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Contra Costa Times editorial board endorses Lawrence and Mason in MDUSD race

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, October 29th, 2012 at 11:29 am in Education, Election, Mt. Diablo school district.

Since many blog readers appear to be interested in commenting on the Times’ endorsement of Brian Lawrence and Debra Mason, I am reposting the editorial below. Please note that I am not on the editorial board and did not write this editorial. As a reporter, I do not endorse candidates.

“Contra Costa Times editorial: Lawrence and Mason for school board in Mt. Diablo Unified

© Copyright 2012, Bay Area News Group

As voters select two Mt. Diablo school trustees on Nov. 6, they should reflect on recent years of district leadership plagued by arrogance, deception, secrecy and ethical lapses.

In 2010, trustees and Superintendent Steven Lawrence misled voters about the long-term costs associated with an ill-conceived $348 million bond issue. They also promised a cap on the resulting tax rate for property owners. After voters approved the bonds, trustees reneged and exceeded the cap by 50 percent.

Meanwhile, during the election, the superintendent held private meetings with Chevron at his home. The oil giant was vying for a $66 million solar installation to be paid from the bond proceeds. The company was also treating him to drinks and he was soliciting golf discounts from the firm.

After the election, the district was headed toward awarding the contract to Chevron without competitive bidding until this newspaper started asking questions. When Chevron actually had to compete with other companies, it didn’t bother.

Then, in 2011, disenchantment with administrators at Clayton Valley High sparked the largest teacher-led conversion to a charter school in Northern California. While district officials complained about the extra cost, they ignored that they brought it on themselves by being tone-deaf to the concerns of teachers and parents. District trustees rejected the charter, but the county Office of Education overturned that decision, allowing the school to open in July.

Meanwhile, parents seeking information, as well as this newspaper, have been repeatedly stonewalled by administrators, including school district attorney Greg Rolen, who deny or delay access to public information.

This circle-the-wagon mentality must end. And that must start at the top with the removal of one of the intransigent board members, Sherry Whitmarsh, who happens to work for Chevron, sees nothing wrong with Lawrence’s cozy relationship with the firm and spearheaded early contract renewals for Lawrence and Rolen. She also tries to perpetuate the fantasy that the district is open and responsive to the public.

Whitmarsh is the only incumbent seeking re-election in the Nov. 6 election for two board seats. We urge voters to instead support Brian Lawrence of Walnut Creek (no relation to the superintendent with the same last name) and Debra Mason of Bay Point.

The fourth candidate, former principal Barbara Oaks, didn’t understand the bond program nor realize most of the money was to go for school construction. It was a stunning admission.

Lawrence and Mason understand the program. Both regularly attend school board meetings. Lawrence brings financial expertise while Mason brings the experience of 22 years as a district instructional assistant and would add much-needed geographic diversity to the board.

(A fifth candidate on the ballot, Ernie Detrinidad, dropped out of the race.)

Lawrence and Mason argue for district transparency and question the cost of the bond program. The district was antagonistic to teachers and parents during the charter school review, Lawrence says. Mason says she was appalled by how they were treated.

It’s time for responsive leadership that’s open, honest and ethical. Elect Lawrence and Mason.”

It’s my understanding that the editorial board interview conducted by Dan Borenstein will eventually be posted online at http://www.contracostatimes.com/video.

Do you agree with the Times’ editorial board’s endorsements?

NOV. 1 UPDATE: Here is a link to video of the Times’ editorial board interview: http://youtu.be/ak9H7-AMpK0

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  • Doctor J

    Spot on Shoe ! I hope the cities of MDUSD test the new board’s sincerity quickly — there is much to fix.

  • Doctor J

    First test of the new Board: what will happen with the so-called “Strategic Plan” that Brian Lawrence, Barabar Oaks, Cheryl Hansen all recognize as not being a true strategic plan — will they rescind it, and make Supt Steven Lawrence do a real one ? Will there be a public discussion of the Supt’s job performance goals ? And what about Special Education ? Already some grumblings leaking out about Kerri Mills veiled “threats” to those who don’t play by Steven Lawrence’s “new rules” on Special Ed transportation.

  • Anon

    Congratulations to the newly elected board members. All we ask is that you fulfill the clear mandate for CHANGE of this election. Let’s add a shout out to Debra Mason, who was the caliber of candidate needed for this district and her CCT endorsement was well-deserved.

    Countdown 33 days to MDUSD’s new age of enlightenment, shining the light of transparency into the darkened hallways of Dent. MDEA called for a board that can work together and to that end, Oaks and Lawrence have the opportunity for a casual get acquainted meeting in the next month. Get ready to hit the ground running in December, and bring flashlights !
    :)

  • Theresa Harrington

    This makes Eberhart and Whitmarsh’s move to save the AIS contract for Rolen one of their last actions before leaving the board.
    By the way, the district plans to host a party to celebrate Eberhart’s accomplishments on Tuesday, Nov. 27. I wonder if that will turn into a joint party to include Whitmarsh.
    I personally hope the election results will lead to agendas and minutes being posted online for feeder pattern meetings, Bay Point master plan committee meetings, technology committee meetings, facilities subcommittee meetings, Equity Advisory Team meetings, and all the other semi-secret meetings that take place in this district.

  • Doctor J

    @TH#104 There is still time for a couple of “Special Meetings”. I guarantee you that Steven Lawrence did not sleep well last night. He did not survive a Board change in West Sac and will not survive this Board change either.

  • Wait a Minute

    It should be very telling on who shows up to The Gary’s “celebration”.

    The fact is, IMO there is nothing positive to celebrate about his and Sherry’s reign of corruption, incompetence, and overall dismal outcomes for the kids, staff and taxpayer/owners of this district.

    Hopefully the new board members will get to work immediately to make the wholesale changes necessary to put the focus back on the students and classrooms and away from the “whats-in-it-for-me” attitude of these misreable soon to be ex-board members and their cohorts/co-conspirators at Dent.

    I suggest they partner with Cheryl to get it done.

  • Anon

    Who’s paying for this party extravagance ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    Probably the same people who paid for his plaque. I wonder if Whitmarsh get a plaque for four years of service.
    When Paul Strange and Dick Allen stepped down from the board two years ago, the district held a similar event in the board room, which included cake and other light refreshments. There is a budget line item for board expenses, so maybe it comes out of that.

  • Anon

    Anon #107,

    The same people that paid for the Paul Strange debacle. I bet that Chevron gets involved also.

  • Doctor J

    “One term Sherry” — used and abused by Eberhart and Strange. Will she ever tell us the truth about ButtercupGATE ? It would go a long ways towards her redemption.

  • Doctor J

    @TH#108 Don’t kid yourself; the district paid for the plaque. The district pays for the refreshments too. Do a PRA on it.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Yes, but it’s possible it comes out of the board budget line item, since it’s a board-related expense. Richards never digs down to that level when he does his budget presentations.
    Oaks has said she would like to see budget presentations that dig deeper, instead of glossing over expenses with broad categories. Lawrence has also touted his budget expertise as an MBA.
    Perhaps the board will start to question Richards about his numbers and request budget presentations that show how much is being spent throwing office parties.

  • Doctor J

    It doesn’t matter where its hid in the accounting — it comes out of the classroom. Every dollar spent on Steven Lawrence’s “cal-card” credit card is a dollar from the classroom. I would love to see the last 2 1/2 years of Lawrence’s “Cal-Card” statements to see what he has been spending District money on that should have gone to the classroom.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Shoe: I just spoke to newly elected Trustee Barbara Oaks and she said she heard loud and clear — especially in the CVCHS community — that people did not feel they were being listened to.
    She said she fully supports open dialogue between the district and cities for the benefit of students and their families.