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MDUSD implements transportation changes without first allowing public to see report on which they are based

By Theresa Harrington
Wednesday, July 25th, 2012 at 11:48 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Quite by accident, I have obtained a draft report that includes much sought-after information about Mt. Diablo district plans to drastically change student transportation services in the next school year.

In April, the district asked the independent Fiscal Crisis and Management Team, called FCMAT, to evaluate its transportation programs and recommend cost-cutting measures or other changes that could improve operations. Many special education parents have been anxiously awaiting the results because they know their children could be affected.

District officials alluded to the report’s findings and recommendations in a June 20 letter to parents outlining upcoming changes. In addition, special education Administrator Carolyn Patton outlined them in a June 25 oral report to trustees.

But the written findings and recommendations were not presented to the board or released it to the public. So, I requested a copy of them, along with a copy of the letter to parents, which Patton referenced at the June 25 meeting.

In an e-mail to Superintendent Steven Lawrence, I wrote that it was my understanding the board had received both documents.

He sent me the following e-mail response on July 19: “That’s interesting because I have not received a draft or final report from FCMAT. I will have to check with board members to determine where the reports they have received came from because to my knowledge no one at the district has received copies of the draft or final reports.”

I learned Tuesday that this was not true, when Lawrence sent this email message, with an attachment: “I needed to check with Carolyn and I believe this is the letter you are referring to. It is a (sic) exit letter of the FCMAT audit.”

But the attachment was not a letter. It was the draft transportation report, which Lawrence previously claimed he didn’t have.

It was dated July 18 — the day before Lawrence sent the email saying he didn’t have the report and that no one else did either.

Oops.

Lawrence had inadvertently let the cat out of the bag. He had also provided proof that his previous assertion about not having the report was false.

I posted a link to the document on my blog, along with a copy of the June 20 letter sent by the district to parents, which I received from a reader.

In another email today, Lawrence admitted he sent me the report in error.

“I made a mistake,” he wrote. “ That is our draft report and has not been shared with the board or any member of the public. Because people have been on vacation we are still vetting the draft to get corrections back to FCMAT. As part of the FCMAT process they always check findings with a school district before the report is finalized. Therefore, there could be errors in the current document. I know that I cannot mandate that you do or don’t do anything with the report, but our goal is to share the actual final report with the board at the Aug. 13 meeting. At that point, the final report would be a public document and you could share any parts of it that you felt appropriate. Attached is the letter that we received at the end of the (FCMAT) visit.”

Here is a link to the letter — dated June 5 — which outlines the transportation issues FCMAT planned to evaluate and includes preliminary findings and recommendations: http://www.docstoc.com/docs/document-preview.aspx?doc_id=124879803

Recommendations include revamping staffing, curbing door-to-door service and cutting back on student transportation provided by private vendors.

It appears that the letter sent to parents was based on the preliminary findings in the June 5 FCMAT letter, which the public never got a chance to see. Likewise, the draft report — which Lawrence appears to have initially attempted to conceal — would not have been made public if he had not accidentally sent it to me.

The district’s lack of transparency is causing frustration among parents, who want to know why it is making changes to their children’s transportation plans. They deserved to have been given the opportunity to weigh in on the findings and recommendations BEFORE the district decided to implement them.

Instead, parents are being told now that the changes are a virtually a done deal and they’ll get to see why when the board reviews the final report Aug. 13.

Do you think the district should have invited public input on the recommendations before implementing them?

JULY 28 UPDATE: I sent Superintendent Steven Lawrence an email Wednesday, which included the following statement and question:

“…the report you mistakenly sent me was dated the day before you sent that email. Also Bill (Gillaspie) confirmed that FCMAT sent you the report in a July 18 email. Therefore, you had in fact received a draft report from FCMAT when you stated that you had not and when you stated that to your knowledge no one at the district had received it. Why did you make those false statements?”

Here is Lawrence’s response, which he sent in a Thursday email:

“I responded prior to receiving anything from FCMAT.”

In order to verify that FCMAT had sent Lawrence the document the day before he denied having it, I asked Gillaspie for a copy of the email sent by FCMAT.

Here is the copy Gillaspie sent:

“From: Leonel Martinez
Sent: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 1:44 PM
To: lawrences@mdusd.org
Cc: Bill Gillaspie
Subject: FCMAT draft report

Steven Lawrence, Ph.D., Superintendent

Mt. Diablo Unified School District
1936 Carlotta Drive
Concord, CA 94519

Dear Superintendent Lawrence:

Attached is a digital copy of the draft transportation report developed by the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) for the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Please review this draft document and contact us with any corrections or suggested changes. After we receive this information, we will proceed to finalize the report.

Sincerely,

Leonel Martinez
FCMAT Technical Writer
(661) 636-4387

G: William P. Gillaspie, Ed.D., FCMAT Administrative Officer”

The above email shows that the draft report was sent to Lawrence at 1:44 p.m. July 18 — the day BEFORE he claimed he did not have it and said that no one else at the district did either.

The email included the same draft report attachment that Lawrence accidentally sent to me. Although some blog commenters have questioned the fact that the font with the July 18 date on the cover and cover letter is different from the rest of the document, the pdf from FCMAT includes the same dates. So, it appears that is the way the district received the report.

Now that Lawrence’s veracity has been called into question regarding the FCMAT report, I have requested copies of all emails and correspondence between the district and FCMAT from April to the present.

JULY 29 UPDATE: I have received an email from CAC Chairperson Lorrie Davis, who has informed me that the CAC executive board met with some district staff members to discuss the June 20 letter that would be sent to parents. Davis also said the district shared the June 5 FCMAT letter with the committee.

Here’s what Davis wrote today in an email:

“In regards to special ed. transportation, the CAC executive committee met with Mildred Browne, Greg Rolen and Carolyn Patton before the letter was sent out to parents explaining the new procedures. I appreciated them discussing the new procedures with us and listening to our concerns. In regards to ‘clustering’ our non-severe students, our biggest concerns are supervision and congestion at school sites. Parents I have spoken with have stated they are willing to cluster if it helps to save money and services provided for their children at school. We were amazed at how much money is being paid to parents for mileage reimbursement and agree that this practice needs to be controlled.”

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  • Theresa Harrington

    g: I am not saying that Patton lied, I’m just pointing out that the information about the “similarly sized district” mentioned in the June 20 letter to parents does not appear in the June 5 FCMAT letter or the draft report. It’s possible Patton learned about that from a conversation with FCMAT reps, but it’s unclear why it wasn’t included in the letter or report.
    I have already heard from one parent who wants to know which districts FCMAT is comparing MDUSD to. The public deserves this information.

    Regarding MGT, the district rejected its recommendations because it was comparing MDUSD to districts outside of California. In hindsight, the district decided that MGT’s analysis was not valid, since MGT was also from outside California. That is partially why MDUSD decided to hire FCMAT for its most recent analysis — because it is familiar with California special education laws and practices.

    However, it seems like someone should have looked at MGT’s previous work and determined that it might not apply to MDUSD — before they spent $100,000 on a report they would end up ignoring.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Dan Borenstein just tweeted this: “Seems Mt. Diablo Sup’t Steve Lawrence misled (lied to?) ed reporter @tunedtotheresa Harrington. He should explain why.”

    I have asked Lawrence to explain and am still waiting for a response.

  • g

    Did they ignore the MGT report–or just not like the criticism?

    The district can, and always does say what suits its CYA agenda, but the MGT report was presented by their Sacramento office, and states:

    “MGT and the district jointly selected several California school districts to compare with MDUSD. Peers were selected based on student enrollment, student achievement, and student‐to‐staff ratios. The California school districts selected for this proposal are:

    West Contra Costa Unified
    Clovis Unified
    Moreno Valley Unified
    Elk Grove Unified
    Folsom-Cordova Unified
    Stockton City Unified

  • Doctor J

    Theresa, what time was your email from Lawrence on the morning of July 19 ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    8:19 AM

  • Doctor J

    @G They used “Elk Grove Unified”: the irony is huge — 2010 home of Bill Morones and Dr. Christopher Nugent.

  • Theresa Harrington

    g: That is far more transparent than FCMAT, which cites unnamed districts in its comparisons.

    I don’t know why MDUSD decided the comparisons you cite did not apply to it.

  • Doctor J

    What would FCMAT’s reaction be to a competing report ? Were they ever given a copy of the prior report ? Is this just report shopping ? Expensive shopping by the Board in 2010.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I have just spoken to Bill Gillaspie from FCMAT. He said the district’s third party analysis was done in April, prior to FCMAT beginning its study.

    He also told me that there was a conference call on Thursday in which district reps suggested minor changes to the FCMAT transportation report, which were implemented and returned to Lawrence on Friday the 27th, with a note asking Lawrence to let FCMAT know if the report is acceptable so it can be finalized it today.

    “We didn’t change anything significant,” he said.

    Gillaspie also said FCMAT sent Lawrence its draft special education report Thursday, asking Lawrence to review that for possible corrections. He expects that will be finalized within two weeks.

  • Doctor J

    Did the Board approve the Third party analysis ? How much did it cost ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    Gillaspie said the analysis was done by an attorney for the district. I don’t recall such an analysis being approved by the board in open session.

    Regarding the MGT report, it doesn’t look like the district gave that report to FCMAT (according to the specific areas to be reviewed for the transportation report).

    However, I have not yet seen the specific areas the district asked FCMAT to review for its special education report. I wonder if the district will send out another letter to parents with more changes to be made effective immediately, based on FCMAT’s special education report that no one has yet seen.

  • Anon

    Every Special Education parent should get ready to file a Stay Put for their child!

  • Theresa Harrington

    The district should review both FCMAT reports on Aug. 13 so there will be no surprises when school starts a little more than two weeks later.

  • MDUSD Board Watcher

    Buckle your seat belts, get ready to be shocked. This thing is about to see the light of day.

  • Doctor J

    @TH#61 The scope of the Special Education report is listed in Appendix C of the FCMAT report you linked to previously on transportation, which begins in Section 6 of the Agreement.
    Rumors have it that Lawrence will NOT release the Special Education report — instead he intends to cherry pick from the report and gloss over the findings in one of his famous ever changing PowerPoint presentations. It may be his biggest dog and pony show ever.
    When was the “exit” interview in his office for the Special Ed report ? Is either Lawrence or FCMAT releasing a copy of the letter summarizing the “exit interview” or preliminary report for Special Ed ?
    Lets get those documents just like transportation so we can compare to see the changes.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here’s what Gillaspie told me about the special ed review in an email:

    “Special Education program review: field work done June 4-8 2012.

    Exit letter sent to district.

    A draft final report was sent to the district for review July 26, 2012. Our drafts are not public records, although I understand that you may have received a copy from the district.”

    I believe he was referring to the draft transportation report, when he mentioned the draft I received from the district.

    As previously mentioned, I have requested all correspondence between the district and FCMAT. Gillaspie has promised to send me everything except the draft reports. I assume this means the exit letter will be included.

    I don’t believe that Lawrence will be able to hide the final report. If he attempts to, the public should be able to get it from FCMAT.

  • Lorie O’Brien

    Just to be clear…I am still here! Same job, I just moved offices. Last year my former position was filled part time, temporarily, with a retired administrator.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Thanks, Lorie. I had been meaning to call you today to see if you were still there!

    Unfortunately, I am unable to access those comments to modify them.

  • g

    Taking civil rights lawsuits out of the County looks serious–and expensive–hmmm? “Anticipated” Litigation–hmmm?

    Plaintiffs: Ryan Petersen, Michael P. Petersen and Randi Petersen

    Defendants: Mildred Browne, Ken Ferro, Connie Cushing, Mt. Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD), MDUSD Employees and Paula Lorentzen

    On June 26, 2012, Plaintiffs, Ryan Petersen, Michael Petersen, and Randi Petersen (“Plaintiffs”) filed a complaint alleging several causes of action including inter alia , civil rights violations and numerous state law claims. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs’ complaint involves allegations against defendants who reside in Concord, California in Contra Costa County. *fn1 Contra Costa County is located within the jurisdiction of the United States District Court, Northern District of California. Accordingly, this action will be transferred to the United States District Court, Northern District of California, because all of the named defendants reside in that district and a substantial part of the events giving rise to the claim have occurred there. See , 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). *fn2

  • Theresa Harrington

    g: After reading through the lawsuit you cite, it’s unlikely the district would have “anticipated” this.

    Regarding the top administrator contracts, I have been told by the superintendent’s secretary that they still have not been finalized.

  • g

    You’re probably right Theresa. Just some old failed arbitration sneaking back to bite them.

  • g

    sorry Theresa, I missed your second note about “Top Administrators’ contracts.”

    Do you mean principal/vice principal–or do you mean those Dent Contracts for Lawrence, Rolen, etc?

  • SR

    @Anon#62. That is exactly what I have been advising every Special Ed Parent I know. This whole thing is a violation of IDEA.

  • Theresa Harrington

    g: I mean the contracts for Lawrence, Rolen, Richards, Braun-Martin and Lock.

  • Theresa Harrington

    If any special ed parents would like to speak to me about your reactions to the district’s changes and the FCMAT report for a news story, please call me at 925-945-4764.

  • g

    That’s what I thought you meant. So, what does “renew” mean? How long could it take to change a 2013 to read 2014 on 5 contracts?

    If they change anything else it would not equate to “renew”–it would be NEW.

  • Theresa Harrington

    The secretary said she wanted clarification on the item that Trustee Cheryl Hansen brought up regarding housing stipend of $25,000 that was in Superintendent Steven Lawrence’s initial contract. Although the board did not vote to amend the contract, it would seem unnecessary to provide him with another housing stipend.

  • Doctor J

    If they just extend the termination date, why would anything else need to be changed ? The housing stipend would have already expired, wouldn’t it ? And besides, it was paid. But I did bring up that AB1344 effective January 1, 2012 may be problematic for the extensions hurried through by Lawrence and voted upon by the Board.

  • g

    Three months to “clarify” a sentence in a contract? They continue to soak your pant-leg and tell you it’s raining.

  • Theresa Harrington

    It appears that no one has been clamoring for the contracts since they were approved. But, since Lawrence’s includes an annual increase in pay, it will be interesting to find out if he got his raise before the contract was signed.

  • g

    Dr. J, you are right of course about that little clause in the contract extension regarding “automatic increase”. I’m sure the “phantom attorney” is working on a “Legal Assessment” of AB1344 as we speak!

  • Theresa Harrington

    Yes, even School Services of CA warned against superintendent increases that exceeded the CPI, which Lawrence’s does.

    But, the board was so anxious to approve the contract extensions that no one brought up this important item. Surely, Lawrence and Richards were aware of it, but since the contracts were for themselves, they would have had a conflict of interest to raise the issue.

  • Doctor J

    @TH@82 Add Mr. Rolen to that list — he is supposed to advise the Board on legal issues — with all of the Brown Act violations from AB1344, it appears he didn’t even know about it OR just ignore it. He seems to have a habit of ignoring the law and moral issues.

  • g

    Actually, it was in conflict of their duty to safeguard the people’s interest for them to NOT raise the issue.

    Lawrence and Rolen have a duty to keep themselves informed, and advise the board of new legislation such as AB1344, rather than ignore that legislation and schedule items of personal financial gain near the end of a 6 1/2 hour board meeting.

  • Doctor J

    Lawrence remains silent — guilty — July has been a bad month for him, but worse months are ahead for him as the truth will destroy him. Soon he will have the STAR test results — and disaster strike once again. His contract extension is illegal — everyone knows it — and it will not stand.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Stay tuned for a new blog post. I have received some startling revelations from FCMAT.

  • MDUSD Board Watcher

    As I’ve been saying, “the best is yet to come”. Bring on the disinfecting sunlight.

  • Doctor J

    Last week it was “shocking” and now “startling”. AED is on standby, ready to defibulate the faint of heart. :-)

  • Theresa Harrington

    It’s becoming clearer why MDUSD was able to write its letter to parents about the FCMAT “findings and recommendations” before the report was even completed — some of them didn’t come from FCMAT.

  • Doctor J

    Lawrence caught lying again ? And that is “startling” ? No wonder Rolen told Patton to stick to the script ! Theresa, they are going to have to re-do the Aug 13 PowerPoint now that they have been caught again.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I would be surprised if the Aug. 13 Powerpoint is already completed, since the district has a habit of not finishing PowerPoints until just before meetings begin. I hope the district has the PowerPoint done in time to post it with the agenda. If not, the agenda should include a written staff report that outlines what will be presented in the PowerPoint. Too often, PowerPoints take the place of staff reports, giving the public little — if any — time to review the information in advance.

  • Anon

    Waiting to hear what is up Theresa. If it is as bad as I think I will call you to go on-record. I am hoping it is not as bad as I am expecting but I am getting prepared. I am willing to join other special ed parents and lead a “Class Action” if need be.

  • Theresa Harrington

    In a nutshell, the district appears to have misled parents in the June 20 letter, by attributing some information to FCMAT that was actually generated by the district.

  • g

    Sherry has no political future. It is time for her to stand up and spit out some truths.

    Doesn’t she get it yet? She was a political pawn, and she was the first to be sacrificed.

    She was lured in to a political position that was way over her head. Cheryl stepped on Gary’s toes. So now, like a good little hand maiden, doing as instructed, every move Sherry makes is geared not toward what’s best for the district, but rather toward putting Cheryl down. She acts like a spiteful little eight year old.

    Sherry–Cheryl is not your enemy! She stands up for the causes you “thought” you were being brought on board to work for. Turn your back on the Svengali. He is not your friend.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Both Eberhart and Whitmarsh promised greater openness and transparency.
    Hopefully, they will follow through on that by revealing the nature of the Poway analysis received by the board that Hansen appears to have no knowledge of and by explaining to the public how FCMAT ended up making some recommendations to the district that were provided by the general counsel.

  • Hell Freezing Over

    So, it appears the district general counsel was the “special Ed LAW” expert after all …

  • MDUSD Board Watcher

    HFO,

    Winner, winner, chicken dinner. I wonder how much he was paid to act as a Special Ed Law expert? I also wonder if there was any translation services needed for the letter.

    Things that make you go hmm……

  • Doctor J

    @G#94. Spot on. Sherry has been trapped and emotionally bound since Eberhart and Lawrence sucked her into ButtercupGATE — until Sherry admits the truth, she is a slave to E & L, afraid that the crime of a Brown Act violation will destroy her credibility — ironic isn’t it. Yet by refusing to publicly admit her wrong the truth haunts her like a ghost. On this very blog she refused to tell the truth about ButtercupGATE. Sherry will not run because she will have to answer publicly for her role in ButtercupGATE.

  • Doctor J

    I have wondered why Cheryl has not asked Lawrence for a copy of the Poway analysis. Or maybe she has ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    HFO, I don’t think Rolen was the expert, but he provided the expert analysis to FCMAT.

    Dr. J: As far as I know, the person who allegedly has first-hand knowledge of Buttercupgate, as you call it, has never come forward publicly on the record to state what happened. Unless that person does, Buttercupgate will remain an unsubstantiated allegation.