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Archive for February, 2011

How the Mt. Diablo district promised to spend its Glenbrook Middle School Improvement Grant

Here’s a copy of Glenbrook Middle School’s approved three-year, $1.7 million grant application.

If the school board closes the school, it will lose its 2011-12 and 2012-13 funding and could also lose a portion of its 2010-11 funding not used this year (such as for summer school).

School Name: Glenbrook Middle School

Activity Description

(See instructions)


(For each activity)

Object Code

Certificated Salaries




Teacher (Coach) – Hire 3 Intervention Support Teachers(1 ELA, 1 Math, 1 Data) at $56,000 each to provide support to teachers to improve student learning. 3 DTE x $56,000 = $168,000 x 3 years

$168,000 x 3 years = $504,000



Collaboration for teachers to review data monthly (from assessments) – Teachers will be released by grade level & department for a ½ day per month to analyze data, identify essential standards, target instruction & identify intervention groups.  27 teachers x $70/half day sub x 10 months = $18,900 x 3 years.

$18,900 x 3 years = $56,700



Professional Development Days for Teachers Prior to School – Professional developments days for teacher to plan & prepare for school year.  Content will include ELA, ELD, Math, data & common assessment & school climate. (27 teachers x $20/hr x 7hrs/day x 2 days x 3 years)

$7,560 x 3 years = $22,680



Planning Time for Teachers to Develop Common Assessments & Pacing Guides – Planning time for teachers during the summer to develop common assessments, pacing guides & lessons.  (16 teachers x $20/hr x 7hrs/day x 10 days x 3 years)

$22,400 x 3 years = $67,200



Hire Teachers to Teach a 4 week Summer School Program – Summer School program that includes ELA & Mathematics intervention as well as enrichment electives for students.  (20 teachers x 20 days (4 week program) x 5 hrs/day x $25/hr plus administrator at $,7000 x 3 years)

$57,000 x 3 years = $171,00



Extended Day (as Part of the After School  Program) – Provide Extended Day Intervention & enrichment classes to students not a grades level and any student who chooses to take an enrichment/elective class.  (8 teachers x 3 days/wk x 32 wks x 1.5 hrs plus 1 hour prep/wk x $25/hr x 3 years)

$35,200 x 3 years = $105,600


Increase Librarian from .40 FTE to 1.0 FTE – Increase librarian from a .40 FTE to 1.0 FTE .40 provided by the district. (.60 FTE x $56,000 x 3 years)

$33,600 x 3 years = $100,800



Classified Salaries




Employee Benefits x 3 years




STRS-Certificated (8.25%)

$28,269 x 3 years = $84,808


PERS-Classified (10.200%)


Medicare-Certificated (1.45%)

$4,969 x 3 years = $14,906




SUI-Certificated (.720%)

$2,467 x 3 years = $7,401




Social Security-Classified (6.2%)


WCI-Certificated (2.96%)-Workers Compensation Insurance

$10,143 x  years = $30,428


WCI-Classified (2.96%)


Certificated Hourly-PARS (3.750%)

$12,850 x 3 years = $38,549


Classified Hourly-PARS (3,750%)


Dental ($1,406 per person, 3 staff)

$4,218 x 3 years = $12,654


Vision ($196 per person, 3 staff)

$588 x 3 years = $1,764


Health Insurance-Certificated  $1,384 + union negotiated $3,300, 3 staff

$14,052 x 3 years = $42,156




Books and Supplies




Curriculum Associates Assessments (Math & ELA) – Data/Assessment.  Purchase Curriculum Associates benchmark assessments for every student.  Each student 6-8 will need 2 booklets (ELA & Math) at $4 each.  540 students x $4/book x 2 books (ELA/Math)  $4320 x 3 years

$4,320 x 3 years = $12,960



Curriculum Associates Assessments (Science for 5th & 8th graders) – Data/Assessment.  Purchase Curriculum Associates benchmark assessments for every student.  8th grade students will need 1 additional book (Science).  176 8th graders x $4 = $704 x 3 years

$704 x 3 years = $2,112



Curriculum Associates Assessments (California English Language Develop Practice & Mastery) – Will be administered 2 times per year to measure progress and monitor instruction. (300 students x $4 x 2 booklets x 3 years)

$2,400 x 3 years = $7,200



Curriculum and Associates Scanner – Data/Assessment.  Purchase 2 Curriculum Associates scanners to support assessment tools implementation & analysis (2 scanners x $800 each – $1,600 x 3 years)

$1,600 x 3 years = $4,800



Purchase Board Math Curriculum & Training for 3 AIMS Classes – Purchase Board Math curriculum, training and instructional materials.

$5,000 x 3 years = $15,000



Supplies and Materials – Instructional supplies and materials for summer school program.

$10,113 x 3 years = $30,339



Conferences, Contracts and Travel




Contract with Outside Entity for an External Entity – External entity will work with staff/administration to support data analysis, targeted instruction and interventions.  Total contract is $24,000 x 3 years.  ($800/day x 3 days/mo x 10 mo)

$24,000 x 3 years = $72,000



Independent Contract for a Psychologist Intern – Independent contract for a Psych Intern ($5,500/day x 4 days a week = $22,000 x 3 years)

$22,000 x 3 years = $66,00



Contract with Phil Gonsalves for Math Coaching and Support – Paid technical assistance.  Math Coach, Phil Gonsalves, will visit and coach the Glenbrook math department & meet with teachers during release days to support math instruction.  2 days/mo x 10 months x $1,000/day x 3 years.

$20,000 x 3 years = $60,000



Contract with Phyllis Goldsmith for Reading Language Arts – Pd technical assistance.  RLA Coach (Phyllis Goldsmith) will visit & coach the Glenbrook RLA department & meet with teachers during release days to support reading instruction.  2 days/mo x 10 mo x $800/day x 3 years.

$16,000 x 3 years = $48,000


Contract with Aida Walqui for English Learner coaching – Pd technical assistance.  EL Coach (Aida Walqui) will visit & coach the Glenbrook math department & meet with teachers during release days to support math instruction.  2 days/mo x 9 mo x $800/day x 3 years.

$16,000 x 3 years = $48,000



Professional Development for Fred Jones Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning – Glenbrook Middle will send 6 teachers to the Fred Jones Culturally Responsive Teaching & Learning/Classroom Management Training to support the development of a positive school climate.  (6 teachers x $1,000 x 3 years)

$6,000 x 3 years = $18,000



Read 180 Professional Development – For teachers to learn Read 180 Intervention curriculum and program

(2 teachers x $2,000 x 3 years)

$4,000 x 3 years = $12,000








$552,353 x 3 years = $1,657,058


Contracts over $25,000


Indirect Costs




Indirect Costs (5.73%)

$31,649 x 3 years = $94,947




$584,002 x 3 years = $1,752,005


Do you agree with the school board’s decision to close the school and forfeit the grant? Do you think the board should pursue Board President Gary Eberhart’s idea of using this grant money for a combined sixth-grade only school that would consolidate students from Glenbrook and El Dorado middle schools on the Westwood Elementary campus (with Westwood being closed)?

Posted on Friday, February 18th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 1 Comment »

The state’s school closure advice

Westwood Elementary parent Chris Fehring e-mailed me the link to the California Department of Education’s “Best Practices Guide” for closing a school, which I have posted below.

Comparing this to the process underway in the Mt. Diablo school district, Fehring commented: “Would have been nice if this process was followed.”

Here’s what the state recommends:

“Closing a School Best Practices Guide


The decision to close a school is anguishing. It profoundly affects parents, neighborhoods, communities, district personnel, and, of course, students. It affects relationships, routines, and cherished territorialities. In short, it alters not only district operations but also lives.

A decision not to close a school, however, amidst circumstances of declining enrollment and economic necessity, can be imprudent. And while the immediate effects of closing a school may be painful, the long-term effects can be beneficial to everyone.

Indeed, the process of closing a school is difficult, but if done correctly, it becomes less difficult. This ‘Closing a School Best Practices Guide’ (CASBPG) will hopefully make the process easier.

The CASBPG is divided into five chapters:

Gathering facts
Deciding which school to close
Making the decision
Making the transition
Disposing of surplus property

Chapter 1: Gathering facts
Gather the facts. The decision to close a school must be based upon hard, empirical evidence that leads to a broadly supported, incontrovertible conclusion-the district cannot afford to keep a particular school(s) open without cuts elsewhere (budget, staffing, etc.). This conclusion must be program-based upon such factors as projections of declining enrollment, critical district financial circumstances, facility conditions, educational program quality, costs of unnecessarily keeping underutilized facilities open, feasible options to closing a school, anticipated fiscal relief from school closure, and possibility, property disposition (see Chapter 5 for information on property disposition).

Form a committee to gather the facts. It is a legislative intent, but not a mandate, for a district to have and use a District Advisory Committee (DAC) “before decisions are made about school closure” (Education Code Section 17387). But whether an intent or a mandate, the advice is good. The job of the superintendent and board members is to evaluate facts, not gather them. And the process of gathering the facts must be as credible, transparent and non-political as possible. So, at the very least, the DAC, often referred to as 7-11 Committee (due to legislative requirements of at least 7 but no more than 11 members) should be involved in the fact-finding necessary for an informal recommendation about school closure. Education Code Section 17389 suggests who should be represented on this committee.

An essential role of the DAC is to consider the district’s Facility Master Plan and how a potential school closure could affect, or reinforce, that plan. It may be necessary to revise that plan based upon the fact-finding conclusions.

Better still, the DAC should be expanded to include a cross-section of community members who have an interest in and may be affected by school closures. The Oak Grove School District in Santa Clara County called this expanded school-closure committee ‘The School Consolidation Task Force.’ Members of the following groups were considered for inclusion in this task force:

Business community
Professional groups
Labor organizations
Municipal governments
Teachers and administrators
Religious organizations
Recreational entities
Collective bargaining groups
Student representatives
Public agencies
Environmental planners
Civic organizations
Land owners/brokers
Parent groups
Service organizations

Keep in mind that the DAC should have a balanced, cross-section of members, but a committee of too many members may be cumbersome and not efficient. In any case, it is important that this expanded school-closure committee be perceived as objective and independent from suspected school board or other political agendas. So it is best to have a membership mostly of volunteers (although a paid chairperson or facilitator is useful), making sure, though, that they are responsible citizens. The superintendent and school board members should not be included on the DAC or the expanded, school-closure committee. The Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools recommends the expanded, school-closure committee’s leadership to be an outside consultant, or an administrator from the district’s central office. The committee itself can also elect one of its members to be the leader. The DAC leader can be appointed by a board member; however, this is least desirable.

DAC meetings are subject to the Ralph M. Brown Act. See Government Code Section 54952.3.

Decide what facts to gather. Members of the board of education should charge the expanded, school-closure committee with making a recommendation about school closures after it has completed specific inquiries and tasks. The scope of these tasks is broad and includes:

determining enrollment projections and their impact on surplus space;
inventorying the capacity and conditions of existing facilities;
determining per-student operating cost at each facility;
considering uniqueness of the educational program at each site;
evaluating specific schools considered for closure (see Chapter 2);
identifying specific new environmental/safety concerns fro each site;
determining cost-savings projected for each school considered for closure;
identifying housing/transportation options for displaced students;
considering cost benefits of varying property disposition/use options;
recommending transition strategies;
making specific recommendations about specific school sites to the board, and
assessing the impact of school closure on district’s insurance coverage.
Consider options. During the fact-finding process, the expanded, school-closure committee should consider alternatives to closing schools. Creating additional need for classrooms or eliminating unnecessary classrooms can affect decisions about school closure.

Some of the alternatives as listed below do not involve real cost savings if this is the focus of reasons for school closure:

expand class-size reduction to create a need for more classrooms;
dispose of excess portables or leased facilities;
close surplus classrooms;
restructure grade configurations to balance school enrollment;
reorganize attendance boundaries;
use surplus classrooms for other district functions;
enter into joint-use/joint occupancy agreements;
convert to community day school use;
convert to a small high school;
lease for use as charter school (Proposition 39);
shift to full-day kindergarten;
initiate universal pre-school program; and
consult with National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Chapter 2: Deciding which school(s) to close
Decide schools to be considered for closure. Of course, there are many factors to weigh when selecting schools for possible closure. The most obvious criterion, a school with declining enrollment, is not necessarily the best. Consider other factors, too:

The condition of a school facility — a modernized school, one in good repair, and/or one that has technological capacity or other educationally innovative features may be the best school facility in the district, in spite of its declining enrollment. It may be better to close an at-capacity but physically mediocre school;
The operating cost of a school – operating costs may vary from school to school. Some schools use energy more efficiently, some schools need less maintenance, and some schools have minimal transportation costs. Factor these operating costs into decisions about which school to close;
The capacity of a school to accommodate excess students – displaced students must be housed elsewhere in the district, so choosing a school site that has unused classrooms or the capacity to add portables, without encroaching on playground/playfield space, is critical. Another important consideration is the ability of the school’s essential, core facilities — library, multipurpose room, cafeteria, gymnasium, toilets — to accommodate additional students. While there may be room on a school site to add portable classrooms, there may be no room for all those students to use, say, the lunchroom at the same time. The administration building, also, must be considered since it may have to accommodate expanded services and personnel;
Special program facilities – special programs, such as providing services for special education students, require special facilities. Closing a school that may have a large capital investment in these special facilities may not be cost effective if those specialized facilities need to be rebuilt elsewhere;
Environmental factors – a school’s surroundings may have changed since it was first opened. Zoning may have been relaxed to allow nearby, undesirable businesses to move in (i.e., liquor stores, adult bookstores, air-polluting manufacturers, industries that produce or store toxic chemicals), or there might be new environmental hazards (i. e., pipelines, high voltage power lines, fuel storage tanks, airport runway extensions, etc.) that now compromise the safety of the students at a school. the schools chosen to remain open must be safe schools.
Ethnic balance – closing a school and redistributing its students should change as little as possible the ethnic balance in schools throughout the district. Closing some schools will more adversely affect ethnic distribution than others;
Transportation – part of the decision to close a school should be based upon what transportation costs will be saved, and what new transportation costs will be incurred, once a school is closed and its students redistributed. Insuring that there can be safe walking routes for the displaced students to the new school reduces transportation costs and provides a healthy addition to the school day. It is also important to consider the adequacy of existing drop-off/pick-up and bus loading areas at the schools designated to receive additional students;
Neighborhoods – having a neighborhood school is a part of every parent’s sense of well being (not to mention the savings associated with transportation costs). The availability of nearby schools to the ones chosen for closure can lessen the impact of displacement and loss of connection to the new school;
Education program – educational programs are generally mobile; programs and staff can move from site to site. But there can be site-related high achievement schools based upon innovative facility design, a particularly fortuitous dynamic among staff, and just the right mixture of students. Often these high achievement schools are unique and perhaps may be hard to reconstruct elsewhere. On the other hand, there can be historically low-performing schools. Such sites may be good candidates for closure providing an opportunity for re-distributing the students and staff;
Aesthetics – often the presence of an attractive, well-designed, well-kept school can be a source of student and neighborhood pride, an asset to the community, as well as an educational asset. Of course, decisions about school closure are much more complex than just considerations of “appearance,” but the physical aspect is important and should not be overlooked in the process of consideration;
Value – if maximizing revenue from the sale or lease of surplus schools is integral to decisions regarding which school to close, then, of course, a property appraisal and assessment of the interests in and proposed uses for the property are vital. The appraisal and assessment must state that it complies with Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practices as promulgated by the Appraisal Standards Board of the Appraisal Foundation. The expected value realized from a closed school should be measured not just in revenue but also in community enhancement (see Chapter 5 for limitations of how revenue from the sale or lease of property can be used).

Chapter 3: Making the decision
Make the decision. Based upon the expanded school-closure committee’s analysis and conclusion, the superintendent will make a recommendation to the school board. At this stage, the recommendation may have become modified based upon input from the superintendent’s cabinet or other district staff.

Once the recommendation has been presented to the board, the superintendent should conduct public hearings. This should be done as soon as possible. In addition to an open school board meeting, each potential site that may be affected. those considered for closure, as well as those designated to receive a particularly heavy increase in enrollment as the result of school closures, should be the site for a series of public hearings.

Ideally, members of the community will have been included in the expanded school-closure committee so there will have been some communication and input from and to the community. Nevertheless, these meetings, especially for school closures, will be emotional, especially if they are perceived by parents that the meetings are a formality and not genuine attempts at meaningful communication. At the very least, the district should be represented by the superintendent and an assistant, a school board member from the area which includes the school to be affected, the site principal, and a member of the expanded school-closure committee. Other invited guests might include a representative from the PTA, media personnel, school site council members, and community dignitaries. Consider using a moderator to effectively manage time and control statements from the audience. Firm time lines for comments should be set and enforced. A district representative, perhaps a facilitator or someone from the expanded, school-closure committee, should be designated as the district liaison for all future school -closure communication. This shields, but only partially, rancor from being directed in subsequent weeks at district personnel and/or board members.

Representatives from the district should be candid about the facts behind the consideration for school closure. Graphically illustrate such data as declining enrollment figures, site-specific operating costs, and overall district financial difficulties. talk about what is at stake: specific programs, reduced class sizes, instructional material reductions, even district financial solvency and academic performance. Demonstrate how academic standards can be maintained (or improved), special programs (e.g., special education, after school, GATE, etc.) continued, and new transportation needs accommodated. Explicitly show how school closure is a solution, or part of the solution, to a serious problem.

Also, be prepared to discuss proposed uses for the closed schools (see Chapter 5 for information on property disposition). While parents will be keenly involved in discussions about closing ‘their’ school, the school’s neighbors, whether parents or not, will express great concern about proposed uses of ‘their’ closed school. At this point in the process, the district may not know what the planned use for the closed school may be, but this is a good opportunity to hear about community concerns. These concerns typically are explicit statements about what they do not want the school property used for. This is also a good opportunity to assure neighbors that any future use of the school property will be subject to public review and comment and would have to be compatible with local zoning regulations and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

After the public meetings, the board should consider, as an action item, a board resolution based upon the superintendent’s recommendation to close a specific school. the superintendent’s recommendation will have been based upon the expanded school-closure committee’s findings, which may or may not have been modified after the public hearings.

Follow legal provisions. Neither the California Education Code nor the California Government Code requires a district to take specific steps when closing a school. There are, however, some codes and regulations that obliquely apply. These codes are listed below: (Codes and procedures for disposing of property are discussed in Chapter 5.)

Education Code Section 17387 specifies the Legislature’s intent that there be community involvement ‘before decisions are made about school closure or the use of surplus space…’ While this Section specifies a legislative ‘intent,’ not a mandate, its application is common sense and should be an integral part of school-closure decisions (see ‘Form a Committee’ above for recommended membership and responsibilities).
Education Code Section 17388 mandates that the governing board appoint a District Advisory Committee (DAC) (often referred to as the ‘7/11 Committee’) to advise the governing board in the development of district-wide policies governing the use of disposition of surplus property. Even though the DAC’s responsibilities are specific to decisions after a school has been closed, those decisions should be made in concert with decisions about which schools, if any, to close. to restrict the DAC to post facto responsibilities is to neglect an integral component in the difficult decisions of school closure. DAC meetings are subject to the Brown Act and must be open to the public.
Education Code Section 17389 defines the required composition of the DAC.
Government Code sections 65560 et seq. and 65912 et seq. stipulate that land designated as an open-space zone be preserved for park and recreation purposes. Schools being considered for closure located on land zoned (or rezoned) as ‘open space’ will have a limited market value compared, say, to land zoned as ‘residential’ or ‘commercial.’
The California Code of Regulations, Title 5, sections 90-101 define a district’s responsibility to avoid racial segregation among its schools. Decisions about school closure and subsequent student placement should not exacerbate racial isolation.
The CEQA would consider the decision to close a school a ‘project,’ but typically a project eligible for a ‘statutory exemption,’ allowing the district to file a ‘Notice of Exemption.’ However, if a receptor school site—that is, the school which will accommodate those students displaced by the school closure—has an increase in enrollment by more than 25 percent or the addition of ten or more classrooms, whichever is less, then a more formal CEQA analysis may have to be initiated. Also, CEQA may apply to the subsequent sale or lease of a closed school. Because the CEQA process is specialized, it is best to consult with counsel on a case-by-case basis.
To ensure that the school being closed does not continue to appear as open in the California Department of Education’s (CDE) County-District-School (CDS) database, notify the CDS administration of the closure. The district’s CDS coordinator should use the OPUS-CDS application for school closures. This closure notification will ensure that the CDE will not ask for data for the closed school and also prevent the CDE from providing communications, testing materials, or funding to the closed school.

Chapter 4: Making the Transition
Obviously, once the decision to close a school is made, complicated transitions begin. But communication begins first. In fact, the district should be prepared right after the board’s decision to announce to parents, staff, and the community that the decision to close a school has been made.

Many districts suggest that the first group to be notified that a school has been planned for closure should be that school’s staff. While this is a good idea, it is important to understand the likelihood of quick staff-to-parent networks of communication. And because it is better for parents to find out from the district office rather than from information leaked by sources elsewhere, intensive district-to-parent communication should begin at about the same time as the school staff meetings. Of course, decisions to close a school should not be announced to parents without the ability to specify what their replacement school will be.

The methods of district-to-parent communication include press releases, newsletters, Web sites, and community meetings. Each announcement should include a summary of the process and reasons leading to the school closure decision, the transition time line, and district contact information. Communication by any means should occur often.

The most important method of communication, however, is a direct mailing to each affected household, identifying the replacement school and reiterating important time lines, projected transportation arrangements, and who the district contact will be. The direct mailing should also request a reply, verifying that the information has been received and understood. Parents can be given a choice of response methods: returning a form that has been included in the mailing, responding to a specified e-mail address, or phoning the district’s school closure contact person. In turn, the district should keep a log to record who has replied. Eventually, those parents who haven’t responded need to be phoned. This way the district can be assured that every parent has been informed.

School staff meetings should be on site and as reassuring as possible. Again, reasons for the decision to close the school should be presented and then the staff transition plan introduced. Any staff transition plan should begin with opportunities to request new placement sites. However, collective bargaining agreements (defining first-preference criteria) and district decisions about staff balance (this can be a factor of enrollment or the desire to create a certain teacher dynamic at a school) may preclude everyone’s getting a first choice.

At the school staff meetings, staff should be encouraged to schedule visits to the schools where they may be placed. This will give staff the opportunity to start putting roots down in a new environment and to learn about any specialized program for which they may require training.

Another important step is forming a district transition team. This team should monitor the progress of student and staff assignments to the replacement sites, oversee textbook and instructional material allocation, insure that facilities are adequate (both in number and condition) to accommodate additional students at the new sites, and move or store furniture or equipment as needed for the transition.

The district transition team should also complete an inventory of the essential facilities at the sites designated to receive additional students. Toilets, multipurpose rooms and lunch rooms, playground space and apparatus, parking lots, and gymnasiums are typically built to accommodate a specific planned enrollment. Once that base enrollment is surpassed and open space converted into classroom space, those essential facilities may become inadequate. Adding toilets, scheduling multiple lunch periods, rewriting physical education curricula, redrawing playground areas, and reconfiguring parent drop-off and bus loading areas may be some of the needs associated with moving additional students onto existing campuses.

Chapter 5: Disposing of school property
A vacant school site and empty buildings are district liabilities. They still require upkeep, maintenance, security, and insurance coverage (in fact, empty buildings may raise insurance costs). Unless the district foresees reopening the schools in the near future or is willing to financially support a vacant-school liability, closed schools should be leased, re-used, or sold outright.

Keep in mind that leasing a school, as opposed to selling it, allows a school district to retain it as a resource in case enrollment increases , as it often does, and facilities are needed again.

But there are statutes governing to what purposes the proceeds from the sale or lease of the property can be used and to whom district property must first be offered. in fact, the California Education Code has numerous relevant sections as listed below.

The district must appoint a DAC (the ‘7/11 Committee’ discussed above) to advise the governing board in the use or disposition of school buildings and vacant sites not needed for school purposes (see Education Code Section 17388). As stated above, it is best if this committee is involved at the very beginning of discussions about school closure, but it is a legal mandate that the committee be formed and consulted about the use of school property once closure decisions have been made.

The district must also keep in mind that the proceeds from the sale or lease of surplus property generally have restricted uses. Education Code Section 17462 is important in this regard. It begins by stating that the proceeds from the sale of district property must be used for capital outlay purposes or maintenance of district property, and that the proceeds from the lease with an option to purchase district property may be deposited in a restricted fund used for routine repair of district facilities. This language excludes the ability to use funds for general fund purposes, but it does not mention how proceeds from the lease without an option to purchase can be used.

But Education Code Section 17462 goes on to say that these funds may be deposited into the general fund if the governing board and the State Allocation Board determine that the district has ‘no anticipated need for additional sites or building construction for the next ten years,’ and has ‘no major deferred maintenance requirements.’ For a district to give up state assistance for new construction, modernization, and deferred maintenance money for ten years usually serves as a deterrent from requesting these property disposition proceeds to be transferred to the general fund.

There are exceptions to the restricted use of funds described above. Education Code Section 17463 creates special circumstances for districts with enrollments of fewer than 10,001. And Education Code Section 17463.6 creates an exception for the Santee School District, the Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District, and the Capistrano Unified School District, allowing them to divert part of the proceeds from the sale of disposed property to the general fund.

In addition to limitations being placed on how the proceeds from the sale or lease of surplus property can be used, there are requirements specifying to whom the property must first be offered. These restrictions are complicated. Many can be waived by the State Board of Education, but the items listed below cannot: (These apply to property disposed through outright sale or through lease with an option to purchase)

Land must first be made available for use for low-income housing and for park and recreation purposes (Education Code Section 17459);
Land must be made available to specified park and recreation departments (Education Code Section 17464[a]).
Other pertinent Education Code sections that prescribe the manner in which property can be disposed are summarized here. These sections can be waived by action of the State Board of Education:

Land must be offered in writing to the Director of General Services, Regents of the University of California, Trustees of the California State University, the county and city, any public housing authority; by public notice to various public agencies and non-profit charitable institutions. A time line to reply to the public notice is specified as 60 days after the final public notice. (Education Code Section 17464[b]);
The board must by a 2/3 vote adopt a resolution to lease or sell specific pieces of property, must specify a minimum price, and must fix a time at which sealed proposals will be received and considered (Education Code Section 17466);
The board at an open meeting shall accept the highest sealed bid (Education Code Section 17472);
The board shall accept oral bids at an open meeting and shall accept the highest bid (if the highest bid is oral, then it must exceed the price or rental terms by at least 5 percent) (Education Code Section 17473).
It is important to consider seeking waivers to those sections above that may prevent the district from choosing the most desirable new owner or lessee of its surplus property. The obligation a district has to its community is sometimes more important than realizing the highest price from district property. it is essential that a district first confer with legal counsel prior to initiating the sale or lease or property.

Hopefully, this ‘Closing a School Best Practices Guide’ will guide and aid you and your district through an arduous, difficult task. A sample time line is included (Attachment A) to assist you. This time line should be modified to suit your districts unique needs. For additional information or if you have questions, contact the California Department of Education, School Facilities Planning Division, at 916-322-2470.”

The state also includes a “Suggested School Closure Time Line,” which suggests a seven-month timeline that includes a “7/11” committee, which is legally required before a district can dispose of surplus property. Superintendent Steven Lawrence discussed the role of such a committee with the Parent Advisory Council on Jan. 5 (included in this blog post:

Do you think the district should have followed the state’s guidelines more closely?

Posted on Friday, February 18th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 8 Comments »

Westwood Elementary community rallies to save school

Westwood Elementary students and supporters rally along Concord Boulevard to protest school closure.

Westwood Elementary students and supporters rally along Concord Boulevard to protest school closure.

The latest school to appear on a list for possible closure in the Mt. Diablo district is Westwood Elementary in Concord — which was not included in earlier recommendations made by a School Closure Advisory Committee or by Superintendent Steven Lawrence.

Trustee Gary Eberhart raised the idea Feb. 8, when the board voted 4-1 to close Glenbrook Middle School and Holbrook Middle School, which are both in the Mt. Diablo High School feeder pattern of north Concord. Trustee Cheryl Hansen opposed the closures, saying the district should develop a strategic plan before shutting down campuses.

If the district closes Glenbrook, it would lose a School Improvement Grant of nearly $1.2 million over the next two years, which was awarded by the state to help “transform” the school by increasing student achievement. To try to keep this money, Eberhart came up with the idea of closing Westwood Elementary and “moving” Glenbrook to that campus as a sixth-grade only school, combining students from Glenbrook and the El Dorado Middle School attendance area.

According to this plan, Glenbrook’s seventh- and eighth-graders would be consolidated with El Dorado’s seventh- and eighth-graders on the El Dorado campus next door.

At the board meeting last Tuesday (Feb. 15), Superintendent Steven Lawrence said the 21 students in Westwood’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing program would go to Wren Avenue Elementary in Concord, if Westwood is closed. The 17 students in the school’s Severely Handicapped program would also go to Wren, while the rest of the students would be split between Mountain View and Monte Gardens elementary schools.

Westwood students, parents and staff showed up in force last Tuesday, advocating to keep their school open. Silverwood Elementary parents also spoke passionately about keeping their school open, since it is also being considered for closure to help meet the board’s goal of saving a total of $1.5 million a year starting in the fall (including the savings from closing or “moving” Glenbrook and closing Holbrook Elementary).

On Wednesday, Westwood supporters rallied along Concord Boulevard to save the school and prevent the creation of a “mega-middle school,” prompting many cars to honk their support. The group then marched to the district office.

Here’s what some of the supporters told me:

Erica Wilson, who teaches deaf students at the school, organized the rally. She said she considered the idea of moving Glenbrook students to El Dorado and Westwood “absurd.”

“There’s a direct correlation between dropout rates and school size,” she said.

She also stressed the importance of keeping the deaf program at Westwood.

Rob Farrell — a Westwood parent and Westwood, El Dorado and Concord High School alum — said the Westwood students and staff bond with the special education and Hard of Hearing students. In fact, he was so inspired by them that he ended up taking American Sign Language courses in college.

Farrell was also concerned about increased traffic in the area, if Glenbrook students come to the El Dorado and Westwood campuses. Coordination of County Connection buses was also an important issue to consider, as well as possible gang affiliations, he said.

“Westwood is the only school in the area considered ‘Distinguished,'” he added. “Public trust was thrown out the window when Gary Eberhart came up with that recommendation.”

Sue Hernandez, whose children attend Westwood and El Dorado Middle School, said the School Closure Committee and board have not had adequate time to study the new proposal to close Westwood. She pointed out that some people asserted Westwood’s entire population would move together to Mountain View Elementary, but said that’s not true, since they would actually be split between three campuses. Many special education students, she said, are partially or fully included in mainstream classes and would miss friendships they’ve established if they are diverted to Wren Avenue Elementary, which is not familiar with deaf students.

El Dorado Middle School eighth-graders Starr Wargo and Haley Smith, both 14, stood holding a sign that said: “Save Westwood.”

Haley said her next-door neighbor, who currently attends Holbrook, was planning to go to Westwood next year.

“Since Holbrook is closing, if they close Westwood, she doesn’t know where she’d go,” Haley said.

According to the Jan. 25 PowerPoint presentation, Holbrook students would be split between Wren Avenue and Sun Terrace elementary schoools.

At the Tuesday meeting, some parents pointed out that no School Closure Advisory Committee members voted to close Westwood and that Westwood didn’t appear on any of the original school closure scenarios they considered.

Here’s how the School Closure Committee rated Westwood:

Facility condition: 11
Capacity utilization: 10
Operations and maintenance costs: 9
Available capacity within site or adjacent facilities: 15
Academic performance: 12 (API: 810 – grew 5 points; state target is 800)
Geographic equity: 20 (highest possible score)
Improved facility conditions for students if closed: 19

Here’s how the committee rated Silverwood:

Facility condition: 1
Capacity utilization: 8
Operations and maintenance costs: 8
Available capacity within site or adjacent facilities: 10
Academic performance: 12 (API: 828 – grew 23 points)
Geographic equity: 11
Improved facility conditions for students if closed: 6

Overall, elementary schools scored between a low of 41 (El Monte) and a high of 111 (Cambridge). Middle schools scored between a low of 57 (Glenbrook) and a high of 104 (Diablo View). High school scores ranged from a low of 52 (Ygnacio Valley HS) to a high of 107 (College Park).

On Tuesday, the School Closure Committee explained how it arrived at the facility rating (by looking at improvements completed and planned). However, the public has never been given an explanation of how the committee arrived at the other ratings. The “geographic equity” rating is especially puzzling to Glenbrook MS and Holbrook Elementary families, since they were both targeted for closure, even though they serve the same low-income neighborhood.

Berta Shatswell, Glenbrook’s office manager, told me that she asked Lawrence whether the committee included students’ socioeconomic levels in their criteria. His response, she said, was: “no.”

“It’s not all about graphs, numbers and lines,” Shatswell told me today. “It’s about the personal hardships of these famlies. That that wasn’t a criteria, that just amazes me.”

On Tuesday, Olympic High School teacher Skip Weinstock suggested another alternative: allowing sixth-graders in the Glenbrook attendance area to stay at their elementary schools and sending the seventh- and eighth-graders to El Dorado. This would eliminate the need to close Westwood and could possibly allow the district to keep the grant money, if it “closes” El Dorado and reopens it as “Glenbrook” under Glenbrook’s school code.

Shatswell had another suggestion: Close the Willow Creek Center and move it to Monte Gardens Elementary, which is next to the district office. Monte Gardens students could be dispersed to nearby schools, she said.

Do you think the board should consider other options?

Posted on Thursday, February 17th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 7 Comments »

Mt. Diablo district superintendent’s latest school closure presentation

Since the Mt. Diablo school district still hasn’t posted Superintendent Steven Lawrence’s PowerPoint presentation from Tuesday night online, I’ll recap it here for you [bracketed notes were added by me]:

“Items to be addressed:
– Where would Westwood students go?
– Where would the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Significantly Handicapped programs at Westwood be housed?
– Where would the Silverwood program for students with Autism be housed?
– What are our costs for the Necessary Small High Schools (NSHS)?
– Is there a way to consolidate the NHSH in order to better meet student needs and save money?
– Can we close Willow Creek and sell the property to help with the $1.5 million ongoing reduction to the general fund?

Currently, there are 397 students at Westwood.
219 live in the Westwood attendance area.
21 students attend the Deaf and Hard of Hearing program (none of these students live in the Westwood attendance area and nine live out of district)
17 students attend the Severely Handicapped (SH) program (one student lives in the attendance area)

– Move the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and SH programs to Wren Avenue Elementary School, which is 1.5 miles from El Dorado MS and Concord HS
– The remainder of the current students could either attend Mountain View, return to their home school, or for the portion of the Westwood attendance area west of Concord HS and north of Concord Boulevard, they could attend Monte Gardens
– The new Mountain View attendance area would have 501 elementary students in it. Therefore, the students currently attending Westwood and Mountain View could remain, but new transfer students would not be accepted. If every student went from Westwood to Mountain View, the school would have 772 next year and decrease in enrollment over the next several years. (Powerpoint includes map of Westwood Elementary School Planning Areas.)

– Traffic: Spoke with Concord City Manager Dan Keen about traffic concerns and he feels that traffic issues can be mitigated. Once a decision is made we can sit down with the Concord city team and discuss start and end times for Concord HS and El Dorado MS. Generally, the start time is a bigger concern because of the normal morning commute traffic.

– CEQA: In general, districts can apply for a formal notice of exemption from CEQA due to school closures. Unless the closure increases capacity by more than 25 percent or 10 classrooms, whichever is less.
– Currrently, El Dorado has 872 students and the capacity for over 1,200 students and Westwood has a capacity of 492. So, the combined capacity would be close to 1,700 students. If every student moved over from Glenbrook (520) there would be 1,392. Therefore, we would not need to add any new buildings and would not increase capacity by 25 percent.

– Gangs: Spoke with both Glenbrook and El Dorado principals, and Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger. Police Chief Swanger also spoke with his gang unit leader prior to providing me with input. They all feel that the campus would be safe and concerns can be addressed. Police Chief Swanger offered to have his team meet with the school administration team to address any specific concerns.

– Program for students with Autism would be moved to Wren Avenue Elementary.

Currently, the following programs are part of our alternative education program:
– Olympic (Concord): 335 students (must be age 16)
– Crossroads (Concord): 61 students [pregnant or mothers]
– Gateway (Bay Point): 46 students (must be age 16)
– Nueva Vista (Concord): 45 students (must be age 16)
– Summit (Concord): 41 students (must be age 16)
– TLC (Concord): 23 students (must be age 14) 8th gr [retained]
– Prospect (Pleasant Hill): 46 students (must be age 16)
– Horizons/CIS: 119 students (grades 9-12) [independent study]
– Home Study: 54 students (K-12)
– Diablo Day Community School: 37 students [expelled]

– We could combine some of the continuation high school programs (Nueva Vista/Summit, Gateway, Prospect, Olympic) on Olympic campus. [Crossroads is already at Olympic]
– TLC is a program for 8x [post-8th-graders who aren’t promoted to ninth grade]. Instead of being retained these students are placed in the TLC program.
– Diablo Community Day School is a necessary program because the county’s Golden Gate program does not have capacity to service all of our students, and it does not have the special education programs to serve our students with IEPs. Students with IEPs that were not served in the Golden Gate program would have NPS placement which are much more costly.

CLOSING WILLOW CREEK [Center in Concord]:
– Diablo Community Day School is at this facility and by law a Community Day School has to be on a separate location because it serves students who have been expelled from the district. We would need to move the program to another closed school.
– The only staff member that comes out of the general fund would be the custodian which would generate an approximate $50,000 savings.
– Energy costs are approximately $45,000
– Ongoing savings from Willow Creek would be approximately $95,000
– One-time savings from Willow Creek would be the value of the property which can be used for any one-time expenditure (ie. textbooks, computers, buses, etc.)”


After the board’s retreat on Sunday, in which the facilitator stressed the importance of providing open, transparent information to the public, it’s surprising this wasn’t posted online before the meeting. Lawrence told me he worked on it up until just before the meeting and it wasn’t posted because his executive assistant wasn’t there.

It’s also surprising that Lawrence didn’t distribute copies of the presentation to School Closure Advisory Committee members, even though they were being asked to weigh in on the suggestion to close Westwood Elementary and move all Glenbrook students to El Dorado.

Although trustees haven’t voted to remove Wren Avenue Elementary from the list of schools being considered for closure, they don’t appear to be looking at that campus, according to this presentation.

FEB. 17 UPDATE: The superintendent’s PowerPoint is now online at

Do you think the board should close Westwood or Silverwood elementary, look at closing the Willow Creek Center or consolidating Small Necessary High Schools?

Posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 5 Comments »

School closure transition in the Mt. Diablo district

The Mt. Diablo school district has posted the following Q&A regarding school closures on its website:

“Questions and Answers About School Closure
February 14, 2011
(Information will be updated if needed)


How will the students going to the receiving sites be identified?

Using the new boundary maps, students and parents will be notified as to what their new home school is. Rose Lock and Julie Braun Martin will work with Dr. Browne’s Student Services staff and the site principals to confirm the enrollment at each site and determine the number of staff required at each site.

There will be a thirty day window for parents who submitted transfer requests or wish to submit transfer requests once all the chosen sites to be closed have been announced.

How will schools work together to welcome and integrate the new students and their families to the receiving school so students feel safe and wanted?

Principals and staff at the affected schools will collaborate with receiving site staffs to share their knowledge of the students, programs and traditions of all the sites involved. The receiving schools will highlight the instructional opportunities and community activities at their sites which will be held for incoming students and families. Information regarding school rules, procedures, and policies will be provided to the families in advance.

Will there be transportation for students?

No, when new boundary lines were considered, the walking distance to the receiving school and the accessibility to public transportation were considered.

What about After School programs?

Our after school program staff is currently researching different options such as expansion at receiving sites.

How can I get into leadership if students will be chosen in the spring?

Your current principal and teachers will work with the receiving school to ensure that displaced students will have the same opportunity to be chosen.


What will the transition look like for the students?

Once schools are identified for closure, administrators of impacted schools will collaborate on transition activities which will occur before the end of this school year to prepare the community for the change.

Will students of affected schools be given any priority in the intra-district transfer process?

No. They will have 30 days to apply for an intradistrict transfer.

Will siblings be assigned to the same school?

The intent is to keep families together whenever possible.

How can we provide emotional support to families? What do we say?

The District Office staff will work closely with your school and the receiving schools to support a smooth transition for students, staff, and community members.

Can parents request that their students remain in the current feeder pattern?

If the new school is in a different feeder pattern, parents can apply for a transfer during the 30-day period to a school in the previous feeder pattern.

What happens to any leftover PTA funds?

PTAs are 501(c)3 organizations and as such the membership may, by vote at a properly noticed association meeting, donate funds and/or equipment to another nonprofit organization. The PTA must first notify the Mt. Diablo Council PTA and Thirty-Second District PTA regarding the process required and assistance to dissolve the association due to school closure. The financial records should be audited, and a final federal IRS 990, California Form 199, and Charitable Trust forms must be filed.

If the PFC is a 501(c)3 organization, the process is similar, but the leadership should consult with the IRS, the State of California, and the Attorney General’s office regarding requirements.

What happens to items purchased by the PTA or the PFC?

Items purchased by the PTA or PFC for a school become the property of the school and district. They will be distributed to the schools receiving the students.

What will happen to the school site?

The District will determine how the vacant site will be used. Other district programs may be consolidated there.

How will the district prevent loitering and maintain security on the campus?

As long as the District owns the property it will be responsible for maintaining it. As always, we rely on neighbors to report any suspicious activities to the police.

What will the district do for students with IEPs?

By law, the district must meet all the requirements of any student’s IEP. Services will be provided at the receiving site.


Certificated Staff

What is the process for placing MDEA members, the classroom teachers, at a receiving school from a site that is selected for school closure?

Please review Article 5 Transfer, the section on School Closure. That portion of the contract reads as follows:

· (5.16.1) Unit members will be notified within 15 working days of the Board decision.

· ( Insofar as possible, the same proportion of unit members as students will be transferred to those schools receiving transferred students.

· ( After voluntary transfers, should the need still exist for involuntary transfers, the least senior person at the site will be involuntarily transferred

· ( Unit member subject to involuntary transfer due to school closure, boundary changes or grade level reorganization between more than one site shall be so notified in writing no later than March 15.

· ( No unit member at the school receiving transferred students will be transferred to accommodate unit members from the school being closed or losing students.

· ( All positions made available by the reorganization of a school/site will be posted in the school/site affected for no less than ten (10) work days.

The District and the Mt. Diablo Teachers Association are collaborating to ensure a smooth transition.

Does seniority play a role in the placement of the teachers?

During the transfer window teachers who are considered involuntary transfers are allowed to select a new position in order of seniority. The most senior teacher has the right to select a position first from the list of available vacancies. See Article 5 Transfer.

Can a teacher from a closing site bump out staff at the receiving site?

No, the contract states that the teachers at the receiving site cannot be bumped out. The teachers from the closing site can take vacant positions created by the additional students being sent to the receiving sites.

How would teachers’ instructional materials get moved?

When teachers are involuntarily transferred, they can use up to two days to pack and unpack their materials from the old site to the new assignment. Teachers would be provided with boxes and labels to organize their items. Any item of personal or sentimental value should be moved by the teachers themselves. A schedule will be worked out with the maintenance crew to pick up the boxes and move them to the new assignment.


CST and Maintenance and Operations Members

What is the procedure for the office staff, the office manager and clerical employees as well as the custodial staff? Do they have the right to bump other employees?

The procedures outlined in the Transfer Article and the Layoff Article of the respective contracts would be followed. First, there would be an effort to see if vacancies in each classification exist at the receiving sites or other sites in the district. It may be possible to place people in vacant positions, as retirements and attrition occur at some sites.

If there are no vacancies in which to place individuals, then it would be necessary to give classified employees a forty-five day notice indicating there was a need to conduct a layoff. Classified employees do have seniority rights within each classification that they have held. A more senior classified member could exercise the right to take a position of a less senior individual in the same classification or another classification that the employee served in. (This process is sometime referred to as the bumping process.)

How will the CSEA paraprofessionals be assigned?

Again the guidelines in the contract regarding transfer and layoff would guide the process.

The first step would be to identify the vacant positions in the district and work with employees to place them in those positions. If there are no vacancies in which to place individuals, then it would be necessary to give classified employees a forty-five day notice indicating there was a need to conduct a layoff. If there is a lack of positions, then the least senior CSEA members would receive notice that budget reductions would require a layoff of their position. If a student has a one on one assistant and moves to a receiving site, the assistant could move with the student. However, the special education department staff must confirm the location of all special needs classes, as well as determine the requests for special education one on one assistants assigned to a particular student. CSEA members do have seniority rights. A more senior classified member could exercise the right to take a position of a less senior individual in the same classification or another classification that the employee served in. (This process is sometime referred to as the bumping process.)


Will efforts be made to ensure teachers transferring have all of the same technology and tools as teachers at the receiving site?

TIS staff will assist principals involved to align types and models of hardware when distributing them to receiving sites. However, this must be done according to the requirement of funding sources such as Title I, PTA/PFC, etc.

Will the special education continuum be kept together?

Every effort will be made to identify a site that has capacity to accommodate and keep the continuum intact.

How will books and materials be divided?

Books and materials will be distributed to schools receiving the students. All students will have adequate books and materials in all schools.”


As noted above, union staff will be laid-off and/or reassigned according to seniority. This means the district’s school closure salary savings estimates may not be accurate, since staff ultimately laid-off may not be the same staff that currently works at schools that will be closed.

Also, the above practices may not apply to Glenbrook, since the district plans to try to convince the state that its new El Dorado/Glenbrook consolidation is still Glenbrook. It plans to do this by keeping the same school accounting code. However, it may choose to also keep school materials and PFC funds intact to make it appear that the consolidated school is really Glenbrook.

Since a large portion of the School Improvement Grant is focused on staff development, it might make sense to transfer all of Glenbrook’s staff to the new El Dorado consolidated school. This way, the staff that has already received staff development through the grant could continue to work with Glenbrook’s low-performing students.

The school board has the authority to give priority for transfers to students from closed schools. Based on the information above, it appears the district has opted not to do that. Trustees have not discussed this, to my knowledge.

Also, I have heard that many students who now live in the Glenbrook attendance area attend Sequoia Middle School in Pleasant Hill on transfers based on the fact that Glenbrook is low-achieving. I’ve heard that some of those students are bused to Sequoia.

If Glenbrook is truly closed, those students would no longer get that priority. However, if the state agrees to recognize the El Dorado/Glenbrook consolidated school as low-achieving, El Dorado students may also be able to receive priority transfers to Sequoia or other higher-achieving middle schools.

FYI, County Connection has a new “trip planner” on its website that allows you to see how long it will take to get from one place to another by bus. If your school is closing, click here to see what your student’s options are.

Do you have other questions you’d like answered by the district?

Posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »

Westwood Elementary parents mobilize

By Theresa Harrington

I received the following press release this morning about Westwood Elementary plans to turn out for tonight’s Mt. Diablo school board meeting to oppose the school’s closure and to join a march to the district office on Wednesday:

“In response to the sudden possible closure announcement the Westwood Elementary School Community is calling for support at the MDUSD 7PM meeting at Glenbrook on Tuesday February 15 as well as a call to action rally and march from Concord High School to the board for February 16 at 2PM.

This award-winning ‘Distinguished’ rated school has been home to the largest elementary special ed classes for the deaf and has an unequalled reputation and ability to attract students and supportive parents to the community. They need your help to avoid a sudden disbandment and displacement despite not being suggested for closure in a careful set of full reviews of the district. They have served our children for generations and now they need you to help save the future generations of Westwood graduates.”

Do you agree with Board President Gary Eberhart’s suggestion to close Westwood and send its students to Mountain View Elementary, making way for Glenbrook Middle School students to attend Westwood as an adjunct campus to El Dorado Middle School in Concord?

Posted on Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 4 Comments »

School Board Relations: 101

Silverwood Elementary supporter holds sign at Feb. 8 Mt. Diablo school board meeting.

Silverwood Elementary supporter holds sign at Feb. 8 Mt. Diablo school board meeting.

By Theresa Harrington

It was a bit like a marriage and family counseling session for school board trustees.

“How does this work?” Trustee Lynne Dennler asked, during a Mt. Diablo school board retreat Sunday. “I’m a ‘Let’s all get along person.’ When you disagree, do you get up and scream, or do you privately tell the person? When you think someone is nuts, you can only tell one (other person)?”

Dennler, a retired teacher, is one of two new trustees on the five-member Mt. Diablo school board. Trustee Cheryl Hansen is the other newbie, although she has had experience working with boards as a school and County Office of Education administrator.

The board and Superintendent Steven Lawrence met at the district office with Kirk Berger, an operational performance consultant, to discuss norms, procedures and strategic planning. Their goal was to help the board work together more effectively.

“How you communicate with each other sends a message,” Kirk told trustees.

He laid out the following formula: PO + RUA + AD = Board Behavior

PO stands for “personal orientations,” he said. “Some of you are bottom-liners, some of you are relationship people. This is all about blending.”

RUA stands for Role Understanding and Acceptance. AD is the ability to Adapt and be flexible, he said.

Berger suggested trustees should agree to norms of behavior that would foster trust, open communication and a supportive culture within the board. He said protocols are more tangible than norms, because they involve procedures that could also be regulated through bylaws.

Board President Gary Eberhart said the public seems to be picking up on an undercurrent of negativity on the board, especially related to the school closure process.

“I want to get to know how we as a board and the superintendent are going to proceed through the meetings without blaming each other, without blaming the past, without trashing the district and its past practices,” he said. “How are we as a board going to move forward in a positive way and advocate for decisions based on the merits and really do what’s best for students?”

Eberhart proposed the following norm:

“We argue on the merits, ” he said. “We don’t attack the board. We don’t attack the school district, because we are the school district. That requires a truce.”

Yet, Eberhart admitted that he has not always followed what he preached.

“I’ve been on both sides of that,” he said. “I’m not an innocent one in that kind of an argument. But, as I look back at all of those arguments, I don’t know that anything was ever gained by arguing about personalities and arguing about the past.”

Berger said trustees should create a culture that allows them to question each other when they don’t think they’re living up to the spirit of their bylaws, norms or protocols. They should feel comfortable pointing that out responsibly, he added. If it’s not done in an accusing way, he said, trustees being singled out shouldn’t feel defensive.

“As long as we understand what our expectations are, it shouldn’t be a problem,” Berger said. “Half of our problems are we don’t know what to expect of each other.”

Some boards check in with each other at the end of their meetings to review how well they stuck to their principles, he said. But Trustee Sherry Whitmarsh said she’d prefer to address lapses in behavior right when they happen.

“I’d actually rather call another board member out on it when they’re doing it,” she said.

Hansen said she wanted to focus on expectations, standards and practices. She said the board should spend more time discussing issues and that each trustee should explain why he or she is voting a certain way. Hansen also stressed the importance of strategic planning, saying the district should become proactive instead of reactively “putting out fires.”

“It’s not about our egos,” she said. “It’s not about our agenda. It’s about our common purpose around student learning.”

Trustee Linda Mayo said she wanted “no surprises” and that she would like to prohibit board members from communicating with others electronically during meetings.

“Are people who are not attending a board meeting having more influence on particular board members than the public who is there?” she asked. “The way it’s discovered is that someone on the receiving end of a communication from a board member forwards it to someone else.”

Lawrence said he only recently found out that people can comment online during board meetings on the mdusdblog where meetings are webcast.

“You’re asking that people don’t participate in that interactive community?” he asked.

“Yes,” Mayo said. “My feeling is we are a team as a board in the middle of a meeting first, working with staff and working with the public that’s chosen to come to a meeting.”

Berger said it’s important for trustees to be focused on the meeting and that electronic communications can cause board members to pay less attention. He suggested trustees could look at the California School Boards Association’s (CSBA) new electronic communications bylaw as a guide.

“The issue of the public communicating with you during the meeting to me fails the transparency test,” he said. “I think that breaks down the integrity of this kind of sacred thing we have here.”

Trustees agreed to look at the CSBA bylaw when they continue discussions about norms, protocols and bylaws from 7-9 p.m. March 3.

Mayo also suggested that the entire board should receive a Brown Act presentation, so all trustees are on the same page regarding what is and isn’t allowed. Dennler was surprised she couldn’t send an e-mail to all other board members if she had a new idea she wanted to bounce off of them.

Comparing school boards to city councils, Berger said trustees should not shy away from meeting late into the night to discuss important issues, such as student achievement. Trustees should delegate less important issues to the superintendent, he added.

“You can hold your staff accountable,” Berger said. “But, you can’t go out there and solve all the problems.”

He also addressed trustees’ concerns about how to move on after split votes.

“You don’t have to be a 5-0 board to be a good board,” Berger said. “I think it’s very helpful to explain before you vote why you’re going to vote that way because it suggests good process and it’s transparent. People respect people who stand up for their beliefs. When you’re voting against the majority, that’s what you’re doing. But if it’s the same one or two people who are voting against everything, that’s a governance problem. I would expect it to rotate naturally, just based on the issues.”

Lawrence said negative comments hurt the process.

“If it becomes personal and moves beyond a conversation around the ideas,” he said, “I think it then becomes more difficult to work together in a positive way.”

Berger said trustees have four options after losing in a split vote: advocate the outcome, honor the outcome, remain silent or fight it. He said advocating it is the highest and best choice, honoring it is good, remaining silent is “unfortunate” and fighting it defeats the whole purpose of a democracy.

“There are board members who are on the wrong side of split votes who go out against them and it makes you look bad,” he said, “because our democracy is built on honoring the majority.”

Trustees will meet about school closures at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Glenbrook Middle School gym, discussing Eberhart’s idea of closing Westwood Elementary and sending Glenbrook students to El Dorado Middle School and the former Westwood site.

Berger said Lawrence could have alerted trustees to Eberhart’s idea individually before the Feb. 8 meeting so they wouldn’t have been surprised, even though Eberhart himself could only speak to one other board member, due to the Brown Act. He also suggested the board could hold “work session” meetings, where they could brainstorm about new ideas without making decisions.

Berger said the board should inform the public about how trustees are making their school closure decisions, taking on their roles with humility.

“You have to look at collective interests, not self-interest,” Berger said. “You have to rise to the occasion and let the public understand what’s going on and understand the process. Answer all their questions, even when they’re angry. You don’t have to take personal abuse, but do a good job of mediating this whole thing of ‘who’s in charge.'”

Ultimately, he said, the public is in charge. The best time for public comment, he added, is after the staff presentation and initial discussion by the board.

This way, he said, the public understands what trustees are considering and can comment on the direction trustees appear to be heading in.

Trustees have agreed to close Glenbrook and Holbrook Elementary in Concord. They have also agreed to eliminate the recommendation to close Monte Gardens Elementary in Concord and Sequoia Elementary and Sequioa Middle School in Pleasant Hill.

They have not voted to remove Silverwood or Wren Avenue elementary schools in Concord from the recommendations.

Here’s what Silverwood parent John Pamer wrote to me in an e-maill today about the school closure process so far:

“The Silverwood community has been in a state of uncertainty for some time about our future. It’s been frustrating at times to watch a process unfold over which we have limited influence that will affect our children’s education and social life, as well as the quality and livability of our neighborhoods and our home values.

Most organizations looking at cutbacks would start by eliminating who and what is not performing well. There are schools in the district that have low capacity utilization and are not meeting their academic performance targets. Silverwood isn’t one of them. Silverwood should be held out as a success story in the MDUSD — a neighborhood-based student body that is ethnically and economically diverse coming together to create a sound level of achievement. Instead, we have been targeted for closure under the guise of saving money.

At the January 19 Board Study session, Board President Eberhart directed Superintendant Lawrence to see if there was a way to combine some programs and repurpose closed campuses to save enough money to perhaps save one school. On January 25 I was encouraged to see that Dr. Lawrence presented a proposal that did not require the closure of Silverwood.

On February 8, I was surprised as everyone else to hear the proposal by Chairman Eberhart to send Glenbrook to El Dorado as a unit, and in turn to send Westwood as a unit to Mountain View. I was disappointed to hear that Silverwood was still under consideration for closure.

While I am encouraged that this latest proposal would spare Silverwood, I am not happy that it would come at the expense of another school. That being said, I think it makes more economic sense than simply closing Silverwood. The biggest difference between Westwood and Silverwood is that the Westwood student body would move to a new site intact, while Silverwood would be split three ways, destroying the synergy we’ve built. Mr. Eberhart’s proposal would also preserve Glenbrook’s grant funding, which is paramount given the budget crisis MDUSD is facing.

John Pamer”

Linda Loza, a Walnut Creek parent who attended the board retreat, said she agreed with Berger’s suggestion that the board should focus on student achievement and allow the superintendent to oversee day-to-day district operations.

She was also encouraged by the board’s willingness to address the way it is perceived by the public.

“I believe that this board has an incredible problem with a lack of public trust and confidence and that anything they can do to repair that has to be a priority,” she said. “And the fact that they are willing to do some meetings that are like ‘work-study’ meetings — I think that will go a long way toward making people feel more comfortable about the decisions they’re making. I thought that was a great idea.”

Do you think the board should hold more “work-study” meetings, where trustees can brainstorm about new ideas?

Posted on Monday, February 14th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 39 Comments »

Kathy Strong’s MIA bracelet

Kathy Strong, of Walnut Creek, has worn an MIA bracelet for 38 years. She plans to take it off in May and bury it with the remains of the soldier whose name it bears.

Kathy Strong, of Walnut Creek, has worn an MIA bracelet for 38 years. She plans to take it off in May and bury it with the remains of the soldier whose name it bears.

I first met Kathy Strong three years ago, when she called to tell me about the MIA/POW bracelet she had been wearing on her wrist for more than 35 years.

I wrote two stories about her that year — one in February, when she marked 40 years since James Leslie Moreland’s death, and one July 4, about the friendships she forged with Moreland’s family and fellow Green Berets.

When Moreland’s remains were found, Strong again called me to share the news. Here’s a link to a video I shot of her the day I interviewed her:

In writing about Strong’s quest to find out more information about Moreland, I also spoke with the Green Beret’s commanding officer Paul Longgrear and a fellow soldier Richard Allen.

They both sent me e-mails today regarding Strong, Moreland and Strong’s commitment to wearing the bracelet for so long. Here’s what they had to say:


“Q: 1. How many memorial/burial services for MIAs have you officiated at?

A: This is the first although I’ve done some MIA-POW ceremonies. The Army has them annually at each military post/fort.

Q. What sense of closure do you feel this brings to the families?

A: One never gives up hope until there is a casket with proof in it. Moreland’s parents died without closure.

Q: If you know, what do you think you might say at the service regarding Moreland?

A: I want evervone to know how much respect Jim received from his peers. I have lined up his old military school to provide some current cadets for participation in the service. To be a SF medic one had to be academically qualified for Officer school. Jim was a terrific football player and carried that mind set into the military with him. He had a can do never give up attitude, etc., etc., etc.

Q. Now that you have gotten to know Kathy Strong a bit, what do you think of her commitment to wearing the bracelet until Moreland’s remains come home? Do you think it is unusual?

A: There are a handful of people in all the world that have the patriotic resolve that Kathy has. I am convinced that she is a guardian angel provided to watch over Jim’s time in MIA status. The fact that she knows all his buddies and family speaks for the supernatural relationship she has with him.

Q: Is there anything more you would like to say about your time with Moreland in Vietnam, Kathy Strong, MIA bracelets or anything else you believe could be related to this story?

A: This has healed a festering wound in my soul. I can now rest because he was the last of my men that we lost on the battle field. There are two more men missing from that battle but they were with the A-team and I don’t feel quite the responsibility for them as for my personal soldiers. I can now focus my prayers for their return but I can do it without the guilt that I dealt with over (Green Berets) Lindewald, Burke, Thompson, Brande and Moreland.”


“Q: Will you attend the burial?

A: I will certainly try to do so.

Q: What sense of closure do you feel this brings to the families?

A: A sense of relief, that James, who served his Country with distinction, can finally be laid to rest, beside his parents.

A: Now that you have gotten to know Kathy Strong a bit, what do you think of her commitment to wearing the bracelet until Moreland’s remains come home?

A: There is a Patriot, and I don’t know her politics. When you are serving in combat, one of the things that keeps you going is having someone who cares about you at home. Personally, I received a ‘Dear John’ letter from my girl back in L.A. in the afternoon of Feb 6th, and I would have much rather known that there was someone like Kathy who cared about me and my team. In fact I remember that many women couldn’t be celibate for 12 months while their boyfriend or husband was in harm’s way.

Q. Is there anything more you would like to say about Kathy Strong?

Kathy is the real story, she held onto the memory of a fallen warrior for 40 + years, and was active in her support. Translate that to today. Although there are only a relative handful, how many Iraq, or Afghanistan MIA’s are remembered, by a girl/woman who can sympathize with them and their loved ones, and remember as well, that these men sacrificed themselves for our Country?

These fallen heroes are forgotten and tossed aside. Instead, Americans sit back and watch American Idol, and have more emotional involvement with Snooki. To me, this is really quite embarrasing for a culture and a Country as powerful (as we once were).”

Here are the two other stories I wrote about Strong:


PUBLISHED Thursday, 2/28/2008

WALNUT CREEK — She’s never met him, and it’s likely that he’s dead. Yet Kathy Strong feels a powerful bond with James Leslie Moreland.

He was a Green Beret in the Vietnam War who has been Missing in Action since Feb. 7, 1968. Strong has worn a bracelet engraved with Moreland’s name for more than 35 years, fulfilling a promise she made when she received it to keep the simple stainless steel band on her wrist until he returned home.

“I was in seventh grade when I put the bracelet on,” said Strong, a 47-year-old Walnut Creek resident who works in Richmond. “He was missing almost five years by the time I got the bracelet.”

She received the bracelet Christmas Day 1972 in her stocking. It was one of about 5 million bracelets made to remind Americans of the more than 2,500 military personnel who were missing or prisoners during the Vietnam War.

Moreland, who lived in Anaheim, is one of 1,788 troops still missing from that war. Of those, 179 are from California.

Dating back to World War II, there are about 88,000 troops unaccounted for, said Capt. Mary Olsen, spokeswoman for the Defense Department’s Prisoner of War-Missing in Action, or POW-MIA, office. Currently, four soldiers are missing in Iraq.

“I was very young when Vietnam was going on,” said Strong, who lived in Southern California when she received the bracelet. “I don’t really understand a lot of the politics behind it. But personally, I don’t believe we should go to any other war until we get our men back from the last war.”

As Strong grew into adulthood, she gradually learned more about the man who has been a presence in her life for decades.

Through research in books about Vietnam, Strong found that Moreland was seriously injured and presumed dead at age 22 in the battle at Lang Vei. When she marked the 40th anniversary earlier this month of the last time he was seen alive, , Strong decided to make her story public to remind people in Contra Costa County and the country that there are still hundreds of American military personnel missing and that she and others are keeping their memories alive.

“I’ve never been to Vietnam,” Strong said. “But I still feel a connection with my MIA as well as the others who were with him the night he died.”

Paul Longgrear, Moreland’s commanding officer, survived the battle and now lives near Atlanta. Longgrear shed light on Moreland’s probable death in a phone interview with the Times.

After being attacked, Longgrear, Moreland and a handful of other men retreated into an underground bunker, said Longgrear, 64. Moreland was a medic in the small mobile strike force.

Moreland climbed up to retrieve a machine gun, said Longgrear, who was 25 at the time.

“While he was there,” Longgrear said, “a tank shot at him and shattered the back of his head with shrapnel. It was a very devastating wound, but he was a tough kid.”

Moreland lived through the night and was injured again when the enemy began blowing up the camp, Longgrear said. The officer and his men decided to make a break for it.

“When we got ready to go,” he said, “Moreland was unresponsive. The best we could determine, he was dead or wasn’t going to live. Everybody was wounded, and we were kind of limited in what we could do for each other.”

Longgrear and some others were picked up by a special forces helicopter. A few men were captured.

“Moreland’s body was never found,” Longgrear said. “He was a great kid. We used to have a lot of fun. He was a good-looking kid, about 6-foot-1, 185 pounds. He had a real cocky attitude. We all did. We were Green Berets — thought we were 10 feet tall and bulletproof.”

Longgrear said that he and other veterans are glad that people such as Strong have worn their POW-MIA bracelets for all these years, in honor of their fallen friends.

“It makes me very appreciative of someone who loves America and appreciates a person who would go and sacrifice their life,” Longgrear said. “I think it’s wonderful that this young lady cares enough not to give up hope. And that’s what I think the bracelet symbolizes — that we will not forget you.”

Strong said she would like to meet Moreland’s family, but Longgrear said he doubted the family would be receptive. Moreland’s sister contacted Longgrear twice to talk about her brother.

“I know his parents are dead,” Longgrear said. “It’s very difficult. It’s such an emotional thing. The whole family became a victim because when you’re missing (someone) like that, there’s no closure.”

The League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia has continued to pressure the government to bring the remains of their loved ones home. The original group that sold the POW-MIA bracelets disbanded in 1976.

But the Ohio chapter of the league has revived the effort, selling bracelets with the names of about 100 missing troops who served in Vietnam. Their families have given permission for the sale. In addition, bracelets for Navy Capt. Scott Speicher, missing from the 1991 Gulf War, and Army Sgt. Keith Maupin, a prisoner of war in Iraq, also are available.

Liz Flick, who distributes the bracelets for the chapter, said she and others she knows have been wearing their bracelets as long as Strong.

“It is very definitely a brotherhood of those of us who wear the bracelets,” she said. “If you’re out and you see someone with the bracelet and you hold up your wrist, it’s an immediate connection — like yes, you’re working on this, too.”

Strong said she’s happy to know that there is a network of people like her in the country. And if Moreland’s remains are not recovered in her lifetime, she is determined to die with the bracelet still wrapped around her wrist.

“It’s just a promise I made to this person, and it’s a promise I intend on keeping.” Strong said. “I could take the bracelet off, and probably no one would notice. But I would know.”


More information about military Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action is at or and

Details about Special Forces killed in Southeast Asia are at

POW/MIA bracelets can be purchased by sending a check or money order for $10 to Ohio Chapter MIA/POW, Attn: Mrs. Liz Flick, P.O. Box 14853, Columbus, OH 43214.



Published: Friday, 7/4/2008

By Theresa Harrington
Staff writer

WALNUT CREEK: For more than 35 years, Kathy Strong has tried to learn all she could about a soldier missing in Vietnam whose name she wears on a bracelet around her wrist.

Her dreams of one day meeting James Leslie Moreland’s family and fellow soldiers came true over the past two months, when she flew to Washington state and met his sisters, then flew to Los Angeles for a Weekend of Heroes convention honoring Moreland’s commanding officer.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Strong, as she looked through her trip photos and mementoes at her Walnut Creek home recently. “I wanted to know that somebody loved him and somebody missed him and I could definitely tell that from my visits.”

Strong’s journey began when she received the thin metal band in her Christmas stocking as a teenager in 1972. In the decades that followed, she watched news reports to see if Moreland or his remains returned home, but he remained missing.

Her attachment to him grew, leading Strong to seek out books and Web sites that mentioned Moreland and the Feb. 7, 1968 battle of Lang Vei, where he was last seen alive. Five months ago, she marked the 40th anniversary of his disappearance by telling her story to the Times. She mentioned she wanted to speak to Moreland’s family and those who served with him.

“Now, you are a part of the story,” she told the Times.

Her words turned out to be prophetic.

The Times telephoned Paul Longgrear, who had been Moreland’s commanding officer, for the original story. He agreed to speak with Strong and the two arranged to meet in June in California.

After Strong’s story was published Feb. 28, it made its way via e-mail and the Internet to Moreland’s sisters in Washington, and to Richard Allen in Sherman Oaks in Southern California. One of 24 Green Berets who served with Moreland at the battle of Lang Vei, Allen contacted the Times that afternoon and agreed to speak with Strong.

“I have built a Web site commemorating that battle and those who stood their ground against overwhelming odds,” Allen wrote in an e-mail. “I would say that a vast majority of us feel that we were forgotten, so it is great to see that some are still remembered.”

Moreland’s sister Linda contacted the Times a month later, asking to get in touch with Strong.

“I was 19 years old when my brother became listed as MIA,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I hope to one day get good news.”

Thrilled to hear from people who could shed more light on Moreland, Strong arranged to meet Linda and her sister Anita at a restaurant in May. Allen agreed to meet Strong and Longgrear in June.

After returning from both meetings, Strong was eager to share her newfound knowledge with the Times, in part because readers were so responsive to the first story about her and her bracelet.

Moreland’s sisters recounted stories about fishing with their brother and gave Strong a copy of his high school graduation photo, featuring a smiling face with brown eyes and dimples. Anita told Strong that Moreland had wanted to become a dentist and live in the Rogue River area after serving in the war.

Prompted by the Times story, Linda contacted the Ohio chapter of Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Families and agreed to allow Moreland’s name to be distributed on new MIA bracelets.

Strong ordered several bracelets with Moreland’s name and presented them to Longgrear and Allen, who continue to wear them.

During their meeting, Longgrear signed an autograph for Strong, calling her Moreland’s “guardian angel.”

“I think that kind of spoke to her spirit,” Longgrear said in a phone interview from Georgia last week.

Allen said Strong impressed him as a true patriot. He hopes to get more information from Moreland’s family for his Web site.

“There’s two sides to any military person’s story,” Allen said in a Thursday phone interview. “There’s their own personal battle experience and there’s their family experiences back home.”

Strong now has both sides of Moreland’s story.

And she remains committed to wearing his bracelet until she learns the true ending.

“The journey’s not over,” Strong said. “I feel like the next chapter is we need Moreland to come home.”

FEB. 16 UPDATE: A CBS Channel 5 reporter called me yesterday, saying he wanted to do a TV news piece following up on my story. Kathy Strong called to say it will be broadcast at 10 p.m. on the CW (channel 12 or 44), on Channel 5 at 11 p.m. and will be available after midnight at

Do you agree with Allen’s comment that many “fallen heroes are forgotten and tossed aside?”

Posted on Sunday, February 13th, 2011
Under: Education, Theresa Harrington | 24 Comments »

Trustees to discuss closing Westwood Elementary on Tuesday

By Theresa Harrington

The Mt. Diablo school board will discuss the idea of closing Westwood Elementary at its Tuesday meeting, according to the staff report released with the agenda.

Here’s what it says:

“The Board voted to close Holbrook Elementary School and Glenbrook Middle School. The Board is considering a new scenario which would close Westwood Elementary School and send the entire Glenbrook Middle School population to El Dorado Middle School and the space made available if Westwood Elementary School closed.

The Board directed the Superintendent to analyze the feasibility of closing Westwood Elementary School and sending the vast majority of its current students to Mt. View Elementary School and a small portion to Monte Gardens Elementary School.

The Board further directed staff to determine a desirable location for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing program if Westwood Elementary School is closed.”

This is a board study session, with the discussion listed as an “information item,” meaning no vote will be taken. Trustees may vote on the idea Feb. 22, depending on whether the it seems feasible and there is consensus to move forward with it.

The agenda doesn’t say whether trustees may also discuss the ideas of closing Wren Avenue Elementary or Silverwood Elementary, as previously recommended.

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Glenbrook Middle School gym. Hopefully, a PowerPoint presentation outlining the district’s findings will be posted before the meeting begins.

Do you think the board should close Westwood Elementary?

Posted on Saturday, February 12th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »

A look at past MDUSD school closures, trustees

Former Mt. Diablo district trustee Milton Lambertson, who died Feb. 2, was remembered as a "peacemaker" on the board during tumultuous times.

Former Mt. Diablo district trustee Milton Lambertson, who died Feb. 2, was remembered as a "peacemaker" on the board during tumultuous times.

By Theresa Harrington

When Milton Lambertson served on the Mt. Diablo school board decades ago, the district was facing deep budget cuts and closing schools. Lambertson was known as a “peacemaker” on a divided board, which was grappling with falling credibility in the eyes of the public.

As I did research for a recent obituary about Lambertson, who died Feb. 2 in Brentwood, I was struck by some similarities between events then and now. Some things were better — such as test scores — and some were worse.

In a three-year period between 1977 and 1980, the district went through a teacher strike and employee sickout, a recall election, lawsuits, student and parent boycotts and demonstrations, as well as the turnover of 13 trustees on the five-member board.

Lambertson was elected in 1978, when three incumbents were swept out of office.

Here are some excerpts from Times articles back then.

Aug. 8, 1980

“Students returning to Mt. Diablo schools this fall can expect:
– larger classes on more crowded campuses, with as many as 37 students per teacher at the high school level.
– Few — if any — young or new teachers, and diminishing enthusiasm among many of those remaining.
— A pretty gloomy picture that goes on and on for the 36,000 students….And one painted even gloomier by board president Milt Lambertson, who believes, ‘We’re taking a high quality education system and dismantling it. We’ve stopped developing the quality programs our technicians were trained to put together, and every year we’re reducing programs bit by bit. I don’t know that there are very many more little bits we can take…This year, we had to let teachers go who had been with the district seven years. If we have to cut again next year, it will be eight and nine…’
As a result of the layoffs, through a seniority ‘bumping’ process required by their contract, some teachers have been assigned subjects they hold credentials for but haven’t taught in many years, if at all….
All this plus the layoffs has resulted in a ‘tremendous decline in morale,’ says Lambertson.
‘Creating new attitudes and enthusiasm is difficult,’ he adds. Controversial board actions — such as the decisions earlier this year to close schools and replace teachers with elementary vice principals — haven’t helped the district’s declining public image,’ Lambertson concedes.
‘We’re continuing the battle to achieve credibility…but until our decisions prove in the future to be the right ones, our credibility will stay right where it is,’ he adds.
Previous boards of education have ‘spent more time defending the system than trying to find ways to improve,’ Lambertson believes.
And during the highly publicized and often discordant labor negotiations, parents ‘begin to see the conflict and they side with one or the other. Or sometimes they just stay outside and throw harpoons…’
Many of Mt. Diablo’s monetary woes….can be laid to radical changes this past decade (1970-1980) in how public education is financed.
In 1972 state legislation limited how much revenue a school district could collect through local property taxes. In 1976, the landmark Serrano vs. Priest Supreme Court ruling forced the state to begin recycling funds from wealthier districts into poorer ones in an effort to ‘equalize’ statewide the amount of funding districts spend to educate their students.
And in 1978, passage of Proposition 13 nearly wiped out property taxes as a funding source for schools and government agencies, cutting by one-half the revenues Mt. Diablo collected through local taxation….”

Then-Superintendent James Slezak inherited a budget deficit and declining enrollment when he came on board in 1976.

“The administrator also inherited an administrative hierarchy ‘that was pretty well established,’ according to Lambertson.
‘People here now are those who were here when he arrived and not really his selection…his choice is to work with the people he has available and try to develop them into capable administrators.’
Lambertson concedes that Slezak’s decision to ‘develop and train from within’ may have ‘stifled new ideas.’
Administrative job promotions and the inherent ‘office politics’ also may have heightened the tension that pervades district headquarters at 1936 Carlotta Drive….
“It’s important in my mind that the superintendent be visible…he needs to be visible in schools and out actively observing,’ says Lambertson.”
He noted that it could be difficult to replace the superintendent, even if the board wanted to.
“Who would come to the district with all the confrontations we have? Who’s gonna be crazy enough to come and accept this?”

Current Superintendent Steven Lawrence came to the district about a year ago, Feb. 1, 2010. He has also dealt with budget cuts, difficult union negotiations and enrollment that has dwindled to about 33,430 in 2010-11. Officials still cite the 1972 and 1978 funding changes as reasons for inequity in districts throughout the state.

Lawrence has kept most of the administrators who were here when he arrived, although he has reshuffled some in a controversial restructuring by moving a few successful principals into the district office and several curriculum administrators into schools as principals.

In a Feb. 8 memo to parents, Lawrence pointed out that the district has “eliminated approximately 20 percent of non-school based positions.”

“To provide more perspective on the extent of these reductions,” he wrote, “in the 2000-2001 school year the district had 5.19 administrators per 100 teachers. In the 2009-2010 school year, we had 4.12 administrators per 100 teachers. This puts us almost 50 percent below the state approved rate of eight administrators per 100 teachers.”

Similarly, in an Oct. 4, 1992 op ed piece in the Times, Lambertson defended Mt. Diablo’s 1990-91 teacher-administrator ratio, saying the district had 15.5 teachers per administrator.

“During the 1991-92 school year, we had 18.2 teachers per administrator, compared to the 12.5 teachers per administrator allowed by the state,” Lambertson wrote. “This means we had 38 fewer administrators than the law allows.”

By then, the district was run by Superintendent Bob Baum.

“These tight financial times have taken a tremendous toll,” Lambertson wrote. “Everyone — teachers, classified staff, and administrators — is working harder, often at great personal sacrifice, to cushion the impact of our spending cuts on students and to keep our schools safe….We no longer have counselors at our intermediate-middle and high schools. We no longer have guidance advisers at our elementary schools. We’ve had to reduce elementary school administrative help, cut back the instrumental music program, ask parents to raise money for the sports program, and cut instructional budgets. The list goes on and on…Our school community works as a team to provide 33,000 Mt. Diablo students with strong education programs, despite inadequate funding.”

In the last two years, the current Mt. Diablo board has also voted to eliminate elementary instrumental music programs and vice principal positions, require parents to fund after-school sports and cut instructional programs.

Finally, when Lambertson retired in November 1993, he looked back at his 15 years on the board.

“Lambertson, 62, has been known over the years for his gentle demeanor, thoughtfulness and willingness to compromise,” wrote staff writer Catherine Hedgecock, in an article titled: “School board is losing a voice of conciliation.”

Here’s an excerpt of her Questions and Answers:
“Q: Why are you retiring from the board?
A: “…It’s not as much fun as it used to be. I ran for the board with the concept that I wanted to do something about credibility with the district, with the community. That was very important to me. I think we improved our credibility. It’s started to slide and that’s discouraging.
Q: What do you think caused that?
A: There’s a split on the board. I think it’s the reaction of the staff and the community.
Q: What do you think ought to be done to repair that rift?
A: …I’ve tried to use my personal influence to try and get them to remember that we’re working on behalf of students and we should be working in a cooperative manner even if we disagree. There’s room for us to disagree and still get along…
Q: Was there a time when the board was more cohesive?
A: …We’ve had years where we disagreed. But after our disagreement we’d get along together. And we’d get along with staff. It’s just the last couple of years have been kind of rocky.
Q: Do you think it’s because there are harder times now?
A: No….one of the objectives we had was involving the community in our decisions. That was important in the credibility issue. By involving the community and having them serve on committees they became part of the decision….
Q: You seem to value personal relationships.
A: I do. Any time I make a decision that hurts people, that always strikes a deep chord with me. It was hard to cancel our counselor program….To reduce our library program…It saved us money, that was the reason we did it. But the people I know that are teachers and the value of the library program to our educational program, our children, strikes deep feelings in an individual, and I felt that.”

During his tenure and on his retirement, Lamberston was honored with the following awards:
– California Legislation Resolution 11/17/93 (recognizing his service and retirement);
– Office of the Mayor City of Concord Proclamation 11/15/93;
– Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors 11/23/93 (Milton Lambertson Day);
– City of Pleasant Hill 11/23/93 (Milton Lambertson Day);
– Public School Service Award 1/26/89;
– Black Family Association Dedication of work 1988
– UOP Recognition: Medallion of Distinction for University of the Pacific School of Dentistry (where he worked).

Now, the board is embroiled in controversial school closure decisions again. With two new trustees — Cheryl Hansen and Lynne Dennler — it remains to be seen how well the board will work together.

Trustees will hold a retreat at 9 a.m. Sunday at the San Ramon Marriott Hotel to discuss board team building and district priority setting. The public may attend.

FEB. 11 UPDATE: The location of the retreat has been changed to the district office. It won’t be held at the San Ramon Marriott Hotel after all. Here’s the updated agenda link:

Do you think the current board has or needs a “voice of conciliation?”

Posted on Thursday, February 10th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 7 Comments »