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Archive for July, 2010

Why the MDUSD poll and project lists are important

In response to articles published Tuesday regarding the Mt. Diablo school district’s refusal to release voter poll results, some people have asked: “Why do you care?”

If the board and Superintendent Steven Lawrence had been open and transparent about the fact that the ballot measure would extend the 2002 Measure C tax rate — before trustees unanimously voted March 9 to put it on the June ballot — it might not be a big issue.

The reason the poll is important is because it was cited by Lawrence and some trustees to justify the board vote after the fact.

The district appears to want to have it both ways: it wants to claim voters chose a more costly option overall to fund the $348 million bond measure, but it doesn’t want to show the public any poll results that back up that claim.

Linda Loza is a district parent who quit the campaign committee because she disagreed with its decision to seek a bond measure that would be paid back over 42 years, instead of a parcel tax. Although Loza was involved in campaign committee discussions about polling, she said she wasn’t told that voters were presented with two tax rate options.

“I never saw or heard a choice presented, not in the funding committee meetings, not in the poll results I was given, not at the community meetings Superintendent Lawrence held, and not at the March 9, 2010 board meeting,” Loza said. “I am curious as to how the bond structure was decided, who made the decision — because it was certainly not the full bond committee — and what information they had when they made the decision.”

Trustees Gary Eberhart and Sherry Whitmarsh told me in May that they based their decisions to extend the tax rate on the poll results. But now, Whitmarsh says she never received the poll results and Eberhart says he can’t find them. And although the board received a PowerPoint presentation about the results, it didn’t include any questions about tax rates.

Both trustees have also said they had discussions about the poll results with Lawrence and/or the campaign consultant. However, these discussions did not take place in public.

As I have reported, Lawrence failed to mention that the district intended to extend the tax rate in his staff report or in the resolution the board approved. Also, trustees never discussed two options before voting, so the public was unaware that different tax rates had been considered.

The tax rate statement, which detailed the district’s intention to extend the 2002 cap of $60 per $100,000 in assessed value, was not completed until two days later, on March 11.

When I questioned Lawrence in May about the district’s process for putting the measure on the ballot, he insisted it was typical of California school districts.

“There were public discussions about the merits of the bond,” he wrote in a May 10 e-mail. “Polling data was brought forward which discussed the tax rate extension. The resolution was brought forward and approved by the board.”

The problem with these statements is that the public discussions didn’t mention the tax rate extension. Neither did the polling data in the  PowerPoint presentation. And neither did the resolution or the ballot measure.

Lawrence also asserted in his e-mail that it was common for districts to submit their tax rate statements to the registrar of voters subsequent to adopting a resolution.

“In fact, the board does not have to approve the tax rate statement,” he wrote. “This is a standard process, a process I followed previously, and a practice I understand is universally employed.”
This practice would have been fine if the district had disclosed the tax rate extension in any of the other documents reviewed by the board on March 9. And as it turns out, Mt. Diablo’s practices are not as universal as Lawrence contended.
The Martinez school district approved its tax rate statement July 19, when it voted on a resolution to place a $45 million bond measure on the November ballot. And when the Acalanes school board approved its $93 million bond measure July 21, 2008, it included the tax rate extension in its staff report.

Both Acalanes and Martinez also included the tax rate extension in their ballot language. The San Mateo Union High School District, which is considering a bond measure, also appears to have asked voters in a recent poll if they would support a $287 million measure “without increasing current tax rates,” as part of the proposed ballot language.

In addition, Mt. Diablo’s project list is not as complete as it was in 2002, when improvements for each school were included in the voter’s pamphlet. In 2010, the district included a general list of improvements in voter materials and posted school lists online that do not include costs or detailed descriptions of work to be done.

During a May 27 interview, Assistant Superintendent Pete Pedersen told me that “Technology Classroom Enhancements” was a “catch-all category” that included money for a variety of projects each site wanted.
He later told me that a chemistry lab at Clayton Valley High and an engineering and design center at Northgate High were included under this category. Northgate Principal John McMorris also said that Pedersen told him he had a list that included the design center, even though it didn’t appear online.

But after I asked to see the more specific lists yesterday, Pedersen informed me they don’t exist.

“There are no more ‘specific’ lists,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The programmatic details for each site won’t be completed until after each sites projects are fully developed individually and programmed during the design phase.”

I have sent him another e-mail asking how soon this will happen.

Pedersen told me in May that the board will prioritize work to be done, with a projected a five-year construction timeline. I have asked how the board will be able to prioritize projects, if the lists aren’t complete.

Voters have agreed to spend up to $1.8 billion over 42 years for the school upgrades.

Do you believe the board has been transparent about its decision to structure the bond as a tax rate extension? Are you satisfied with the lists of projects be be built?

Posted on Thursday, July 29th, 2010
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 10 Comments »

Online chat regarding Mt. Diablo district’s Measure C at 11 a.m.

By Theresa Harrington

Higher education reporter Matt Krupnick and I will participate in an online chat tomorrow at 11 a.m. regarding the Mt. Diablo school district’s $348 million Measure C bond, which voters approved in June.

Trustee Gary Eberhart has also agreed to participate, along with Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.

During a phone call with Eberhart this afternoon, I asked again about the poll results.

“I don’t know if I received a poll or not,” he said. “I could have sworn I have. I went through my (computer) system either yesterday or the night before and I haven’t been able to find it anywhere.”

But Eberhart said he recalled speaking to Superintendent Steven Lawrence about the poll and seeing a question related to extending the current tax rate.

“I remember a question that said something to the effect of: ‘Would you support or would you oppose, and to what degree’ — I don’t think it was just yes or no — but, ‘Do you support or oppose adding the new passage of a new bond if the cost of the payments would be added at the end of the current bond’s payments, so the yearly annual payments wouldn’t go up,’ or something to that effect.”

This question is very different from the one Eberhart originally said was asked, because it does not inform voters that extending the tax rate would increase the overall cost. It also doesn’t inform voters that their annual payments would still go up, even if the current tax rate stays the same.

This is because the current tax rate is capped at $60 per $100,000, but homeowners are only paying $49.30, according to Jon Isom, the district’s financial consultant. With the new bond, homeowners will pay the maximim amount of $60 per year.

Trustee Sherry Whitmarsh also told me in May that she thought the poll asked voters to choose between a lower rate for a longer term — which would cost more in the end — or a higher rate for a shorter term. Last week, she told me she never received the full poll results, but was basing her previous comments on a PowerPoint presentation and/or a conversation she had with a campaign consultant.

The March 9 PowerPoint presentation to the board by EMC Research is missing from the district’s website. However, I obtained a copy of it from the district after the meeting.

It contained 15 slides and concluded that more than 55 percent of voters would support the ballot measure, if it asked for “three hundred million dollars in bonds” (instead of $348 million). It also included several questions related to the types of improvements voters would suppport, showing swimming pools ranked lowest and career and technical education facilities ranked highest.

Finally, the presentation showed that “positive messaging” was able to influence more voters to support the bond. It showed that “negative messsaging” swayed some people to vote against the measure, but predicted the bond would still have a good chance at passing.

This presentation did not include any questions about tax rates.

I have also obtained a more complete PowerPoint presentation that was given to the campaign committee, Community United for Excellent Schools, or CUES. This version was provided to me by former members of the committee who supported a parcel tax, but opposed the bond measure because of its overall cost.

It consists of 34 slides, including 19 that were removed from the public presentation and one that was altered. One key slide omitted includes this “Description of the Measure: As you may know, a $250 million bond measure was approved by voters in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District in 2002 to continue school facility improvements. This new bond would allow the district to continue school upgrades and renovations while homeowners continue to pay the same tax rate they approved in 2002, with no increase. Approving this measure would renew the voter-approved annual homeowner tax rate of $59 per $100,000 of assessed value annually.”

This shows that the district had already decided to extend the tax rate before it polled voters, since it was assumed in the description.

Other slides taken out of the board presentation showed that those who viewed the district favorably were more likely to support the measure and parent perceptions of the quality of education in the district and the school board had improved since November 2009. However, perceptions of the district’s financial and budget management remained negative and over half of those surveyed believed the condition of school properties and grounds was only fair or poor, according to slides removed.

Five slides about “messaging” were also deleted from the board presentation. Voters were given information about the bond measure and asked if it made them more likely or less likely to support it, or if it made no difference.

This information included one statement (in poll question number 28) that referenced the tax rate: “Already approved in 2002, without increasing taxes above that rate, and will provide much-needed funding to repair local schools.”

Forty percent of voters said they would be much more likely to vote for the bond given this information, 25 percent said they’d be somewhat more likely, 26 percent said it would make no difference or they didn’t know, and 9 percent said they would be less likely to vote for it.

When I met with Lawrence and Isom in April, Lawrence told me the poll asked voters if they would prefer the continuance of the 2002 bond versus a new bond. Isom said question 28 was the one that covered that.

Question 28 does ask voters if they support continuing the current tax rate, but it doesn’t give them the option to instead choose a new bond at a higher rate to keep the overall cost lower, as Eberhart, Whitmarsh and Lawrence have asserted. It also doesn’t inform voters that keeping the same tax rate could make the overall cost five times more expensive.

In addition, question 28 fails to tell voters what the rate is ($60 per $100,000) or to mention that their annual payments would increase to the maximum amount (instead of the $49.30 they are currently paying). It also neglects to inform voters that extending the tax rate would lengthen the term of their payments to 42 years.

Other slides removed from the board presentation included “negative messaging” that said some people think energy-efficient projects are not necessary, some projects such as theaters might be considered frivolous and now is not a good time to ask voters for more money, in a down economy.

Slides reflecting voter attitudes were also deleted. These showed voters in March were more pessimistic than they were in November and that 74 percent in March thought “things in local public schools are off on the wrong track,” up from 70 percent in November.

Finally, the slide that ended up last in the board presentation was changed, with the ballot description (which included the tax rate extension) removed.

The removal of the slides that mentioned the tax rate extension, combined with the superintendent’s failure to include it in the staff report and board resolution, left the public in the dark about the fact that trustees were choosing one of two options. And although Lawrence, Eberhart and Whitmarsh have said they had conversations about the two options, none of those conversations took place in public.

Eberhart told me today that he would be willing to go back to the voters and ask them if they would prefer to pay a higher rate for a shorter amount of time to lower the overall cost.

“Does the public approve of what we’ve done?” he said. “If the voters want us to go back and change it, if that’s possible legally, I’m willing to do that.”

But he insists Isom’s estimates are unrealistically high.

“The $1.87 (million) number is completely a bogus number and I don’t care who told you that,” he said. “I’m asking staff to go back and refigure the numbers.”

Are you happy with the board’s decision? Ask questions or tell us what you think during the live chat at 11 a.m. Details are here:

Posted on Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »

Clayton Valley HS athletic director comments on robberies

After the Times wrote about three Clayton Valley High football players arrested on suspicion of robbing teens of ipods and cell phones in Clayton, several readers commented on the story, asking why the school’s athletic director, Pat Middendorf, declined to comment.
Middendorf posted the following response this afternoon. I am reposting it here, so more people will be aware of it.

Pat Middendorf: My Response:

“I am not sure whether it is appropriate for me to use this forum to comment on the robberies by 3 CVHS students or on the numerous blog comments about the Clayton Valley High School Community as a result of this. I would not normally respond to anonymous accusations but it does appear that some people really do want to know what CV is doing about this or if we are to blame for this happening.

Unfortunately it is summer and both the head FB coach and principal are on vacation so I will try to respond from my viewpoint. When the CCtimes reporter called me I had just found out about the robberies and I told him I knew nothing about it, nor  who  the students involved were, or what the schools stance on it was.  He said that he would take that as a no comment.  Later when I found out what was going on I did speak with a Clayton newspaper reporter. No one else has contacted me about this other than the 3 people who sent me an email encouraging CV to make sure that these players did not play on the team in the fall. 

After contacting Coach Garaventa, the person in charge of passing league and summer weight training I gained a true understanding of what happened and how devastating this was to our team. The 3 players involved were on the JV football team last year.  I think that everyone needs to know that Coach Pardi, Coach Garaventa and many of the other FB coaches teach more than just football at CV ; they are committed to teaching these  athletes life skills and have mentored all of our athletes on becoming better students and citizens. Everyone likes to win but these coaches are stakeholders in our community and in our athletic program.  I hold them to the highest standards and they in turn expect the best from the players.  It is heartbreaking for any coach or teacher when even one of your students fails and then you feel, or someone else feels, that you have failed too. The toughest lesson that we as teachers and coaches have to learn is that you can’t save everyone. Even when you learn it – it doesn’t make you feel much better.  It was a truly disturbing crime these students committed against members of their own community.  They will have to suffer the consequences for that crime and hopefully they will learn a lifetime lesson from this while they are still young.  The boys are not participating in any more summer workouts. If they return to CV in the fall the CV adminiatraion will be in charge of deciding on what is done at that point.

On that note I will clarify for those that want to know – Members of the girl’s soccer team did steal sweatshirts from another school last December.  The punishment at CV for stealing is a 2 day suspension from school.  They served their two day suspension and in addition because they were representing their school at this event they were suspended for the next 2 games, they wrote  apology letters to the school, returned the sweatshirts and played full price for them and completed a community service project I assigned. They were also removed from any leadership class or position they held. There were also 2 girls who were caught drinking at a school dance last school year. The punishment for this is a 5 day suspension from school and a 45 day suspension from all school events.  They both received that punishment and were not allowed to play for their school team for the 45 days.   Was that severe enough?  Too severe?   These are rules that all district schools follow but if you are interested in seeing them changed please contact the superintendent or school board.  These are the only incidences that were mentioned on the blogs that I know about.

I regret that this incidence has shed negative light on the city of Clayton, Clayton Valley High School, the CVHS Football program, and the CVHS Administration. We are not perfect and we make mistakes and sometimes we lose kids, but we are very proud of the accomplishments of our school and our sports program.  Last year 50 of our 54 teams made NCS Scholar team and the majority of Altair winners and scholarship awards go to athletes each year.  For those athletes that struggle in the classroom we offer 2 hour tutoring sessions 2 days a week taught by our CVHS teachers and football coaches. Many athletes are required by their coaches or me to go to these sessions in lieu of practice. Our athletes can be seen all year long serving their community at the Art & Wine Festival, the Clayton Golf tournament, October Fest, the UMDAF 5K, campus clean-up, just to name a few. We have 800 athletes at CV.  Over 150 play 2 sports and over 50 play 3. Hundreds go on to play college sports.  I could go on but I think my point is made.  We do have a big responsibility to many athletes and students who in turn make many  positive contributions to their school and community.  

After reading some of the negative comments I am certain we could do better and will try to do better,  if you think you can help or have positive suggestions please email me. This forum does not allow email addresses to be posted but you can find my address on the CVHS website.  I will not be answering anonymous blogs but can always use good positive advice and help.

If you really knew me you would know that I am one of CVHS’ biggest fans.  I try hard to make CVHS a better place for every student.   I have enjoyed getting to know all of the biggest fans of the other high schools through my work on the sports foundation this year.  I am proud of what we have all accomplished in keeping sports in our community.   If you want to help in that endeavor I encourage you to step up.  It will be a daunting task in the next few years to come.  I think this foundation of all six high schools has proved that it is better to pull together to make this a better place for our children than to work against each other. Please visit our website for more information.  Thanks for reading this.
Pat Middendorf”

I just spoke to Pat on the phone and she asked me to post her e-mail address here. She invites comments at

She also encourages those who are interested in supporting sports in the Mt. Diablo school district to visit the United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation’s website at The group’s funding plan for 2010-11 is on the website. Middendof said she has already received supportive e-mails and offers from people wishing to volunteer for the nonprofit organization.

 Do you agree with the district’s discipline policies?

Posted on Saturday, July 17th, 2010
Under: Clayton, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Sports, Theresa Harrington | 2 Comments »

More Mt. Diablo principal interviews are underway

By Theresa Harrington
Two Mt. Diablo district administrators met with parents at Sequoia Middle School in Pleasant Hill yesterday to find out what kind of principal would suit the campus.
About 11 parents showed up, after teachers met with Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and Support, and Julie Braun-Martin, assistant superintendent for personnel.
Parents said they want a principal who will continue the excellence at the school and support the teachers and staff the way former Principal Hellena Postrk did. Postrk has been promoted to a position in the district office, where she will coach other principals about how to improve their schools, Lock said.
One parent said she wasn’t aware Postrk had been promoted until she received a district message informing her about the parent meeting.
Braun-Martin explained that the district developed a spring eligibility pool of candidates for high school and middle school openings. The board appointed Bill Morones as principal of Ygnacio Valley High June 15, replacing Carolyn Plath, who retired.
The district first paper screens candidates and then forwards those they’re interested in to first round interviews, Braun-Martin said. These interviews include a parent representative, classified staff rep and teacher rep.
For Sequoia, parent club president Nancy Morgan is the rep who sat in on interviews Monday. Morgan said she is not allowed to discuss the interviews.
After the first round, some candidates are fowarded to a second round interview with Superintendent Steven Lawrence and other district office administrators, including Lock and Braun-Martin. Lawrence will be given the list of qualities Sequoia parents are looking for, Braun-Martin said.
If he believes he has a good match, he will forward a recommendation to the board in July. If not, the district could pursue another round of applicants and might seek an interim principal, who would most likely be a recently retired principal, Braun-Martin said.
Lock cautioned that the district is not looking for an exact replica of Sequoia’s most recent principals, including Postrk, Vivian Boyd and Jim Durflinger. Instead, the district will try to find someone who meets the “hopes and dreams” of parents and staff, she said.
One parent said she’d like a candidate who’s familiar with the district and community, as well as the special “Academics Plus” status of the magnet school, which attracts students from throughout the district. Another parent said she wants a principal who will advocate for Sequoia within the district, is transparent and able to make tough decisions.
The parent of an incoming seventh-grader said she’d like the new principal to be visible on campus and to maintain student safety as a high priority.
Morgan said she wants a principal with an “open door” policy, who is approachable and communicates well with students, parents, staff and the community. She also noted that the school is expected to accept more than 900 students in the fall, including some who request transfers from the district’s lowest-achieving schools (Glenbrook and Oak Grove middle schools in Concord), under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Lock said both she and Braun-Martin have been in the district more than 20 years and that they understand Sequoia and will communicate its unique qualities to Lawrence and principal candidates.
Lock said she started her career in the district as vice principal of Sequoia Middle School. Braun-Martin said she was formerly principal of Monte Gardens Elementary, which feeds into Sequoia.
Braun-Martin assured parents that the district conducts background checks on all applicants who are seriously considered. She said the district invited internal candidates to apply for the openings at Glenbrook and Sequoia after the Glenbrook principal left and Postrk was promoted.
“We’re looking for the best person,” Lock said.
Principals must have an administrative credential, as well as administrative experience, Braun-Martin said. She does not give out information about the size of the candidate pool, she added.
If candidates are interested in both the Glenbrook and Sequoia openings, the interviews could be combined, she said.
The district is also conducting elementary principal interviews for openings at Mt. Diablo Elementary in Clayton, and Monte Gardens and Silverwood elementary schools in Concord. The board may hold a special meeting next week, if Lawrence decides to recommend one of the candidates recently interviewed.
Lock said Shore Acres Principal Kari Rees will stay at that school after all, because the state clarified its reform requirements, saying principals could remain if they have been at underperforming schools three years or less, instead of two years.
All administrators in the district were given their tentative fall assignments June 30, Lock said. Both Sequoia’s vice principal and student services coordinator are tentatively scheduled to return to the school, she said.
Lock told me after the meeting that she often conducts reference checks, but isn’t involved in background checks. She said the district always calls the candidate’s most recent supervisor during reference checks.
Lock confirmed that written applications ask candidates if they have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony and ask them to explain, if they have.
“Usually, when they indicate, ‘yes,’, we research that and investigate that,” Lock said.
She said she didn’t know if Christopher Nugent, who was unanimously appointed by the school board as principal of Mt. Diablo Elementary in Clayton last month, revealed his DUI conviction on his application. Nugent later withdrew his name from consideration, after reports surfaced about his DUI arrest, charges of resisting arrest, and his previous resignation from a Tennessee school district after he inadvertently posted student Social Security numbers online.
Nugent wasn’t convicted of resisting arrest and wasn’t prosecuted for the online student security breach.
Lock said she didn’t think Lawrence knew Nugent, since Nugent was from Elk Grove, which is outside Contra Costa County and quite distant from Lawrence’s previous district in West Sacramento.
“It’s not something you usually hide,” she said. “I’ve known several of the candidates.”
Lawrence wouldn’t need to recuse himself from the selection if he knew a candidate, she said.
“Actually,” Lock said, “if you know someone, that gives you more information about a person…that’s first-hand information that I may know and I use that.”
Braun-Martin said she couldn’t discuss Nugent’s application. She said candidates are fingerprinted after they are approved to be hired, but that additional paperwork must be completed before the hire is completed.
Nugent chose to withdraw his name after the board appointed him, she said.
A DUI wouldn’t necessarily exclude a candidate from being appointed as a district administrator, Braun-Martin said. Instead, a DUI would be something that would be investigated further, she said, through interviews, vetting and reference checks, to make an informed decision about the candidate.
In response to questions from parents about the status of pink-slipped teachers, Braun-Martin said the district has begun calling them back.
Today, Jessica Beerbaum informed me she has been hired to teach fifth-grade at Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord, after being laid-off from her job at Silverwood Elementary in June. She was number 24 on the layoff list, she said.
“Things change everyday,” Lock said. “We don’t want to lose good teachers.”
Lock confirmed, however, that popular College Park High School instrumental music teacher Johnnie Johnson moved to Texas after being laid-off in June. Similarly, former Sequoia Middle School instrumental music teacher Marcus Goodlow moved back to Texas last year, after being laid-off.
This year’s Sequoia instrumental music teacher Eric Thompson has also been laid-off. And star Sequoia music student Larry Wang, who was featured in the Times as a “Hometown Hero” on Monday, has transferred to the Acalanes district to attend high school, in part because of its more stable music program. He would have attended College Park, had he remained in the Mt. Diablo district.
Lock acknowledged that some good teachers are moving out of state, tired of going through the anxiety associated with pink slips each year, as the result of state budget cuts.
“What we’re doing in California is a tragedy,” she said.
Would you be comfortable with a principal who has been convicted of DUI? Do you think candidates’ convictions should be disclosed to the board before the superintendent recommends them?

Posted on Thursday, July 15th, 2010
Under: Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Music, Pleasant Hill, Theresa Harrington | 19 Comments »

Mt. Diablo district is running out of cash

By Theresa Harrington
When Mt. Diablo district Superintendent Steven Lawrence sent a memo to parents warning about the possibility of a state takeover last month, I was surprised, because the the 2010-11 budget has a positive ending balance, according to district projections.
But when I spoke to the chief business official for the Contra Costa County Office of Education a few days ago, he confirmed that Mt. Diablo’s budget is worse than it initially looks on paper.
Unlike most districts, Mt. Diablo borrowed money in the middle of the school year to cover its cash requirement, through a loan called a “TRANS,” he said.
“Basically, you’re going to your creditor, saying ‘I need cash to close my books for the end of the year or I’m not going to have enough money to make my payroll,” he said. “It’s short-term borrowing. It’s like you drawing down your credit card.”
To help remedy this problem, the county office has suggested the district accept advice from a county-appointed fiscal adviser.
“They’ve acknowleged to us that it might be important, but we’ve never made the decision to appoint the adviser,” Clark said. “Mt. Diablo’s a large complex district and there’s a lot of considerations that they have to look at. That’s a major step for them. They’ve basically taken that under serious consideration during the last six months.”
The district would pay 75 percent of the cost for such an adviser and the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team would pay 25 percent, Clark said.
“In Mt. Diablo’s case, we’ll probably submit very specific requests for additional (budget) information, then we’ll move forward to appoint (an adviser),” he said. “It really depends on how realistic their proposed reductions are, but my sense is that by fall, we’ll probably have one appointed.”
He agreed with Lawrence’s assessment that state takeover is a very real possibility.
“If they had to do a mid-year TRANS and they’re running out of cash, that’s one of the most telling indicators that they’re in financial trouble,” Clark said. “A mid-year TRANS is very new. Short-term borrowing is common in the fall or spring, but to borrow at the end of the fiscal year is not a common event.”
The John Swett district, he said, is in even more dire straits.
Still, the Mt. Diablo district filed a “positive” certification with its second-interim budget through Jan. 31, which assumed approximately $9.8 million in 2009-10 and subsequent year reductions that require labor negotiations, according to a letter the Clark wrote to Board President Paul Strange in April.
“It is our understanding that these assumed reductions may not materialize due to little or no progress with negotiations,” Clark wrote. “Our office would question the district’s positive certification should the district fail to meet targeted reductions.”
Clark said he sits on a state committee of county chief business officials that prepares guidance for districts throughout the state.
This committee has noticed that many districts are including cuts in their budgets that haven’t yet been implemented, yet declaring their budgets to be positive, meaning they will be able to pay their bills.
Some other districts, however, have self-certified their budgets as “qualified” or “negative,” because they haven’t yet implemented necessary cuts.
This means a “positive” certification in one district could be essentially the same as a “qualified” certification in another, making it difficult to compare “apples to apples” when looking at budgets.
To make each district’s budget situation clearer, the committee decided to require each school board to submit a “Resolution of Maintenance of Fiscal Solvency” with its three-year 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 budget projections, Clark said.
“The school board is to make a public commitment to those reductions,” he said. “They need to do those things to maintain fiscal solvency.”
Mt. Diablo’s resolution states that the district needs to make at least $12.1 million in ongoing cuts in 2011-12, plus another $6.5 million in ongoing cuts in 2012-13. The board must decide how to make these reductions by the end of this year.
Now, county offices of education throughout the state are reviewing district budgets. They will decide to approve of disapprove the budgets by mid-August.
Clark noted that the John Swett district self-certified its second interim report as negative, because it must make cuts to stay afloat. Likewise, the Antioch, Knightsen, Martinez, San Ramon and West Contra Costa districts self-certified their second interim budgets as “qualified,” meaning they may need to make more cuts.
“The districts take different positions or they approach the certification process differently based on their philosophy,” he said. “They have some ability to address their multi-year (projections) through assumed reductions. If they’re close, they can push to positive or qualified. Some are adamant that they’re going to be positive. A lot of that is influenced by the local climate.”
This means politics comes into play. To get past the semantics, Clark said he hones in on certain lines in the budget that give him a clear indication about whether a district is in financial trouble.
“You look at things like their cash balances and you look at the rate of their deficit,” he said. “The first thing I look at is: what is the deficit? How much are they overspending? Then I also look at: what is their cash position? If they’re running out of cash, that means they are in trouble.”
I asked him to tell me exactly where to look in the district’s 187-page budget to find the answers to these questions. He directed me to the “net increase or decrease” in the general fund balance on page 2 of the General Fund report, line E.
“If that number is bracketed,” he said, “it means expenditures are exceeding their current year estimates.”
He cautioned against a “trend of brackets” on that line. Mt. Diablo has a line of brackets, showing (26.5 million) in 2009-10 and ($12.1 million) in 2010-11.
Next, Clark looks at the available “Fund Balance” and reserves on Line F (just below line E). This shows their savings and how fast they’re spending down their reserves, if they’re overspending, he said.
Mt. Diablo’s July 1, 2009 fund balance of $47.2 million shrank to $20.6 million by June 30, 2010. By June 30, 2011, this is expected to dwindle to $8.5 million.
Then, Clark looks at how much cash the district has, on line G, along with its liabilities. Mt. Diablo shows $78.1 million in assets and nearly $30.9 million in liabilities, leaving it with $47.2 million by June 30, 2010.
Finally Clark looks at the multi-year projections (pages 146-147), lines E and F, along with the reserve amount “designated for economic uncertainties.”
Mt. Diablo shows an $6.3 million in “total available reserves” for 2010-11, which slips to negative $5.2 million in 2011-12 and plummets to negative $23.9 million in 2012-13.
“You could have a fund balance that shows you’re in fairly decent shape, and you can run out of cash,” Clark said. “Game over. Because you cannot make your payroll.”
Do you think the Mt. Diablo district should request a county-appointed fiscal adviser?

Posted on Tuesday, July 13th, 2010
Under: Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 4 Comments »

MDUSD administrator responds to questions about principal moves

By Theresa Harrington
The substantial number of moves by principals and other Mt. Diablo school district administrators during the past few months has prompted one big question in the community: “Why!?!”
Superintendent Steven Lawrence and Julie Braun-Martin, assistant superintendent for personnel, have said they were trying to find good matches for schools where principals have retired or have been promoted to new positions.
Today, I spoke with Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and Support, to get more clarification on this process.
She said Lawrence made a Connect Ed phone call message to Mt. Diablo Elementary parents a couple of days ago updating them on the status of their principal search. The message informed parents that interviews were being conducted and explained that the district’s candidate screening procedure now includes Internet searches, she said.
When I asked about the multiple administrative moves, Lock said: “There hasn’t been that many people moving around.”
She said the main reason for the moves is that four elementary principals resigned (Bel Air, Silverwood, Valle Verde and Wren Avenue) and five principals were promoted to positions in her department (Delta View Elem., Hidden Valley Elem., Monte Gardens Elem., Riverview MS, and Sequoia MS).
“We did move a couple of principals who are interested in looking at different assignments,” she added. “It’s not like we’ve been playing musical chairs. Nothing like that at all.”
Lawrence has said the swap of principals between Mt. Diablo High and Olympic continuation high was based on those administrators’ preferences. (Cheryl LeBoef is moving to Olympic and Kate McClatchy is moving to Mt. Diablo High.)
To fill the Bel Air and Delta View positions, Lock said the district needed principals who were experienced. Both Nancy Klinkner (at Highlands Elementary) and Nancy Baum (at Ayers Elementary) had expressed interest in new assignments, Lock said.
Klinker was placed at Bel Air (which has a large English learner population) because she is bilingual. The Bay Point school is one of the district’s lowest achieving campuses and Lock said Klinker was also a good fit because her background had been entirely in Title 1 (low-income) schools (with the exception of last year at Highlands).
The district placed Baum at Delta View to keep the campus moving in the right direction, Lock said.
New principals are also expected at Mt. Diablo Elementary in Clayton, Shore Acres Elementary in Bay Point and Glenbrook Middle School in Concord.
Lock said Mt. Diablo Elementary’s previous Principal Bob Dodson has not yet been reassigned. Shore Acres Principal Kari Rees told me she expects to be replaced as part of that low-achieving school’s reform plan. Glenbrook Principal Jonathan Eagan found another position closer to his home, Braun-Martin told me last week.
Lock said Lawrence won’t attend the upcoming meeting with Sequoia Middle School parents in Pleasant Hill. Instead, she and Braun-Martin will likely ask staff and parents what kind of new principal they would like.
Lawrence normally doesn’t attend parent meetings, Lock said. He attended the Mt. Diablo Elementary meeting because she was off on furlough leave, Lock added.
However, Lawrence attended the Bancroft Elementary meeting with both Braun-Martin and Lock, to respond to parent concerns about his decision to transfer their principal to Valle Verde. He later reversed that decision, based on parents’ concerns.
Lawrence decides who to recommend for specific positions, with input from her, Lock said. She has been more involved in elementary hires than those at middle and high schools, she added. (Lock was previously the assistant superintendent for elementary education and principal of Walnut Acres Elementary in Walnut Creek).
Lock said Curriculum and Instruction division was eliminated — and replaced with her Student Achievment and Support division — to focus more on the demands placed on the principals districtwide, including high expectaitons for student achievement.
“We have to do a better job of supporting all of the schools,” she said. “In the past, the Curriculum and Instruction department supported all of our Program Improvement (low-performing) and Title 1 schools. Others didn’t get same level of support. But, others are also going to be expected to improve.”
Lock also emphasized that principals are hired for the entire district, not necessarily for specific schools.
“We want to make sure they are equally proficient and competent,” she said. “We want to develop them (through coaching and professional development), because we could be moving them around as needed.”
She acknowledged that the district does, however, try to match principals to schools where they would best fit.
“We certainly are sensitive to the needs of each school,” she said. “We do ask for (community) input, to make sure we have the right person.”
No principal should expect to remain at the same school for his or her entire career, she added.
“Principals don’t stay at schools for 20 years,” she said.
Does this explanation ease your mind about moves taking place before school starts?

Posted on Friday, July 9th, 2010
Under: Bay Point, California, Clayton, Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Pleasant Hill, Theresa Harrington, Walnut Creek | 10 Comments »

MDUSD superintendent explains principal hire snafu

By Theresa Harrington

After remaining silent for days regarding allegations that surfaced over the weekend regarding the man he recommended as principal of Mt. Diablo Elementary, Mt. Diablo district Superintendent Steven Lawrence issued a written statement within the past hour explaining the hiring procedure used to vet candidates.

Here is the statement in its entirety:

“The district has received questions regarding information discovered about Dr. Nugent, a candidate for one of our principal positions that was filled July 1, 2010. When filling positions in the district, the district follows standard protocols, including exhaustive written applications, oral interviews, credential checks, reference checks and subsequent background checks. In this case, our customary protocols did not discover negative information that was readily available in a simple Internet search. Consequently, the Board of Education was not aware of negative information which was discovered by a board member after the candidate’s appointment. In the future, the district will augment our process with a comprehensive Internet investigation prior to candidate recommendations going to the Board of Education. In light of the latest information, Dr. Nugent has withdrawn his name from consideration for any of the district’s open positions. The district will immediately conduct another search for a principal for Mt. Diablo Elementary and will work closely with that community to find a suitable candidate.
Steven Lawrence, Superintendent
Mt. Diablo Unified School District”

Lawrence did not return my call requesting more information. It is not clear if trustees will be given the names of candidates prior to board meetings in the future, or if they will be given resumes, which some have said they would like.

When I asked Lawrence last month why so many administrators were being moved around, he said decisions were based on retirements, resignations, restructuring and “through conversations with people, looking to see if there’s a match and an opportunity.”
He cited the book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t,” by Jim Collins, saying it talks about “having the right people on the right seat on the bus.”

A parent at the Bancroft meeting told Lawrence that book also recommends involving the people who are being affected in the decisions. Lawrence acknowledged that he could do a better job of that.

When the board approved the swap of principals at Mt. Diablo High and Olympic continuation school, two Mt. Diablo teachers expressed concerns about their staff not being consulted.

At the June 30 meeting with Mt. Diablo Elementary parents, newly appointed assistant superintendent Julie Braun-Martin said elementary principal candidates were interviewed before the district knew there would be an opening at that school. However, she told them they could be included in interviews if the district determined that a second round of interviews was necessary.

Are you satisfied with the district’s new hiring protocol?

Posted on Tuesday, July 6th, 2010
Under: Clayton, Concord, Education, Theresa Harrington | 31 Comments »

Mt. Diablo district principal and administrator playbill

By Theresa Harrington

The cast of characters at Mt. Diablo district schools is changing over the summer, leaving some parents wondering who will greet their children when they return to campuses next month.

Here’s a rundown of recently approved or announced staff changes by school:

Ayers Elementary, Concord: Principal Spoogmai Habibi (former curriculum specialist)
Bel Air Elementary, Bay Point: Principal Nancy Klinkner (former Highlands Elem. principal)
Delta View Elementary, Bay Point: Principal Nancy Baum (former Ayers Elementary principal)
Hidden Valley Elementary, Martinez: Principal Sandy Bruketta (former curriculum specialist)
Highlands Elementary in Concord: Vicki Eversole (a program specialist and former principal and vice principal of Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord)
Meadow Homes Elementary, Concord: Program specialist: Diane Sargent (former curriculum specialist)
Mt. Diablo Elementary: Christopher Nugent (former vice principal at Joseph Sims Elementary School in Elk Grove)
Valle Verde Elementary, Walnut Creek: Principal Rhys Miller (former curriculum specialist)
Wren Avenue Elementary, Concord: Principal Cynthia Goin (former Strandwood Elem. principal, returning from leave)

Riverview Middle School, Bay Point: Principal Christine Huajardo (promoted from vice principal); Vice principal Ean Ainsworth (promoted from student services coordinator)

Diablo Community Day School in Concord: Linda Pete (former vice principal at Ygnacio Valley High in Concord)
Mt. Diablo High School, Concord: Principal Kate McClatchy (former administrator of Olympic High School); Vice principal: Lianne Cisnowski (former Olympic High teacher)
Northgate High School, Walnut Creek: Vice principal Linda Hayes (promoted from student services coordinator)
Olympic Continuation High School/Alliance special ed., Concord: Administrator Cheryl LeBoef (former Mt. Diablo HS principal); Vice principal Katie Gaines (former Alternative Education director); Vice principal Rachelle Buckner (former counselor at Mary Bird Community Day School in the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District)

Here’s a list of changes at the district office:
Assistant superintendent of personnel services: Julie Braun-Martin (former personnel director)
Director of Personnel: Melinda Hall (former director of Curriculum and Instruction)
Assistant Superintendent, Student Achievement, Support: Rose Lock (former assist. supt. for elem. education)
Director, Elementary Support: Susan Petersen (former Delta View Elem. principal)
Director, Seconday Support: Denise Rugani (former Riverview MS principal)
Assistant Director of Categoricals and School Support: Jennifer Sachs (former assist. dir. of Curriculum & Instruction)
Principal Coach and school support: Patt Hoellwarth (former Monte Gardens Elem. principal)
Principal Coach and school support: Lorie O’Brien (former Hidden Valley Elem. principal)
Principal Coach and school support: Hellena Postrk (former Sequoia MS principal)
Principal Coach and school support: Susan Hukkanen (former Curriculum and Instruction administrator)
Administrator, English learners, Student Support: Carmen Graces (former Curriculum and Instruction administrator)
Special Education Program Specialist: Danielle Beecham (former resource specialist at Lou Dantzler Preparatory Charter High School in Los Angeles)

Braun-Martin told me the district still intends to fill principal positions at the following schools:
Glenbrook Middle School in Concord to replace Jonathan Eagan
Monte Gardens Elementary in Concord to fill Hoellwarth’s position
Sequoia Middle School in Pleasant Hill to fill Postrk’s position
Silverwood Elementary in Concord to replace retiring Principal Sandra Rogers-Hare

However, Shore Acres Elementary Principal Kari Rees told me she would be replaced as part of that school’s reform plan for low-achieving campuses.

Braun-Martin also anticipates filling the following other administrative positions, based on promotions and retirements:
Director of Student Services (to replace retiring Margot Tobias)
Northgate High School Student Services Coordinator (to fill Hayes’ position)
Riverview Middle School Student Services Coordinator (to fill Ainsworth’s position)
Ygnacio Valley High School Vice Principal (to fill Pete’s position)
Four districtwide special education program specialists

Superintendent Steven Lawrence asked trustees to grant him the authority to make the above appointments during the board’s summer break in July. But trustees said they want to maintain oversight of these decisions and asked him to call special board meetings to approve the appointments.

Although the district is facing major budget cuts that Lawrence has warned could lead to a state takeover if they aren’t accomplished, five administrative promotions and raises went into effect July 1, based on a split board decision made Nov. 17, before Lawrence arrived. Trustees Dick Allen and Linda Mayo voted against the restructuring plan, which included raises totaling $55,029.

Here is the rationale for the decision, according to the staff report:
“Recognizing the impact of both the recently eliminated as well as the approved, prospective elimination of a position in the Superintendent’s Council it is essential that a restructuring of organizational relationships and a consolidation of tasks be defined and implemented to insure continuity in leadership and the delivery of critical services. Although the reorganization will not be effective until July 1, 2010, the plan needs to be considered earlier to allow adequate time for implementation.”

Here are the changes, effective yesterday:
General Counsel (Greg Rolen): Increase salary by $27,998 to $190,000 including education and longevity

Director Budget & Fiscal Svcs (Bryan Richards): Reclassify as Chief Financial Officer and increase salary by $8,114 to $140,000

Director Certificated Personnel (changed June 22 to Director of Personnel Services, Melinda Hall): Increase salary range by $5,989 from range 29 to 32 (range 29 is $86,559-$105,217; range 32 is $90,722-$110,262)

Facilities & Ops Project Mgr (changed June 22 to Director of Facilities, Operations and Resource Conservation, Jeff McDaniel): Increase by $11,136 from range 12 to 25 (range 12 is $72,803-$98,702; range 25 increase is approximately $83,939-$109,838).

Admin Secty To Supt Conf (Loreen Joseph): Increase by $1,792 from range of 536 to 576 (range 536 is $21.31-$25.90 per hour; range 576 is $24.07-$29.26 per hour).

At the Nov. 17 meeting, trustees also agreed to reclassify the Associate Superintendent position held by Alan Young to Assistant Superintendent, reducing the salary by $14,913 to $141,000. This position was later eliminated and Young retired last month.

The full range of salaries paid to district employees is on the district’s website.

Some union members have decried the raises, in light of the cuts they are being asked to take at the bargaining table. One high school registrar said the general counsel’s raise would pay for a clerical worker’s salary. At the time, Interim Superintendent Dick Nicoll told me he generated all of the recommendations for salary increases except the general counsel’s. That request came from the board, as noted in his memo (attachment) to trustees.

Richards said in his June 22 budget report that the district might need to lay off more employees or reduce their hours, if unions don’t agree to furlough days and benefits cuts. In addition, the district could increase class sizes for teachers and consolidate some part-time positions into full-time jobs.

The layoffs would include about 19 maintenance and operations workers. The cuts in hours would include: 29 elementary secretaries and 16 middle and high school secretary’s hours reduced by half to 3.5 per day; and approximately 100 California School Employees Association workers hours reduced to 3.5 hours a day or less, plus the creation of new 3.5 hour positions as needed.

Management has already agreed to three or four furlough days in 2009-10, plus seven to nine furlough days in 2010-11; a cap on health benefits at 2010 Kaiser rates; a reduction of post-retirement health coverage from two-party to employee only for new retirees effective July 1, 2011; and no vacation payoffs beyond carryover limits effective July 1, 2010 (use it or lose it).

Do you agree with the new administrative appointments? What is your reaction to the board’s budget dilemma?

Posted on Friday, July 2nd, 2010
Under: Concord, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Uncategorized, Walnut Creek | 10 Comments »