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Will the Mt. Diablo school district really save $1.5 million?

By Theresa Harrington
Thursday, February 24th, 2011 at 7:37 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Mt. Diablo schools Superintendent Steven Lawrence persuaded the school board to unanimously approve his recommendation not to close any additional schools Tuesday, without giving trustees a cost savings analysis to back up his claim that the district would save $1.5 million.

His PowerPoint presentation — which included answers to many questions — was missing one very important question and answer: How do the recommendations add up to $1.5 million?

Here are cost savings estimates I was able to dig up from previous PowerPoints:

(From Feb. 8 meeting):

Closing Holbrook Elementary would save $350,995 in salaries/benefits and $72,543 in utilities for a total of $423,538.

Closing Glenbrook Middle School would save $519,285 in salaries and benefits and $100,070 in utilities for a total of $619,356.

Together, closing both schools would save $1,042,894 or about $1 million.

However, Lawrence pointed out that closing Glenbrook would increase El Dorado MS to 1,115 students, Valley View MS to 787 students and Oak Grove MS to 761 students.

“We would need to add one or two vice principal positions at a cost of approximately $102,000 per position,” he wrote in his PowerPoint.

Two vice principals would cost $204,000.

Trustees on Tuesday agreed with Lawrence’s plan to create a nonpublic school special education program on the Glenbrook site, but were not given any cost estimates for this.

On Feb. 8, Lawrence told the board: “The program would grow over time and we project after the third year we would save $400,000 annually.”

There was no estimate for the first and second years. However, if this program uses a majority of the site, the district could lose the $100,070 in utilities savings estimated above.

This means the $619,356 estimated savings for closing Glenbrook would be reduced by $204,000 for the two vice principals and by $100,070 for utilities, leaving $315,286 in savings for Glenbrook, and $738,824 for Holbrook and Glenbrook combined.

On Feb. 8, Lawrence estimated the district could save $130,000 by combining two necessary small high schools. However, he didn’t give the total costs for salaries, benefits and utilities at each of the sites.

This means trustees don’t know how he’s arriving at his $130,000 small necessary schools estimate. On Tuesday, trustees went along with Lawrence’s suggestion to study high schools further, meaning they currently haven’t agreed to close or consolidate any small necessary high schools and can’t count the $130,000 estimate in their savings.

Also on Feb. 8, Lawrence told trustees they could save $91,000 by redrawing boundaries around Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord and $51,000 by redrawing boundaries around Delta View Elementary in Pittsburg to arrive at $140,000 in savings from discontinued “overflow” busing. Trustees agreed to this on Tuesday.

Finally, Lawrence brought up the new idea Tuesday of providing online “learning opportunities” to independent and home study students. He gave no cost savings estimate for this idea and didn’t explain how it would save money.

So, here’s a rundown of the savings the board can count on:

Closing Holbrook: $423,538
Closing Glenbrook: $315,286 (with 2 vice principals and utilities added back)
Redrawing boundaries: $140,000

TOTAL SAVINGS: $878,824 — or $621,176 less than the board’s goal of $1.5 million.

Here are Lawrence’s other recommendations, for which he did not give solid cost savings estimates:

Create a nonpublic school program at Glenbrook: $400,000 after third year

Investigate ways to meet student needs in necessary small high schools more efficiently: possibly $130,000

Offer online learning opportunities to independent and home study students: unknown savings

The amounts the district will lose as a result of closing Holbrook and Glenbrook are a bit firmer:

School Improvement Grant: $584,000 per year for two years or $1,168,000 (plus the district could be required to give back funding this year for summer school or other programs not implemented)

ASES (after-school program): District would lose $114,225 of its Glenbrook grant and $122,828 of its Holbrook grant, or a total of $237,053.

TOTAL LOST: $1,405,053

This means the district could be giving up $526,229 more than it is saving under the board-approved plan. (Unless the nonpublic school, small necessary high school consolidation and online learning equal or exceed $526,229).

Do you think Lawrence should have demonstrated the district could reach its $1.5 million savings goal instead of asking trustees to rely on staff’s belief that this target would be met?

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33 Responses to “Will the Mt. Diablo school district really save $1.5 million?”

  1. Doctor J Says:

    Lawrence’s past money estimates have been phoney, so there is no reason to believe his current estimates are any more realistic. His claim last May to reorganize C&I into SASS and have “less staff” and save “$50,000” was just the opposite of what he did. SASS now has more employees that C&I and didn’t save a dime, but is far more expensive without any hard results of success, including huge costs for ‘bubbling’ and “substitute teachers’ while teachers are training and evaluating. The true costs which Lawrence never disclosed in his grand plan are staggering. When you consider his deceptions in Chevrongate, Nugentgate, Buttercupgate, and others, how can we ever believe what he says ?

  2. Nicola Says:

    Thank you for doing your homework. You are spot on. I wish the board members could do the math as well.

  3. 4Students Says:

    Taxpayers want to know that Measure C bond money is not wasted on school sites that are being closed, as Tom Barnidge said in his column. What about Glenbrook? Is the Measure C Oversight Committee watching this?

    Parents want to know that school boundaries are being moved to reduce student travel time, and to create school communities that will improve student achievement. They should look at all school boundaries, like Crystyl Ranch and Montecito.

  4. Doctor J Says:

    @4students Taxpayers should have been disappointed a long time ago. School boundaries are being moved to save MDUSD bussing money — not to benefit parents.

  5. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Changing boundaries could present a financial hardship to some low-income families that will be required to get their children to schools that could be farther away.
    As far as Measure C, the district hasn’t said yet whether it intends to proceed with solar panels on closed sites. Trustee Linda Mayo said the district may need to hold onto those schools, which they may need to reopen when the Concord Naval Weapons Station housing is built. Also, the district could lose CREBS bond money if it doesn’t install solar on the sites, as promised.
    On Tuesday, the board approved the issuance of $11 million more in Measure C bonds: Hopefully, the oversight committee knows how this will be spent.
    Special board meeting Tuesday starts at 6:15 p.m. to discuss easement at Diablo View MS in Clayton, staffing changes and the district’s budget:

  6. Doctor J Says:

    Geez, I hadn’t even heard about any recent Measure C oversight committee meetings. Or is this the committee of one ?

  7. Theresa Harrington Says:

    According to this announcement, the district was supposed to have appointed a new member Feb. 22:
    The committee is supposed to meet at least quarterly and its meetings are supposed to be publicly noticed, but I don’t know where these notices are posted. I don’t see them on the district’s website.

  8. Doctor J Says:

    More secrecy in Government — just what Richard Nixon ordered. BTW, even though Lawrence denies reading the blogs, he sure gets upset about them. 🙂 Maybe he hired “blog readers”, eh ? The truth is not his friend.

  9. Doctor J Says:

    Wasn’t one of the MDUSD goals for the Meas-C Committee to present a detailed plan to the board for approval ? What happened to that ? That was six months ago — is there progress on any other of Lawrence’s Goals & Objectives approved by the board ? Or was that all just whitewash for the voters ? If he can’t even handle his own G&O, how can he ever manage a Strategic Plan ?

  10. Wait a Minute Says:

    Like I said when the MDUSD hired him, Lawrence is NOT a successful leader in any sense of the word.
    I understand the only reason he was hired is his wife is from the area and she is politically connected.

    In any case, he is dishonest and disingenuous and has a nasty mean streak. He’s a “screamer” and is regularly blaming and abusive towards subordinates.

    He has a higher degree (PHD I think) in math so when he’s giving out false numbers at meetings he is almost certainly purposely LYING!!!

    Hopefully a Grand Jury or OCR investigation will get to the bottom of Lawrence and the others’ lies and ethical breaches as the sooner they leave the MDUSD the sooner the real problems at the MDUSD can be dealt with honestly.

  11. Theresa Harrington Says:

    This document about the role of the Measure C committee doesn’t mention anything about a detailed plan:
    However, the committee is supposed to issue an annual report and inform the public about expenditures.

  12. Doctor J Says:

    Theresa, take a look at the Goals adopted by the Board on Sept 28, 2010. Look under Facilities, Target 2.

  13. Theresa Harrington Says:

    The board has agreed to a Measure C timeline, with a rough outline of projects. Maybe that’s what this is referring to.

  14. Wait a Minute Says:

    Talk about dealing with the MDUSD’s problems honestly.

    Cheryl Hansen hits it on the head on her website under her “My Perspective” link:

    Not having administrative leadership competent, credible, or committed enough to carry out the board’s strategic charges.”

  15. Doctor J Says:

    I went back and looked at the Sept 14 agenda item for the Goals. Also attached at that time was a yearly “Cycle of Inquiry” prepared by Lawrence which included a mid-term report in January by SASS to the Board on progress towards meeting the educational goals. Feb/March was to be for the Supt and Board to start drafting the next year’s goals. Perhaps I missed it, but don’t recall seeing any progress reports to the Board in the last two months by SASS. I wonder what the Board will do in March with the Supt’s Goals & Objectives based on Berger’s recommendation for Strategic Planning with ALL stakeholders and not just top down Supt/Board Directed goals.

  16. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I see what you mean in the board-approved Cycle of Inquiry:
    There was no presentation by SASS to the board January or to the PAC in February.
    When I attended a training in the Curriculum Associates data analysis, I noticed that it was very focused on “teaching to the test.”
    Teachers were instructed to look at areas that students were struggling in, but to focus on those that had the most questions on the CST. They were also told to emphasize “essential standards.” When I asked for a copy of these standards, Rose Lock said she didn’t want me to publish them because they are still in draft form. But, if teachers are using them to guide instruction this year, doesn’t the public (especially parents) have a right to know what these “essential standards” are?

  17. Doctor J Says:

    I do not see the term “essential standards” in the Supt’s Goals & Objectives in either the targets or strategies. If the District is creating such a list and using it, it must be made available to parents and the public, draft or final. Whether you call it “teaching to the test” or “teaching the ‘essential standards’ which are being tested” it is the same.

  18. Exhausted Parent Says:

    Here’s the standards, on the website:

  19. Theresa Harrington Says:

    These standards were developed in 2008 and include “key standards.”
    The new “essential standards” were developed by the Delta View Elementary staff and SASS, Lock said.
    Here’s what she told me about them in an e-mail:
    “When these drafts were shared at the assessment trainings in August, we told teachers that they were drafts and we would be asking for their feedback. While I anticipate that the eventual ‘final’ versions may not be dramatically different from these drafts, we want to keep our words and be able to honor the feedback of our teachers.”

  20. Doctor J Says:

    @Wait #10: Lawrence’s bachelor’s degree is from Brown U. in ‘applied mathematics’ and his Masters & Phd. are from UCLA in education administration. So I would agree with you that he is competent with numbers — he should have chewed up the data obtained from the consultant for school closure. What is surprising is how little data he supplies to the board to support his positions. Some might say he plays dumb like a fox. Check out zoominfo:

  21. Karen S Says:

    I hope none of these people are math teachers! Even if it were true that there was some savings (short as pointed out) to closing the schools, the displaced kids still need to be taught BY TEACHERS, thus more teachers at different schools have to be hired. Oh, and that means they need to be paid…. Where is the savings in that? There is no “salary” savings.

  22. eric Says:

    The unspoken solution–shave a little off all salaries, especially teachers’, as they are the bulk of expenses. No way cuts can “add up” without this obvious cutback. But trustees don’t have the guts to stand firm in contract negotiations against the unions, so the superintendent has to blow smoke with bogus plans such as this.

    Thanks to the reporter for a clear-headed analysis!

  23. Doctor J Says:

    More broken promises by Lawrence. When the Board adopted Lawrence’s Goals on Sept 28, the Supt promised in his goals twice a month emails and “posted on the web” messages to keep parents, staff and the public informed. Since that promise, posted on the MDUSD website are two in October, one on November 5, none in December, none in January and one on February 5. Promises, promises, promises. Tomorrow is March 1.

  24. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s the link to all the notices posted in the past couple of years (including general messages other than the superintendent’s report):
    I noticed a paid public notice from the district in today’s CC Times alerting seniors they can apply for Measure A exemptions, but no message about that appears to be posted on the district’s website.
    Karen, the district wasn’t counting teachers’ salaries in the savings. It includes administrators, office staff and custodians. Last Tuesday, the board agreed to lay off two principals and one student services coordinator (presumably based on the school closures), along with 30 elementary teachers and nine “core” middle school teachers. Layoffs for classified staff related to the school closures haven’t yet been announced. No vice principals have been laid-off and at least one more may need to be hired, which is why I reduced the salary and benefits savings in my estimate.

  25. Linda Says:

    As for the Superintendent’s idea to use online learning…
    Yeah right.
    I have been down that road with MDUSD. I spent 8 months trying to bring one online AP French course to Northgate. The entire process was a nightmare. In fairness many of those administrator’s are gone however the issues remain. There will not be a penny of savings. They will need to purchase the curriculum and they will still require a teacher. Where is the savings? I would like to see that plan. Plan???

  26. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Linda, I asked Lawrence about the online savings. Here’s what he said in an e-mail:
    “Our hope is to provide on-line learning opportunities that will bring back K-12 families that are home schooling their children.”
    I assume the “savings” would really be additional revenues from lost ADA. Perhaps, this could also persuade some families whose schools are closing from opting to home school.
    However, Lawrence didn’t provide an estimate for increased revenues.
    Eric, union negotiations aren’t going well and more budget cuts are looming. The board will discuss next year’s budget at its special meeting Tuesday:

  27. Doctor J Says:

    Looking under the title “Superintendent’s Messages” was way too logical — probably says more about the disaray the district is in that someone can’t even copy the message to the correct link. I stand by my opinion that they are not properly posted “on the web” — no one should have to go to the extent to look for past messages in obscure places.

  28. Linda Says:

    Why would they come back? K12 is free through the California Virtual Academy (CAVA). It is a virtual charter school open to all students in the state. What would be the draw for students to come back to MDUSD? The only benefit would be if they provided a classroom for the kids whose parents work but then we would be back to requiring a teacher in the classroom. I don’t see it saving a dime or generating more revenue.
    I am all for this type of learning option but this district needs to work out issues with MDEA to really make it work and even then their interpretation of ed code is an issue.

  29. mdusd mom Says:

    Doctor J, As you know, the person who handled the MDUSD web site was laid off and her position eliminated. Perhaps you would volunteer now so that the web site can be more user friendly? More cuts are looming and what about the possibility of eliminating the Teachers Union in the MDUSD? Maybe eliminate all Unions. Someone mentioned to me that San Ramon district did this years ago. Anyone know about this? What would it take?

  30. Doctor J Says:

    @mdusdmom, Someone knew how to upload the message on Feb 4. They seem to get the board agendas uploaded right at 5pm every Friday before the meeting. I am not one to “blame the unions” — the union members elect their represenatives and vote to approve or disapprove of the contracts. The “union members” are the teachers, and the staff. If the teachers don’t like their union representatives, they can vote them out. So if you want to blast MDEA — just blast the “teachers” directly — its their union.

  31. mdusd mom Says:

    Doctor J, you should know this as you are a MDUSD employee and I heard a Principal at a middle school. Most teachers do not have much to do with their MDEA Union, especially their Union Reps. I can count on one hand the number of teachers I have had contact with that cared about MDEA. Most are equally as frustrated as many of us community members and parents are. I have listened to MDEA’s Leadership excuses on why things take way over 4 months just to survey their membership, excuse after excuse. Also I have listened to the negotiation reports at BOE meetings and the MDUSD went in there with what was needed, no more, no less. The Unions did not like this, they wanted to negotiate. In todays world and budget climate, there is no room for negotiation. I look forward to fact finding and then the Unions will further regret their not taking (under Noce) that offer years ago, they blew it big time. They also blew it when the MDEA Union voted away their medical benefits. Now they will see more layoff notices, more good young teachers gone, more hours cut back, this will hurt the other Employees too. I say cut from the top down in MDEA, cut montly Union Dues and stop paying for Union Leadership.

  32. mdusd mom Says:

    Oh, no blast to the teachers at all, just a blast to MDEA Leadership, they are a huge problem. I support our teachers and that is why I am posting this.

  33. Doctor J Says:

    @Mdusdmom, you are blasting the teachers — the teachers elected Mike Langley as MDEA Presdient and Josephine Carson as MDEA Vice-President last May. Its a democracy. Each school has at least one MDEA representative and sometimes up to four. If you support the teachers, since they support their union, you are supporting MDEA. If there was a teacher dissatisfied with Mike as a candidate, he/she could have run against him. MDEA = TEACHERS. If parents are dissatisfied with the MDEA positions, talk to the teachers and school representatives.

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