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MDUSD board to hold special closed session meeting Monday regarding superintendent’s evaluation and possible litigation

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, July 13th, 2012 at 11:42 am in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Last month, the Mt. Diablo school district trustees voted 3-2 to authorize Superintendent Steven Lawrence to enter into construction contracts and hire administrators over the summer without their approval, in part because trustees normally take the month of July off.

However, the board has scheduled an unanticipated special closed session meeting Monday to discuss the superintendent’s evaluation and two potential lawsuits.

Here is the agenda:

“Special Closed Session
DATE: 7/16/2012 TIME: 6:00 PM CODE:
LOCATION: Room 6, Dent Center – 1936 Carlotta Drive, Concord

1.0 Call to Order

1.1 President will call the meeting to order: Info

1.2 Pledge of Allegiance and Roll Call: Info

2.0 Public Comment
2.1 The public may address the Board concerning items that are scheduled for discussion during closed session only. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers or the three minute limit may be shortened. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time: Info

3.0 Adjourn to Closed Session

3.1 Superintendent’s Evaluation: Info

3.2 Anticipated Litigation: Info

4.0 Adjournment
4.1 Adjourn meeting: Info”

At the June 25 meeting, trustees Gary Eberhart and Cheryl Hansen voted against authorizing the superintendent to hire administrators without board approval, saying they did not want to relinquish that authority. Board President Sherry Whitmarsh, Vice President Linda Mayo and Trustee Lynne Dennler voted in favor of granting that authority to Lawrence.

Do you agree with the board’s decision to authorize Lawrence to hire administrators over the summer without board approval?

JULY 15 UPDATE: I received the following email from Trustee Cheryl Hansen today, informing me that she was surprised by the Monday meeting and is unsure why the board needs to continue discussing the superintendent’s evaluation:

“I just thought you might be interested in how I found out about Monday night’s special Board meeting: I read your blog posting on Thursday afternoon which was the first that I’d heard about any meeting.

When I checked my email, I found a message from Greg Rolen sent on July 12 at 12:47 PM to all Board members that referenced a Monday meeting. A couple of hours later, I received the email that the agenda had been posted.

That evening, I emailed Sherry Whitmarsh asking her what the point of Monday night’s meeting was since, according to Sherry at our April 23 Board meeting, ‘we finished the superintendent’s evaluation,’ which was her justification when I questioned her about what the hurry was for extending the superintendent’s contract that night.

Given the surprise nature of this meeting, I also asked Sherry to send me any materials that might be presented or discussed on Monday night so that I could reflect upon them advance. When I received no response, I emailed her again on Saturday and, as of this moment, have still had no response from Sherry.”

JULY 16 UPDATE: I received a voicemail this morning from Board President Sherry Whitmarsh explaining that the reason she did not return Hansen’s email was that she was camping in a remote location Thursday through last night and was not checking e-mail.

“She did not receive anything from me because it was not my meeting to call,” Whitmarsh added. “The superintendent wanted to discuss his evaluation for the next school year.”

JULY 17 UPDATE: I just spoke to Board President Sherry Whitmarsh to get clarification on her statements to me yesterday. She said the superintendent asked her if it would be okay to have a special meeting and she agreed.

“He did own that agenda item,” she said.

The other clarification was regarding her statement about the Poway “definitive assessment.” She said it was a closed session conversation with “OUR counsel, not the bond counsel.”

“Greg spoke to me in closed session,” she said. “I don’t know if it was anticipated litigation or what else. I do not remember when it was.”

When I asked if the rest of the board was present at the time, she said: “Yes, as far as I can recall. But there have been some times when someone has come in late.”

Regarding administrative assignments, she said the district may release them all at once next week — hopefully by Aug. 1. She said she hopes to put together a list of all the schools and principals, vice principals and student services coordinators — indicating which ones are new to the sites — “so that people can just see what’s going on.”

“I know that they are still conducting interviews this week,” she said. “So that’s why I belive they were trying to wait ’til early next week to release because they were hopng to have the interviews completed and the acceptances done.”

Whitmarsh’s latest characterization of the “definitive assessment” of the Poway letter being a conversation between herself and General Counsel Greg Rolen during an unnamed closed session — which Trustee Cheryl Hansen does not appear to recall — seems to undermine assertions by Superintendent Steven Lawrence and Trustee Gary Eberhart that they had received a “thorough analysis” of the Poway letter. It also appears to contradict Rolen’s statement in his PRA denial that: “The request seeks a legal analysis provided by the bond counsel to the Board of Education.”

That doesn’t sound like a conversation between him and the Board President. That sounds like a direct communication between the bond counsel and the board.

As a reminder, here is a link to video of the board’s conversation about the Poway letter: http://qik.com/video/52274799</a

Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the first portion of the superintendent’s comments on video. But, according to my notes, he said: “We’ve given the board a thorough analysis of the Poway letter.” The video also shows Trustee Gary Eberhart saying: “We have received extremely definitive assessments of the process we’re using…”

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  • g

    Theresa, regarding #97: I only saw part of the post, and hadn’t yet opened it to see if there was more. But there’s an old Yiddish proverb worth considering and repeating, especially as election time comes near:

    “A half truth is a whole lie.”

  • Anon

    @100…The district’s CFO should have known pretty quickly that the IRS penalty could be sucessfully argued. The IRS is incorrect many times. This blog post by Eberhart is ironic…I’ve lost count of how many more significant and “ridiculous problems” have occured since McHenry’s departure. In addition, I’d like to know why Eberhart felt publicly flogging/blogging about McHenry’s evaluation of mistakes was proper given this was likely closed session discussion.

  • Sue Berg

    Anon #102, The District administration and Board did know pretty quickly that the IRS penalty could be successfully argued. Dick Nicoll, assistant superintendent overseeing the Fiscal Services Department at the time the IRS issue arose, worked with staff to provide the documents needed to prove the district’s case to the IRS. He reported to the Board and Superintendent on several occasions that it would be resolved–not quickly, but eventually–in the district’s favor. And all Board members and the Superintendent asked many questions about it.

    Many of us who listened to the staff reports and Board discussions of the issue were surprised to hear Gary Eberhart publicly blame the Superintendent and chastise his fellow Board members about it. There were some attempts to counter his comments, but if you recall, Eberhart’s voice was beginning to drown out all others at that time. He and Paul Strange were presenting themselves as the only independent thinkers on the Board, the only ones willing to challenge the Superintendent’s thinking and recommendations. They were the “common men” rising up to fight the “establishment.” Who doesn’t love that story? A majority of voters certainly did. Those of us who tried, in vain, to counter the accusations and support the Superintendent and the three other Board members were ridiculed on the Strange Eberhart blog; most have since left the district.

    It’s all water under the dam now, but there is a lesson to be learned: Sometimes the loudest voice is not the one to heed. Listen carefully–and skeptically–to the voices of all the candidates who run for a Board seat in November. Base your vote on information, not rhetoric.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here is a new blog post that includes a transportation letter sent to special ed parents and the draft FCMAT report: http://bit.ly/PgSGux

  • Doctor J

    With just days left before the release of the 2012 STAR test results, Supt Lawrence will being the “spin” on another year of poor peformance in MDUSD — consistent with his track record in West Sac and last year’s measley 2 point API gain in the district. Lawrence in the next week will receive the results and plug them into a “private program” [purchased by the district] to predict API scores so he doesn’t have to wait — so he will likely know BEFORE the Aug 20 Board meeting and certainly before the Aug 27 Board Meeting what he needs to spin — if you think the US Presidential election will have spin, you ain’t seen nothing yet compared to what Lawrence will twist and turn, while declaring “hocus pocus”.

    The question remains: After two years of SASS “reforms” that haven’t worked, what will be the future of “one size fits all” and “test, test, test and more testing” ? Unless we see a substantial gain in the API district score of at least 50 plus points [that's only a two year average of 25 points] who will tell Lawrence he has failed again ? Will the newly elected School Board have the guts to tell Lawrence to “pack his bags” and eat the buy-out under his contract ?

    Here is what the CDE announced on July 17 about the release of the STAR test results: “Consequently, your district will receive STAR Student Reports no later than August 22, 2012. The public release of the 2012 statewide STAR Results will be August 31, 2012.”