pay to $190,000 a year.
Just before the board voted to layoff 200 teachers, Noce said he has heard that some high schools aren’t encouraging juniors to take six classes next year, because the board reduced graduation requirements.
“I hope the district isn’t trying to get kids to only take four periods,” he said.
Trustee Gary Eberhart the district is anxious to negotiate its cost-cutting proposals.
“Until we get to the table, until we start having substantive conversations about how we are going to stave off the eventual destruction of more and more jobs in the school district, this is not going to end,” he said. “It’s going to continue. I just hope the two sides get together as soon as possible.”
What concessions, if any, do you think might be reasonable for teachers and other employees to accept to help balance the district’s budget? Do you think the district should move forward with its School Improvement Grant proposals by June 1?

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  • j wolf

    I’d like to see all employees contribute at least $400/month towards their medical benefits. Most employers require some contributions for benefits but MDUSD offers free benefits to all except teachers. This would not hurt the students like all the other cuts would such as 31 students in elementary school. Has anyone been in a classroom and seen how difficult it is to teach 31 six year olds how to read? Currently MDUSD pays for benefits up to the Kaiser level. How much would the district save if these employees contributed $400/mo?

  • Doctor J

    I don’t blame the employees for being bitter about the hypocrisy of the Board giving the Gang of Five, includuing the lawyer and the accountant, big raises in November and asking the rank and file to take large cuts in pay through furlough days, reduced hours, etc. Top that off with the new Supt. getting nearly $100,000 more in salary and perks than the prior Supt., it is pure unadulterated hypocrisy. The tensions will rise until either the Board reverses all salaries back to July 1, 2009 and puts everyone on equal playing field or there is a strike, a very likely possibility. That will require a renegotiation of the Supt.’s salary and benefits package and reduce the Gang of Five raises. Look at Pleasanton — the new supt. is getting much less than the last one.

    Meanwhile, the Board’s insistence on going forward with the Bond election — just a shell game to get more money so other money can be diverted to fund the salaries. The Board has taken no action to show they spend responsibly — the public lacks trust in the Board. As the article yesterday pointed out, most people will vote absentee before the district even gets their campaign under way. Even without opposition, it is unlikely the bond will pass.

    But lets get to the Board’s real breach of the public trust by refusing to look at reducing expenses by school consolidation during the 2010/11 school year and not waiting until 2011/12. They could save several million dollars next year, but as Sherry pointed out several weeks ago, they won’t go there. What a mistake in judgment. They should have been prepared to go there and save millions, which translateds into jobs.

    I am tired of the Board blaming everyone else. sure the legislature is to blame, but there are ways to save money and the Supt and Board refuse to swallow the bitter pill

    The Supt. should put an immediate freeze on all out of town travel and overnight stays. That would save probably a million dollars a year. That money is hidden throughout the budget. But he can’t even get the Board to allow him to reorganize. If the Board is going to micromanage all the positions, why even have a Supt ?

    Doctor J

  • Sherry Whitmarsh

    I continue to be disappointed in the Contra Costa Times when it continues to announce the raises. When you read the board minutes, you will notice that early in 2009 the board made cuts that added up to $260,000 and stated that a reorganization would be coming and that these cuts WOULD BE REDUCED. We reduced the cuts to $220,000 because of the reorganization.

    Doctor J needs to get his information correct. Dr. Lawrence is not getting a additional $100,000 more a year in salary and benefits that Mr. McHenry. If that was the case than Mr. McHenry made only slightly more money than the WCSC superintendent. However Doctor J is not known for being factual.

    The bond measure cannot be used to fund salaries. That is the nature of a bond measure. The use of funds is controlled by a community oversight committee. It has been for every bond measure since Measure A. Again – please review the facts. Again the district does not control the bond campaing. It is being run by community members – once again please get your facts correct.

    The board did not look at school closures early on at request from the community. The community wanted to ensure that the process was fair. Even with the objective criteria that will be used and a committee formed, this will be highly emotional for the community whose schools will cease to exist. Work was done to get lessons learned from other school districts. Part of that was to go slow and involve the community. I’m sorry but I believe the community should be involved.

    Dr. Lawrence asked for the reorganization to be pulled because of the new positions and wanting to understand the impact of the May revision.

    Th

  • Doctor J

    Oh Please Sherry. Shame on you ! Tell us the truth ! Give us the numbers: Dr. Lawrence makes nearly $100,000 more than Dick Nicoll, inlcuding the $25,000 bonus for a downpayment on his home, including the increased retirement contribtuions and benefits, and $100,000 more than his prior job in West Sacramento. Please Sherry give us the numbers. Dick Nicholls was the prior superintendent acting for nearly a year after you guys bought out Gary McHenry’s contract after you forced him out.

    The Bond measure will only pay expenses already being paid for from the General Fund, and that will give the Board more General Fund money to pay salaries, especailly to the Gang of Five. Tell us the truth Sherry. Its just a shell game.

    The district doesn’t control the campaign ? Are you kidding me ? Tell us the truth Sherry. The Board is having the Superintendent pressure the school administrations to campaign for the bond.

    Sherry, don’t blame the community on the failure of the Board to act on the school consolidations — read your statements on the blog. You have just spoke out of both sides of your mouth. That is your duty — not the community.

    Dr. Lawrence suddenly pulls the reorganization after a closed session — that was a public matter not a closed session matter. If he had pulled it prior, he should have announced it. Very suspicious. The Board sat silent because it knew what was happening due to the closed session. He knew prior to putting it on the agenda that the governors budget was coming out. That was just an excuse.

    Sherry, stop the hypocrisy of the raises to the Gang of Five. Please Sherry start telling us the whole story, not just part of the story. You have more integrity than that.

    Doctor J

  • Happy MDUSD Parent

    Doctor J
    You are a farce. Dick Nicholl was not the superintendent, he was the interim. Dr. Lawrence contract was made based upon the assumption of the full time duties with no end date, so the correct compensation comparison is to Mr. McHenry. Pray tell why would I pay someone who is mananging a 32,000 school district, the same as someone who is managing a 4,000 student school district. If I change jobs in my profession, why would I go to a job that is 3x larger at the same rate of pay. Obviously the understanding of getting what you pay for is not being understood by you.

    You and your gang of Five – I have already told you that you are dilusional here and won’t go into it with you.

    School closures – the community wanted input so the board listened.

    I have never ask Dr. Lawrence to apply any pressure to the district employees for the bond measure. I have never heard this discussion in a closed session.

    When would Dr. Lawrence pull something from the agenda that had already been published without an explanation. That seems like it would be far suspect than explaining his thought process before pulling it.

  • Doctor J

    @Happy Parent — sorry, you don’t have your facts correct and instead resort to name calling a la Glen Beck. Dick Nicholls lists himself as a retired Supt. — look at the Measure C website. He was Supt. from February to February, that’s a whole year. Maybe it had a title of “interim” because he had no lengthy contract. So HP, what was McHenry’s compensation ? Share the number, and then do the math, add the $25,000 bonus, and then 7% for the retirement, and then the perks. its closer to $100,000 than you think.

    Why did the Gang of Five get raises when no one else did ? Sherry says because they had added responsibilities. So did everyone else but they didn’t get raises. All elementary principals lost their VP’s, even those with over 700 students. No raises.

    I think its great to give community input into school consolidation — but don’t drag your feet and when budgetary circumstances change, ramp it up and push forward with it. The Board got caught with their pants down on this and refused to ramp it up.

    So HP, who are you ? You must be on the board or the secretary to be in closed session. Are you afraid to tell us who you are ? Maybe you are one of the Gang of Five ? How about full disclosure ?

  • Happy MDUSD Parent

    I read the board agenda. It has to be on the agenda to be discussed in closed session.

  • Doctor J

    @Happy Parent: I think you are Sherry using an alias to hide your identity and make it look like you are two people. You said: “I have never asked Dr. Lawrence . . .” — that sounds just like Sherry to me. You said: “I have never heard this discussion in a closed session.” — that sounds like Sherry to me. You said: “why would I pay someone who is mananging a 32,000 school district, the same as someone who is managing a 4,000 student school district.” — that sounds like Sherry to me. Now you are trying to suggest you just “read the board agenda” — oh, please. How many aliases are you using ? Lets have some full disclosure. Are you Sherry or not ?

  • Doctor J

    Sherry, why haven’t you responded to the serious charges against the Board about Measure C made by Mr. Fardella, which I am attaching below ? Are they true ?
    Mr. Fardella says:
    Probably the most disingenuous of all of the assertions this guest editorial makes is that this Measure C will carry on the good work of the current Measure C Bond which did a fantastic job getting a viable project list and had sane borrowing costs. Not one of the current measure C oversight committee meetings ever discussed or were even aware that the Board and their new Superintendent were literally ramming this half-baked collection of projects and irresponsible financial structure down the throats of unsuspecting MDUSD electorate.

    It’s unbelievable how many sheep have ignored the basic flaws of this measure and blindly followed and supported this ludicrous proposition which would cost 1.8 billiuon dollars for the privilidge of spending 348 million now on a hastily prepared un-vetted list of projects.

    I personally have been an historic supporter of the current Measure C Bond, serving on the oversight committee for over 8 years, 3 of which I spent as it’s Chairman. And based on that experience of how a Bond is done right, I am opposing this fiasco which wrongly purports itself as a sibling of the past Measure C.

    The sad lack of leadership from MDUSD Board is disheartening to say the least. This is nothing short of a hastily prepared money-grab which will not serve our kids best interest both in the way the money is allegedly going to be spent or the exorbitant cost of borrowing the money.

    My sincere hope is that the MDUSD Board is voted out, so better leadership can benefit our kids education.

    Cheers!

    A.J. Fardella

    Planning Commissioner

    City of Pittsburg

    ci.pittsburg.ca.us

  • Happy MDUSD Parent

    No I am not Sherry. I know Sherry very well because I have worked with her on school issues. Sherry has informed me that she doesn’t post unless she uses her name and I trust her.

  • Sherry Whitmarsh

    Doctor J,

    My thoughts on A.J. Fardella is that he is using this effort has to further his own political agenda. I have to dispute his words about the current Measure C oversight committee. Two members John Ferrante, and John Parker are both part of the 02 Meas. C Oversight and members of CUES which is backing the new Measure C.

    Measure C will indeed put money in our schools by allowing us to reduce the amount we pay to PG&E and by allowing us to retire debt early.

    Have you walked into some of our schools in September or October? I received many emails from Foothill parents about the lack of air conditioning which stifles the learning the children can do. Measure C will enable us to air condition the remaining schools.

    I also take great umbrage to the fact that you think I would post without my name. I believe I have done this once on a blog site and immediately reposted that I forgot to add my name.

    I will admit Doctor J that I do not have much respect for your tactics. I will say that I currently understand why my fellow board members rarely answer blogs. In the anonymity of the blog world you can slander and attack with no credibility or putting at stake who you are. So to that end I will end this realm of posting.

  • Doctor J

    @Sherry, I can’t believe that you would vote to put Measure C on the ballot without knowing the pricetag — every vote you have made on the Board was with knowledge of the pricetag. To ask the voters to borrow $348 million at the cost to the taxpayers of $1.87 Billion is reprehensible. We may agree that some schools could use A/C but maybe those are the sites that ought to be consolidated ? School consolidation ought to include not only populations but facilities too. Didn’t you think it was a little embarrasing for Dr. Lawerence to go to the Editorial Board of the CC Times and admit he had no clue how much Measure C would cost the taxpayers ? I think you have to be a little worried that Measure C might become more of a vote of a lack of confidence in the School Board than a vote for children. $348 million at a cost of $1.87 Billion. What were you thinking ?

  • involved community member

    After reading your tit for tat I can see why the MDUSD is in such dire straights. Your Board and Supt. don’t get it and your parents don’t get it. You’re at war but you should be on the same side. You’ve all lost sight of the fact that you’re in the business of educating children – and that all the decisions you make should be about what’s best for your students. Therefore I suggest your board work toward opening up communication and transparency on the process to build trust to be able to mobilize the talents of your parents to pass well run parcel tax campaigns, responsible bond measures and start an education foundation. It’s not impossible once you get past the petty bull. Just look at your neighboring districts.

  • Doctor J

    @Involved community member. I love your admonition to “open communication” by the Board — yet look at what they did today — cancel all board meetings until after the election, effectively censoring the truth about the true cost of the bond: taxpayers will pay back 1.87 BILLION for 348 million. That is hardly “open communication” — its pure censorship to prevent public comment at the Board meetings. You are right: the Board and the Supt. don’t get it. Its pathetic. Don’t forget the kids.

  • A.J. Fardella

    Do the math, and know your history Sherry. Measure C is an obviously ill-conceived list of projects propped up with irresponsible financing.

    And as far as poiltical agendas go, seems you are happy to carry out Gary and Pauls which will leave no political future for you. Sad that they are silent and have thrown you to the wolves.

    It speaks volumes that the Board did not have the courage to face the public and cancelled their last meeting.

    Cheers!

    A.J.

  • A.J. Fardella

    And since you brought up air conditioning and power and money, what sense does it make to put air conditioning into schools which will increase electrical expenses which is liquid capital the District is dying for to save teachers salaries.
    So let me get it straight money to pay for new electrical costs from air conditioning you want to add is your brilliant logic?? Oh the solar will compensate?? But I thought the solar was going to put money back in District coffers through saving energy.

    Sure am glad you cleared that perfect logic up for everyone.

    Cheers!

    A.J.

  • tharrington

    I asked Pete Pedersen about increased electricity costs due to the installation of air conditioning. He conceded the costs would go up, but said they would be partially offset by the solar projects. However, he was not willing to claim the solar projects would completely cover the increased costs.
    “It shouldn’t jack up electricity bills because the solar is going to be designed to accommodate the prospective load, which should significantly mitigate the costs,” he said. “But you can’t have your cake and eat it too. I don’t want to tell you it’s a wash.”
    Pedersen’s analysis of solar costs and savings is at http://www.contracostatimes.com/education/ci_15191849?source=rss.

  • http://ci.pittsburg.ca.us A.J. Fardella

    Thank you Theresa,

    You’ve done excellent factual research about all of the issues and claims connected with this story, I certainly appreciate it.

    At the risk of being repetitive, when all is said and done the two things that bother me most is the purported mantra that if you are against this new Measure C Bond, that you are against our kids and schools, secondly that they are selling this Bond using the good works of the 2002 Measure C Bond.

    In the recent Measure C mailings they completely leave out any information on the cost of the Bond as it’s structured. They also tout all of 2002 Measure C success. Extremely and Deliberately Misleading.

    On the MDUSD website for Measure C they have quoted my April 2008 report to the MDUSD Board, “everything was managed perfectly and all projects completed.” which is true. But the intention is to give people the perception that this Bond Measure carrying the same name is remotely similar to the last one. It isn’t even close.

    http://www.mdusd.org/Community/Pages/measurecjune2010.aspx

    Also just for the record Theresa, you told me in a phone interview we had last week that the MDUSD Superintendent told you in response to your question “why wasn’t the new Bond proposal brought before the current Measure C Bond oversight committee?” that he said the Oversight Committee had been disbanded. Obviously the above MDUSD webpage proves that it has not.

    Sherry Whitmarsh is factually incorrect about another thing, at my last count 4 not 2 out of 16 members of the 2002 Bond Oversight Committee are supporting this new Bond. John Ferrante and John Parker being the most active, Judy Dawson and Jay Beddecare being the other two. I don’t know why Sherry even points this out, it does not reflect well on the Oversight Committee’s collective opinion of the new Measure with only 25% support.

    More devastating in my opinion in the long term for MDUSD is that this fiasco will sour the electorate on considering a well formulated, fiscally reasonable Bond proposal in the future which we really do need to do.

    When it comes to maintaining the sanctity of our children’s education the approach needs to reflect the seriousness of the purpose. That means honesty, stakeholder participation, fiduciary conservatism and committment to discipline. Especially in these difficult fiscal times, our kids future demands it.

    Cheers!

    A.J. Fardella

    Planning Commissioner, City of Pittsburg

    Member (former Chairman) 2002 Measure C Oversight Committee

    Parent of three beautiful Children attending MDUSD schools.

  • tharrington

    Pedersen said it would have been a lot more difficult to compile the 2010 Measure C list of projects if he did not have the work of the 2002 Measure C oversight committee to draw from.
    “I’m not about to tell sites what they need,” Pedersen said.
    Principals reviewed the lists of 2010 projects, but it was Lawrence’s idea to add 10 middle school science labs, Pedersen said. If Measure C passes, Pedersen said he would need to work with a group of science teachers to come up with a model that would work for all sites.

  • Doctor J

    Theresa, what happens today if they don’t give you the documents ? Lawsuit ? Front page story ?

  • Doctor J

    CTT Editorial Board says Vote NO on C ! Very factual editorial opinion this morning. Terrific letter to the editor by Roy Larkin of Concord. Now that the Board just spent nearly $300,000 of school money to finance the election, who is going to take responsiblity for that waste of money ? How many jobs will that cost ?

  • tharrington

    They refused to give me the poll results, saying: “…it does not reason that a poll that was funded by, retained by, and it is the property of a campaign committee is subject to a Public Records Act request. If you can provide legal authority contrary to our understanding we will be more than happy to consider said authority and reconsider your request.”
    I replied with legal authority and am awaiting the district’s reconsideration of my request.
    The district delayed providing me with the 2010 Bond Facilities Plan correspondence, saying it is “in the process of collecting that information, as it is quite voluminous.”
    I have narrowed my request to include only the email Pedersen sent to site administrators and the 32 responses he received regarding their priorities for improvements. The district hasn’t yet responded to this request.

  • Doctor J

    MDUSD’s refusal to produce the records is the first part of the coverup of Diablogate. This is a front page story. They want to stall until after the election.