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Mt. Diablo district war of words continues in Clayton Valley charter debate

By Theresa Harrington
Tuesday, October 25th, 2011 at 12:09 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

As allegations fly on both sides of the Clayton Valley High School charter debate in the Mt. Diablo school district, the war of words is intensifying.

Trustee Cheryl Hansen is butting heads with Board President Gary Eberhart (figuratively speaking). Clayton Mayor David Shuey and other charter supporters have also lashed out at Eberhart, along with Superintendent Steven Lawrence.

Lawrence and Eberhart are standing their ground, however, saying staff members need more time to review the charter committee’s most recent financial data, before they can make a final recommendation to approve or deny the charter petition.

“I received an e-mail from David Shuey indicating that we were dragging our feet,” Eberhart told me Monday. “None of that’s true.”

Eberhart said he had received an e-mail from Shuey earlier last week that said negotiations during a Tuesday meeting between staff and the charter committee had been positive and collaborative and that things were going well.

“But then when he presents it publicly, he says: ‘You guys are dragging your feet,'” Eberhart said. “It’s disingenuous. It’s not factual.”

Eberhart said the Oct. 25 deadline the charter committee set was never agreed to by the district.

“He (Shuey) keeps telling us that: ‘You need to bargain in good faith,'” Eberhart said. “Bargaining in good faith means not placing artificial deadlines out there, which mean: ‘Do this or else.'”

Shuey said he believed staff was working in good faith to try to meet the Oct. 25 deadline. He wrote the first email referenced by Eberhart after those productive meetings, he said.

“That is just ludicrous if he can’t see that my tone changed when the good feelings we had of working with staff were torpedoed by the failure to put it on the agenda (for a vote),” Shuey said. “We worked well with staff and then we found out that it wasn’t being put on the agenda. That’s disingenuous in any stretch of the imagination.”

Shuey said staff and the committee have come to agreements regarding conditions that seemed impossible or very difficult to meet.

“The proof’s in the pudding,” he said. “Staff has worked with us. The problem is that staff is not Gary and staff is not Steve, because Steve and Gary were really the ones who made the decision not to put it on the agenda (for a vote).”

Teacher Neil McChesney told me today that he and teacher Pat Middendorf asked the district on Sunday to hold a special meeting before Nov. 8 for a final charter vote. As of this morning, he said he had received no response.

Shuey said he did not understand why the district placed the charter on the agenda as an information item under “Superintendent’s Report.”

“I think that’s a direct conflict to what I repeatedly asked for and what board member Hansen asked for,” he said. “That screams of a monarchy, not a democracy, and I’m very disappointed in it.”

Eberhart said he anticipated the board would vote on the approval or denial next month.

“We told them originally that we wouldn’t make a determination until February,” he said. “Now, we’ve come out and said on Nov. 8, we will make a final decision. The superintendent said that staff will be complete with their review.”

He defended the decision not to put the item up for a vote Tuesday, saying Roberts Rules of Order don’t allow the board to successively revote on the same issue repeatedly, after it has already been defeated. (Referring to the Oct. 11 vote to rescind the Sept. 13 motion. It died after Hansen and Trustee Lynne Dennler voted to rescind, while Trustees Sherry Whitmarsh and Linda Mayo voted to stick to the original approval with conditions. Eberhart was absent at that meeting.)

Eberhart said Roberts Rules only allow for a motion to rescind or a motion to table.

“There cannot be a motion for an amendment,” he said. “There is no opportunity to place another motion on the agenda that would attempt to thwart the will of the majority of the board, which voted to approve the charter on 9/13. Roberts Rules is pretty clear on that.”

He also said the public might question why a board would keep reconsidering the same motion, after it has been defeated.

“We have a responsibility to present motions to the community that they’ll understand,” he said.

Hansen, however, disagrees with Eberhart’s interpretation of Roberts Rules.

“In Gary’s voice mail to me on Thursday afternoon, he stated twice that my charter school agenda item was not going to be placed on the agenda because ‘Robert’s Rules did not provide for it to be placed there,'” Hansen said in an e-mail. “In my follow-up email to him on Thursday, I challenged him to document the citations from Robert’s Rules of Order that gave him that authority or that substantiated his claim. Of course, I have never heard back from him. Personally, I am willing and able to cite specifics from Robert’s Rules that absolutely support my putting the agenda item on; in fact, Robert’s Rules have specific means to ensure that this can happen.”

Eberhart said he did not believe he was exceeding his authority as board president in his interactions with Hansen.

“Our board policy is pretty general in terms of determining the specific roles of board members,” he said. “The board members will provide direction to the superintendent. The superintendent will manage the district.”

Eberhart said the meeting between the charter committee and district was the superintendent’s jurisdiction.

“Being in the middle of a legal negotiation for the district is tantamount to managing the district,” he said. “Arguably, that’s not someplace the board members belong.”

He said he thought CSBA and other entities that provide board members with guidance regarding their roles would agree with that. The only exception, he said, would be when the board as a whole agreed that one or members should be a party to the negotiations.

Hansen, however, said she didn’t consider the meeting to be a legal negotiation.

“I’m unclear why Gary would state that these meetings are legal negotiations,” she said in an e-mail. “The entire process is public information, including the conditions as well as the summative report of findings. The board has never talked about this issue as a ‘legal negotiation’ nor has Gary or any staff member stated that to me. After I informed staff that I would be attending their last meeting with the charter school petitioners in order to listen firsthand to the discussion, I was simply told, ‘See you there.’ I would say that any perception of the meetings as legal negotiations are more the perceptions of Mr. Eberhart. I believe they are and should be public discussion.”

Although Hansen has said she wanted to attend the meeting to find out what’s going on behind the scenes, Eberhart said trustees can get that information by asking staff. He said the public will find out about progress during the Superintendent’s Report and during the staff presentation on Nov. 8.

“We’ve told them (the charter committee) we will not unreasonably delay this process,” he said. “We’re talking about making this decision three months prior to when we said we were going to make a decision. So, any attempt to frame this as that we’re trying to delay or that we’re not working to make a decision, it’s just baseless. Who in the public wants our staff to make a recommendation to the board prior to achieving an understanding of what’s in this plan? Is that really what the community wants? This is a big investment for the community to make. Don’t we want to make sure that it’s a good investment?”

Shuey said the charter committee hasn’t been given all of the actual costs for running the school from the district.

“The financial (aspect) has been problematic,” he said. “Bryan (Richards) has not been as forthcoming or as helpful (as the rest of staff). Maybe it’s because he’s busy.”

But Eberhart said it was his understanding that the district had fully cooperated with the charter’s information requests.

“I’ve asked the question 10 times, 10 different ways: ‘Are we withholding any financial information from the charter people? Have they gotten everything they’ve asked for?’ The answer is ‘yes,'” he said. “So, either someone’s lying to me, or this is a strategy to confuse the public, to tell people that we’re dragging our feet.”

Shuey said he believed Eberhart wasn’t getting accurate information regarding the district’s financial disclosures.

“If he’s being told that by staff,” Shuey said, “then when he finds out it isn’t true, I hope it opens his eyes and the rest of the board’s.”

Eberhart said the district has offered to have a third party review its financial analysis, but the charter committee hasn’t shown an interest in pursuing that.

But Shuey called this offer a “smoke screen,” saying it’s irrelevant to the charter decision. He also reiterated that he didn’t believe the district was using actual costs of operating CVHS in its projections.

Although the board doesn’t intend to vote on the charter Tuesday, the public can comment on it and the board can discuss it, Lawrence said in an e-mail.

“Deb (Cooksey) will be providing an overview of the meetings between the charter proponents and the district and where the district is in the review process,” he wrote. “She will provide an oral report.”

Today is Shuey’s birthday. Yet, he said he plans to speak at the meeting.

“I can think of nothing better to do on my birthday than to come and speak for the kids,” he said. “I’ve heard from a considerable amount of people that are upset with the district and I wouldn’t be surprised if other people came to express their displeasure.”

Shuey said hoped Eberhart would stand by his remarks that the board expects to make a final decision Nov. 8.

“I am encouraged by Gary’s comments, but they don’t quite touch home plate,” Shuey said. “He’s rounding third and he seems to be going home, which is where we want to go, but he hasn’t touched home plate. All he has to do is tell us ‘yes’ or ‘no’ by a date certain.”

Shuey said he is not happy with the way communications between himself and district officials have played out over the course of the charter debate.

“I didn’t start the war,” he said. “But, I’m not backing down, because my constituents have been clear and unequivocal that they want this for their kids. I want this for my kids and it’s something that needs to happen. They could have very easily done this much earlier and not had the animosity and the rancor, but they chose this path. I don’t feel good about the way it’s gone down. I don’t feel good personally. I’ve had to take a leading role as kind of a lightning rod.”

He said respect has to be continually earned.

“We’ve gone in stops and starts,” he said. “Just when we think we’re making ground, they pull the rug out from under us.”

Eberhart said he would also like to see communications improve — both with the public, as well as between board members.

“We have a responsibility to be professional and be collegial and do the business of all the children of the Mt. Diablo school district at every meeting we show up for,” he said.

Shuey said he hoped both sides could rebuild trust after the final decision is made.

“I continue to maintain that when it’s all said and done that everybody needs to take a step back and I hope that fences can be mended,” he said. “But, there has been a lot of damage done and it’s not going to be be assured, but I’m going to try.”

Do you agree with Eberhart’s characterization of the meetings between the charter committee and district staff as a “negotiations?”

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