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MDUSD Superintendent informs parents about arrests, budget and possible loss of Mt. Diablo HS funding

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, December 30th, 2011 at 5:55 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Mt. Diablo school district superintendent Steven Lawrence has just sent out the following message to the community, which addresses the recent arrests of a teacher and custodian, the state and district budget, and the potential loss of Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) funding at Mt. Diablo High.

However, he fails to mention that the district stands to lose $1.6 million a year for three years, or $4.8 million, if the state Board of Education does not approve the QEIA waiver. He also does not explain why the district did not comply with the QEIA requirements.

“Mt. Diablo USD News Update

Where Kids Come First

December 29, 2011

We hope that over the past two weeks our students, parents, and staff members have found time to relax and enjoy time with their families. As we continue to grapple with the difficult financial conditions of our state, I would like to thank our teachers, support staff members, and administrators who work tirelessly to create positive, welcoming learning environments for the children in our district. Also, we would like to thank all of our parent and community volunteers that support our schools in so many positive ways.

Student Safety

Unfortunately, over the last few weeks, we have had two employees arrested for allegedly having inappropriate contact with minors. As Superintendent and a parent, I am deeply saddened whenever a trusted adult takes advantage of a child. We want to ensure you that we take our children’s safety extremely seriously and have a rigorous pre-hiring screening process. We fingerprint each prospective employee and volunteer. Over the past several years, we have exceeded legal requirements by submitting fingerprints to both the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) databases. If a fingerprinted employee or volunteer is arrested, we receive an immediate notification from law enforcement agencies. Also, we conduct extensive reference checks for all prospective employees. Both employees in question were subject to these district procedures.

The most recent case of substitute custodian, John Astor, is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Walnut Creek Police Department. As a substitute custodian, Mr. Astor worked intermittently at sites throughout the district. To date, we have received no information that either district students or district campuses were involved in any manner. However, we are internally investigating to ensure none of our children were negatively impacted. We will also share materials with principals focusing on how parents can have conversations with their children around setting appropriate boundaries with adults and what to do when a child feels an adult has overstepped those boundaries. Finally, we are actively working with the Walnut Creek Police Department and strongly encourage members of our community to contact Sergeant Tom Cashion at (925) 943-5880if you have any information about this case.

These two incidents again remind us that we must remain ever vigilant to ensure the safety of our children.

Budget

Based on the ‘trigger’ cuts enacted by the governor, we will lose approximately $1.7 million in ongoing revenue. Fortunately, we planned for mid-year reductions and will not have to eliminate any positions to meet this loss of funding. However, several financial reports indicate the State is facing a $13 billion short fall heading into next year. Therefore, based on the Governor’s Budget Proposal due out by mid-January, and the potential approval of the Clayton Valley Charter by either the County Board of Education or State Board of Education, we may need to hold budget meetings to gather input around potential further reductions. We will work with principals to notify parents when and where these meetings will be held.

QEIA

SB 1133 established the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) of 2006 for the purpose of implementing the Prop 98 settlement agreement between CTA, et al. v. Schwarzenegger, et al. SB 1133 provides $3 billion over seven years to 488 low performing schools in California. These schools, ranked in the lowest two deciles by the state’s 2005 Academic Performance Index, have high percentages of low-income, minority and English learner students. QEIA funds assist schools in closing the achievement gap by reducing class size, improving teacher and principal training, and adding counselors to high schools.

Six MDUSD schools were chosen through a state-designed semi-random process to receive QEIA funds: Mt. Diablo High, Oak Grove Middle, Riverview Middle, Cambridge Elementary, Meadow Homes Elementary, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary.

In receiving QEIA funds, schools must meet several established targets. In the first years of QEIA, schools were allowed to make incremental growth. Beginning in 2010-2011 each target had to be met fully each year. These targets include:

· meeting or exceeding API goals,

· ensuring all teachers are highly qualified,

· meeting or exceeding district averages on teacher experience,

· meeting specific percentages of staff (certificated and classified) participating in professional development,

· having appropriate counselor/student ratios (secondary),

· reducing class sizes in core and non-core classes to appropriate levels, and

· meeting the Rule of 27 which states that no core classes will exceed 27 students

In the case of Mt. Diablo High School, the District was notified in November 2011 by the Superintendent of the Contra Costa County Office of Education that the school had not met all of its QEIA targets in 2010-2011, based on the end of the year report submitted in June 2011. Specifically, six of Mt. Diablo High School’s core classes did not meet the “Rule of 27″ because they exceeded the maximum class size of 27. Initially, we were informed that we could only submit a waiver based on technicalities; however, recently school districts began submitting waivers around other QEIA issues. The State Board of Education began hearing these waivers during their last meeting, and currently over 40 General Waivers for QEIA have been submitted by districts. Our Board will review the waiver request at the January 9th Board meeting. If approved by our Board, the waiver request will be reviewed by CDE staff and the State Board of Education will make a decision at their March meeting.

Happy New Year

We hope that everyone has a safe and enjoyable New Year’s weekend. Don’t forget, school resumes on Tuesday, January 3rd.”

Are you satisfied with the superintendent’s explanations regarding the recent arrests and the possible loss of QEIA funding for Mt. Diablo High?

JAN. 19 UPDATE REGARDING STUDENT SAFETY: Three more boys have been identified as victims of molestation by Astor: http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_19778214. But, this time, the DA’s office isn’t saying whether Astor met the boys at a school.

JAN. 19 UPDATE REGARDING QEIA AND VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE IN MDHS PRINCIPAL KATE MCCLATCHY: I have just received an email response from Superintendent Lawrence to questions about the MDHS QEIA waiver and vote of No Confidence.

Regarding the QEIA waiver, Lawrence wrote that the CDE has not yet confirmed whether the SBE will hear the appeal in March (as he stated in his message above). I have been told by CDE staff that the board might not consider it until May, since the district didn’t hold its public hearing before the Dec. 23 deadline.

Regarding McClatchy, Lawrence wrote: “Based on input received from the site the site administration team are working on draft responses to the concerns that will be shared on the 30th (of January).”

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  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    Well, it is gratifying that after reading about Mr. Astor’s case for so long in the paper, the district is finally asking parents, whose children may have had direct contact with Astor, whether they have “any information”. Such inquiries are normally made immediately in most cases of suspected child abuse, but as so oftenwith MDUSD, we again have to say, “Better late than never.”

  • Doctor J

    For once can’t Lawrence get the facts straight ?
    Lawrence admits he knew: “Beginning in 2010-2011 each target had to be met fully each year.” He knew this because he got a letter dated February 16, 2011 as G said: “the “fair warning” letter of Feb 16 that was sent by Christine Swenson of CDE to “Select District Superentendents” (Lawrence). That should have triggered a call from him to his staff to confirm that all QEIA schools were “on target”.”

    Lawrence pretends the District’s first knowledge of non-compliance was in November 2011.

    Not true multiple times. Mid January 2011: In a mid January 2011 meeting called by CCC Office of Education, Asst. Supt. Rose Lock, Secondary Director Denise Rugani, and others from MDUSD including ALL principals of QEIA — that includes Kate McCarthy — were informed by CCCOE that MDHS was not meeting the requirements of QEIA and likely to lose the grant unless the requirements were met. No Corrective action is taken. Then there is the February Meeting with McClatchy, SASS Asst. Director Jen Sachs, and CFO Bryan Richards. And the list goes on. See below.

    More not trues: See the timeline in Post 4 http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2011/12/29/mt-diablo-district-to-seek-waiver-for-mt-diablo-high-state-funding/

    Lawrence hasn’t paid attention to the SBE meetings when he erroneously says: ” however, recently school districts began submitting waivers around other QEIA issues. The State Board of Education began hearing these waivers during their last meeting, and currently over 40 General Waivers for QEIA have been submitted by districts.”

    The truth is that the first QEIA waiver on class size reduction was heard in early 2008. Many have been denied, and those approved, usually with strict conditions.

    Lawrence erroneously says the waiver, not yet submitted to CDE because the Board has neither approved it nor held a public hearing, will be heard on the March SBE Agenda: not true. It had to be submitted, after all approvals, on December 23 to make the March agenda. Here is the calendar. http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/lr/wr/calendar2012.asp

    Can’t we ever get the truth straight from the horse’s mouth ?

  • MDUSD Board Watcher

    This would all be knee slapping laughable if it didn’t border on being a criminal misuse of public funds.

    Steve Lawrence should be thrown in prison immediately.

  • Theresa Harrington

    The district signed “assurances” on its QEIA application pledging to meet the grant requirements. Apparently, the only penalty for failing to keep these promises is loss of funding.
    The QEIA staff member with whom I spoke said the CDE does not try to determine intent. In other words, the state will not try to find out if the district intentionally failed to comply with the requirements.
    Instead, the state will decide whether the district’s arguments for the waiver are sound. Also, as previously noted, the state would like to see that the district has made changes necessary to meet QEIA requirements this year and into the future.

  • g

    So, you might ask why did he gloss right on past the case of Cottrell and his student?

    So he could say “To date, we have received no information that either district students or district campuses were involved in any manner” (as pertains to Astor).

    Accurate, so far, to the one case—but not even close to being Honest about the other case. So typical!

  • Doctor J

    @TH#4 Remember that Mount did not meet the QEIA for school year 10/11 when they sampled in Oct 10 — and according to Jen Sachs they got a report in the “fall”, and then there was the Jan 2011 meeting, the Feb 2011 meeting,etc., ALL WITH NO EFFORT TO CORRECT. If the district had taken ACTION to fix it, they would stand a fighting chance. I can’t believe Dan Reynolds or Rose Lock won’t share the Waiver application. If the district tries to build its waiver on untruths and incorrect assumptions, it will come crashing down. They would be better off right now making corrections, perhaps replace McClatchy ASAP, and show some serious action instead of the protectionism MDUSD is well known for at CDE. This is the SAME dept that required them to do a Corrective Action Plan for SIG grants. MDUSD has a reputation for not following the rules.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I didn’t ask Reynolds for a copy of the waiver, since I thought I could get it from the district or CDE.

  • Doctor J

    @G#5 Isn’t it ironic that Lawrence keeps sending out his notices of molestation of children under his “newsletter” mantra, “Where kids come first”. I think his last newsletter was about Cotrell. Neither of these cases have anything to do with background checks not being properly carried out. They are all about proper boundries between adults and children, and Lawrence has not told us one iota about any training the district does periodically to all employees to remind them of proper boundries between children and adults, or proper boundries between adult co-workers [sexual harrassment]. I hear the Boy Scouts has required training every three years for everyone. They learned the hard way.

  • g

    When Lock stated that the “final” version is (only) in a computer, was she maybe indicating that changes may have been made AFTER Site Council saw and approved it?

  • Theresa Harrington

    Since it will be attached to the Jan. 9 board agenda, I’d be surprised if any changes were made after the site council approval. Reynolds plans to attend the board meeting and will be prepared to speak, if necessary, he said.

  • g

    Doctor J. I still haven’t been able to find this Supt. report online, or preceding ones. I depend on Theresa publishing most of them.

  • Doctor J

    @#9,10 Reynolds can confirm who from the district was at the Sitecouncil and I think it may have been Lock, but I think O’Brien had left on vacation on the 23rd. So if Lock or someone else presented it to the Sitecouncil wouldn’t she have had the “original” with signatures ? The waiver form calls for only one signature: The Superintendent or designee. The original signatures are not kept on the computer. Ultimately that is sent into CDE. Who signed on behalf of the District and when ?

  • Doctor J

    @TH#10 I wouldn’t bet that it will be attached. If the agendas are now published on Thursdays, and Monday is a holiday, and Lorie O’Brien is out of town until Tuesday, what are the chances of it making the agenda ? Just like the actual SIG grants not making it, just a slick slide show.

    @G Only a few are kept for reference — the rest of them are probably destroyed — what ? Destroying public records ? If its not a crime, it ought to be.

  • disillusioned

    I compared Dr. J’s timeline (Mt. Diablo May Seek Waiver….) with the CDE website regarding QEIA and everything Dr. J referred to is exactly on target. In regards to the superintendent’s statement that “we are internally investigating” the actions of John Astor,it makes me uncomfortable because if the “internal staff” is as inept in following the guidelines of the QEIA grant, how can I trust that this same staff will make my child’s school a safe place to learn? Also, am I to believe that the gross illegal actions of Mr. Cottrell are not something that is to be talked about anymore? Because, Cottrell is not even mentioned. I would like to know specifically at what schools John Astor worked “intermittently throughout the district”. Tomorrow, I’ll be online looking for a private school for my child. I can’t afford the tuition, but I also can’t afford to have my child in a district where I can’t figure out what is really going on because of the guarded communication coming from the superintendent, his staff, and the lack of cohesion of the school board. I’ll find a way to afford a private school; but until I do, I’m concerned about my child and every child in this district.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I was also surprised the district didn’t inform parents about the sites where Astor worked. General counsel Greg Rolen confirmed that Astor worked at Meadow Homes, Holbook and Walnut Acres — after ABC TV interviewed parents who said they recognized him.
    After I read comments on another blog alleging that Astor also worked at Westwood Elementary, I sent an email to Rolen asking if this was true. He did not respond. I have also left a message with the Walnut Creek School District asking if Astor worked around children when he was employed there as a “substitute.” I hope to hear back next week.

    Regarding student safety, I expect to have a story in the Times on Tuesday about the district’s busing problems. Although the superintendent says the district may need to make further budget reductions, the district appears to have no qualms spending money on attorneys.

  • Disillusioned

    @Theresa: I’m relatively naive to all of this, but I’m not naive enough to question what exactly Greg Rolen (he’s the general counsel, but an attorney, right?)does regarding legal counsel. I am aware that he was temporarily put in charge of busing and that he botched up everything. I also heard that Dev (sp?) Cooksey is an attorney and she works in personnel which is confusing, because the position of asst. supt. of personnel was cut at some point, but now she’s there. They also cut the position of the Director of Classified, but I’ve heard that there’s a woman named Lois (?) who is now the head of classified. I’m so confused and it’s been tough to keep up with what positions are said to have been cut, and then to later read in the Board Minutes that someone has been hired to fill the position that was cut. I try as a parent to keep up with what is happening through the minutes from the Board Meetings(because I’m unable to attend), but the minutes don’t come out until 1 to 2 months after each meeting. Just recently, I tried to get minutes from the November and December meetings and there’s no way to read them because all the 2011 meetings have been eliminated from the district web site and only the 2012 upcoming meetings are listed. The only way I’ve kept up to date is through this blog, which I just happened to come upon when my husband brought to my attention something he was concerned about that he’d read in the Contra Costa Times Newspaper. So, I went to this website because he’d already thrown the paper out.In addition, the fact that you found out that John Astor worked at Westwood Elementary is the reason that I want to know specifically at which schools he worked. Parents need to know this. Principals handing out materials is less important to me than knowing if Astor was at any time a custodian at my child’s school.In regards to your article on Tuesday, I look forward to any info you can provide on busing because I thought this was already solved (according to the Board Meeting minutes).

  • Theresa Harrington

    D: Please note that I have not “found out” that Astor worked at Westwood. I read that as a comment in another blog, but it has not been confirmed by the district.

    I can understand your confusion regarding district personnel changes, since the board has reversed a few of its decisions. Here is a current organizational chart: http://www.mdusd.org/superintendent/Documents/org-chart.pdf

    Initially, to save money, the board decided to eliminate the position of Assistant Superintendent of Personnel (when Gail Isserman retired). At that time, Pete Pedersen was assistant superintendent for administrative services. When Pedersen announced his intention to retire, the board decided to eliminate the position of assistant superintendent for administrative services and keep the assistant superintendent for personnel services position, which was assumed by Julie Braun-Martin. Pedersen was given a post-retirement contract to become the manager of Measure C. Greg Rolen, who was given a $27,000 raise, took on some of the responsibilities of the previous administrative services director, including oversight of the transportation dept. He is still in charge of transportation. Some people, including a family I interviewed for the story that I think will be published Tuesday, allege that busing service has deteriorated under Rolen’s management.

    I believe the positions of director of classified and director of certificated employees has been combined into one position of director of personnel services. Lois Peterson has this position.

    I don’t believe that Deb Cooksey works in personnel. However, she does handle union negotiations. I thought the district had a “legal department.” But, based on the organizational chart (which does not include Cooksey’s position or a legal department), it’s difficult to determine where she fits into the picture.

    Regarding minutes, Trustee Cheryl Hansen recently reminded the board that minutes are supposed to be completed in time for the next board meeting, according to board policy. Superintendent Steven Lawrence said he intends to comply with this. In addition, he said audio recordings of board meetings will be posted online starting in January.

  • Disillusioned

    T: he also said he would provide a monthly newsletter to all members of the community…….

  • Wendy Lack

    Yikes. Is there something more that should be done on the front-end of the hiring process? When you add up all of these incidents, it’s clear that something has gone horribly wrong:

    http://crazyinsuburbia.blogspot.com/2012/01/wolves-in-fold-school-employees.html

  • Theresa Harrington

    Wendy, As a former HR administrator, what do you think could be done? As I understand it, none of these people had records that showed this kind of behavior. All districts do fingerprint checks, etc.

    Also, what kind of training do you think districts should offer employees about appropriate relationships between students and adults, as well as about how to be on the lookout for suspicious warning signs?

  • Theresa Harrington

    I have just posted an update about new allegations that Astor molested three more boys: http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_19778214.

    This time, however, the DA’s office isn’t saying whether or not Astor met the alleged victims at schools.

  • g

    Theresa, did Rolen ever reply to your inquiry about exactly which schools this perv worked at? Did Walnut Creek schools ever reply?

  • Theresa Harrington

    g: No, Rolen previously confirmed that Astor worked at Cambridge, Holbrook and Walnut Acres elementary schools. In his message above, Superintendent Lawrence wrote: “Mr. Astor worked intermittently at sites throughout the district.” And no, the Walnut Creek school district never responded.

  • g

    Then again, Rolen has been so busy with his problems, maybe he has left Cooksey to mind the communications store.

    I’m not surprised that Walnut Creek has turned a blind eye to the fact that he worked there too—maybe he was only there a very short time because they “noticed” something.

  • Theresa Harrington

    FYI, I have also posted an update to this blog regarding the QEIA waiver and MDHS vote of No Confidence.
    Lawrence still hasn’t received confirmation that the SBE will consider the waiver in March.
    He said MDHS site administrators are drafting a response to teachers’ concerns, which will be shared Jan. 30.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I have just received the following comments in a letter that was mailed to me by a student in response to this blog post: “”I think that what Superintendent Steve Lawrence talked about was what we needed to know. However, the fact that he left out the part about losing $4.8 million over three years is inexcusable. He also didn’t mention how the QEIA requirements are not being met by the district. I think that the fact that he is in charge of running a whole school district that is out of money is crazy. If he wants to make a change like he says then he should let the people of the MDUSD know about the real problems. Thank you for bringing his lack of information to (readers’) attention.”

  • g

    This letter and the reason for it is worthy of an article in the paper for those who don’t follow blogs, or as Ms Mayo once referred to them, “the ‘yellow’ blogs”.

  • g

    To be more accurate, Ms Mayo is quoted in the Clayton Pioneer in 2008 as saying: “… that
    democracy was in peril because of “yellow blogging,” as well as other dubious practices”.

    Clearly she still hasn’t learned anything about democracy.

  • Doctor J

    @TH#25 Any expectation that MDHS site administrators will follow through with the Jan 30 written response ? You have to love the quality of today’s students who are learning critical thinking and realize that Lawrence’s failure to disclose all the “facts” of the $4.8 million loss over three years is, as the student put it “inexcusable”.

  • Theresa Harrington

    The student who spoke at the last board meeting about the all-academy model at MDHS was also very articulate. She said she felt McClatchy was trying to make changes that would benefit low-achieving students, while basically short-changing high-achieving students. Perhaps some of these students may want to transfer the the CVHS charter. It wouldn’t be that much farther out of the way for students who are commuting from Bay Point and Pittsburg, since they could come over Kirker Pass or Bailey Road.

    I plan to do a separate blog item about the MDHS discussion at the board. But, yes, Superintendent Steven Lawrence promised that district administrators would present plans related to five major areas of concern to the MDHS staff on Monday. Board President Sherry Whitmarsh clarified that these should be “draft” plans, with ample room for revisions based on teacher input.

    Trustee Gary Eberhart was even more outspoken. He said he didn’t think such a wholesale change could be made effectively without buy-in from relevant stakeholders. He told me on Friday that if parents haven’t been involved in the planning, it needs to start over.