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Archive for December, 2012

Recap of MDUSD 12-21-12 special meeting

The Mt. Diablo school board held a special meeting Dec. 21, including one public meeting to vote on a construction contract and two closed sessions — one before the public meeting and one afterwards.

During the first closed session, the board discussed the following, according to the agenda:

“Anticipated Litigation – The board will receive information and advice from outside counsel (Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost) on the following matters:
• Anticipated litigation regarding Wendy Lack’s charge of alleged Brown Act violation.
• Anticipated litigation by five (5) District administrators (Superintendent, General Counsel, Chief Financial Officer, Assistant Superintendent-Personnel, Assistant Superintendent-Student Support) for potential breach of employment contract.”

I was unable to attend the open session before the board went into closed session, but here is a link to audio of the meeting:

I arrived in time for the open session and am posting links to video clips of that below:

Report out of first closed session:

Public comment from Greg Enholm, recently elected Community College District Board member:

District resident Wendy Lack reads letter from resident Alicia Minyen expressing concerns regarding the proposed lease-leaseback contract with Taber Construction:

Here is the text of the letter, which was provided to me by Minyen, who was unable to attend the meeting:

“Dear President Hansen and Board of Trustees, I’m unable to attend tonight’s meeting and ask that you read this letter as public comment regarding the $17 million Taber Construction Lease Leaseback contract. As you know, Measure C bond funds will be used to pay for this contract and such bond funds are restricted to only authorized uses stipulated under California’s Constitution under Section 1 of Article XIIIA. Lease leaseback arrangements are not explicitly authorized uses under the law. Bond proceeds should not be used to pay interest (debt service) and the district should be proactive in preserving bond proceeds and staying away from contracts that appear to be pay to play. By approving a contract that appears unlawful, you subject the district to litigation under the School Bond Waste Prevention Action under Education Code. The work Taber will perform is not unique and should accordingly be competitively bid. I hope that you will reject this unnecessarily costly contract that is essentially open ended allowing change orders (see clause for additions), and allowing for interest costs, which can be avoided . Sincerely, Alicia Minyen. Board member of the California League of Bond Oversight Committees”

Here is the staff report regarding the contract (it does not include the PowerPoint presentation, which has still not been posted):

Part 1 of Pedersen’s presentation:

Part 2 of the lease-leaseback presentation, with Tim Cody going over some of the details:

Part 3 of PowerPoint presentation, in which Supt. Steven Lawrence mentions need for middle school science labs:

Board unanimously votes to approve Taber Contract and adjourns to closed session in memory of a Rio Vista Elementary food services worker:

The board adjourned to its second closed session to discuss the superintendent’s evaluation. I did not stay to hear the report out, but understand that it was continued to Jan. 14.

Do you agree with the board’s decision to approve the Taber lease-leaseback construction contract?

Posted on Monday, December 31st, 2012
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 40 Comments »

MDUSD responds to more questions about laptop theft

As more people are finding out about the theft of a laptop computer containing confidential employee information, which belonged to Mt. Diablo school district Chief Financial Officer Bryan Richards, new questions are arising.

I sent an email with the following questions to General Counsel Greg Rolen. His emailed responses are below the questions.


1. How much is it costing the district to provide the free identity theft protection to affected employees and retirees for one year?

2. Is the district’s insurance covering all or a portion of the cost?

3. If so, what is the deductible amount?

4. If so, what is the expiration date of the insurance?

5. Please send me a copy of the letter that was sent to Berkeley school district employees or former employees regarding this incident.


“1. 2. The District’s initial response to the incident included, but was not limited to address list management through the National Change Of Address and Deceased Suppression databases; printing inserting and mailing the notifications, post breach return mail management services and call center services. We have an estimated cost of $29,640. The credit monitoring and identity theft insurance is based on enrollment. Consequently, we are uncertain as to the final costs. However, we will be bringing these matters to the Board.

2. 3. The District has cyber liability insurance through Lloyds of London. This is part of the CSAC Excess Insurance maintained by the District. The Insurance policy provides for $10 million aggregate limit of liability and a $100,000 Self Insured Retention.

4. The Policy Period is March 31, 2012 to January 1, 2013. The Date of Loss falls within the policy period. Therefore we have full coverage. The District has the option to renew the cyber liability policy yearly.

5. See attached”

Here is what the attached letter said:

“To the Estate of Sample A Sample:

The confidentiality of personal inforation we maintain is crtically important to Mt. Diablo Unified School District (“District”) and we take great efforts to protect it. Regrettably, we are writing to let you know about an incident involving some of that information.

One of our offices was burglarized on Saturday, December 1, 2012, and a password-protected, unencrypted computer was stolen after thieves broke a Window, Law enforcement and District staff were immediately alerted because the was protected by a security camera, motion detector, and an alarm. During the investigation conducted by the District, We discovered that the computer contained a payroll file with information concerning employees of Berkeley Unified School District, including certain employees’ name and Social Security number. We believe a former Berkeley Unified School District employee who then came to Work for the District and has since left inadvertently transferred the file to the District’s computer.

The District is working diligently with law enforcement. We have no reason to believe that the computer was stolen for the information on it or that the information on it has been improperly used in any way.

To prevent something like this from happening in the future, the district has implemented several measures to minimize the use of employee social security numbers in district reports and forms, other than when legally required. We apologize for the concern and inconvenience this situation may cause you. If you have any questions, please call 888-414-8019, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time. When prompted, please enter the following 10 digit reference code: 6373121312.


Steven Lawrence, Ph.D.

When I noticed that the Berkeley letter does not include information about signing up for a free year of identity theft protection, I emailed Rolen to ask if the district was providing that service to Berkeley employees.

Here is his emailed response:

“Yes, and those individuals have been so informed.”

I asked how they were informed and asked for a copy of that communication, but have received no response.

I also emailed Bryan Richards to ask about a retiree who left the district before 1998, but received a letter (even though the letter stated that affected Mt. Diablo employees worked for the district between 1998 and 2010).

Here is his emailed response:

“Theresa, I am out of the office and cannot look up the specific person you mention. However, if the retirees are still in the district’s medical plan, or if they have come back as substitutes since retiring, they may have been included for those reasons.

If anyone got the letter, it is because we identified their name or ssn as potentially exposed. We do not know with 100% certainty that all or any of them were actually on the machine that was taken, but we are acting in the most conservative manner that any that may have been on the drive based on what we have identified are noticed.


Richards had previously told me the information was was included in reports in archived files that had been “pulled by staff” and was transferred onto his laptop from a computer that belonged to his predecessor.

He said the district is reviewing its protocols to see if some files should be purged to protect against this type of incident happening in the future.

Board President Cheryl Hansen and Trustee Brian Lawrence have both said they intend to ask staff for a full report regarding the theft and district security protocols to determine what can be done to strengthen them.

What do you think the district should do to ensure that such a security breach does not happen again?

Posted on Friday, December 28th, 2012
Under: Berkeley school district, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 51 Comments »

Second MDUSD resident alleges Brown Act violation in contract extensions for superintendent, general counsel and three other top administrators

Last Friday the Mt. Diablo school board held a closed session meeting to discuss a “cure and correct” letter it received from district resident Wendy Lack alleging the board violated the Brown Act when it extended contracts for five top administrators. The Brown Act requires elected officials to conduct most business in public, with adequate public notice regarding matters to be discussed or decided.

Before going into the closed session, Lack read a second “cure and correct” letter from district resident Alicia Minyen, which alleged additional Brown Act violations related to contract extensions for Superintendent Steven Lawrence, general counsel Greg Rolen, Chief Financial Officer Bryan Richards, assistant superintendent for personnel Julie Braun-Martin and Rose Lock assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and School Support.

Here’s what Minyen wrote:

“Demand to Cure and Correct Brown Act Violations that Occurred on April 23,2012

TO: Cheryl Hansen, President of the Board;

Dear Madam President:

It is my understanding that you are attempting to cure and correct any violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act (‘Brown Act’) set forth in Wendy Lack’s letter to you dated December 10, 2012, which specified, among other things, that certain Board of Trustees violated the Brown Act when they ‘took action to sign contracts extending employment of five district administrators for a period of one year’.

In addition to the possible Brown Act violations identified in Wendy Lack’s letter to you, I also identified significant Brown Act violations that occurred when certain Board of Trustees, specifically, Linda Mayo, Gary Eberhart, Sherry Whitmarsh, and Lynne Dennler, initially approved one year employment contract extensions during the Board meeting on April 23, 2012, for the following five district administrators: Steve Lawrence (Superintendent); Gregory Rolen (General Counsel); Bryan Richards (CFO); Julie Braun Martin (Assistant Superintendent – Personnel Services); and Rose Lock (Assistant Superintendent – Student Services) (collectively, ‘administrators’).

The Brown Act violations that occurred on April 23, 2012, are as follows:

– The Board prematurely extended contracts by not first obtaining and providing to the public certain written notifications from the administrators as required under their contract provision for ‘Extension of Term Employment’ (‘Extension Clause’). For example, Lawrence’s Agreement requires him to notify the Board in writing of this Extension clause to avoid termination, and once the ‘Board is property notified, the Board may determine whether to extend [his] agreement.’ At no time during the meeting of April 23, 2012, was the public provided copies of such notification. In fact, the staff report indicated Ms. Whitmarsh made the request for extension rather than the extension being initiated by a notice from an administrator. Either the required notifications do not exist, were withheld, or the Board waived this requirement and did not discuss or approve such a waiver in front of the public.

– The Board and the public were presented with incomplete employment contracts where material information regarding the terms were withheld. Specifically, Exhibit A was omitted, which must delineate the “Duties and Responsibilities” to be fulfilled by each administrator.

– Staff subsequently amended the contracts that were shown to the public on April 23, 2012, but the amendments were never scheduled on any Board of Trustee meeting during public session. This is not in compliance with the “Amendment” provision of the employment agreements. For example, the contracts state that the “amendment shall be in writing and is effective only upon the mutual consent and written approval of the [district administrator] and the Board, with the Board acting by a majority vote.”

– Lawrence’s Evaluation procedure, as set forth in his agreement under the provision “Evaluation”, was amended without such an amendment being adopted by the Board and properly noticed on the agenda. On April 23, 2012, Ms. Whitmarsh indicated that the reason for her request to extend Lawrence’s contract was because his evaluation had been conducted that same evening. However, Lawrence’s contract states that he shall be formally evaluated within 2 weeks of December 15 and receive an interim evaluation on July 15. The basis of Ms. Whitmarsh to extend Lawrence’s contract was for evaluations conducted on April 23, 2012, which is a different schedule. The adoption to amend his evaluation schedule was not properly noticed on any Board agenda.

Pursuant to that provision (Government Code Section 54960.1), I hereby demand that the MDUSD Board of Trustees cure and correct any and all Brown Act violations occuring on April 23, 2012, and at anytime subsequently, in connection with the approval to extend employment for the administrators. Please also read this letter aloud during your meeting scheduled at 4pm on December 21, 2012, as I will be unable to attend. As provided by Section 54960.1, you have 30 days from the receipt of this demand letter either to cure or correct the challenged action or inform me of your decision not to do so. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Alicia Minyen
Mt. Diablo Unified School District Resident”

Here is a link to my story about the Lack’s cure and correct letter:

Lack’s cure and correct letter alleged that Trustee Linda Mayo and former trustees Whitmarsh and Gary Eberhart held a secret meeting to sign the contracts about seven months after they were approved.

Days after newly elected trustees Brian Lawrence and Barbara Oaks were sworn in Dec. 10, Brian Lawrence received copies of the contracts that were also signed by Trustee Lynne Dennler, but were not signed by any of the employees. This means they still had not been fully executed.

The board expects to publicly discuss the allegations and its response Jan. 14.

Do you believe the board handled the contract extensions appropriately?

Posted on Thursday, December 27th, 2012
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 13 Comments »

MDUSD responds to questions regarding theft of laptop containing confidential employee information

After word of the theft of a Mt. Diablo district laptop containing confidential information spread Friday, I received the following news release from General Counsel Greg Rolen. Although it was sent to me on Dec. 21, it appears that the news release may have been written days earlier, before letters were sent to the affected employees on Dec. 18.

“Concord – On December 1, 2012, a thief broke a window at the offices of Mt. Diablo Unified School District (‘district’) and stole a password-protected, unencrypted laptop. Law enforcement and district staff were immediately alerted by the office’s security system and have been investigating the incident. The stolen computer contained files that included names, dates of birth, addresses, and Social Security numbers for employees and former employees. No financial or bank account information was involved. The district has no reason to believe that the computer was stolen for the information on it or that the information on it has been improperly used in any way.

While the District has not received any reports of misuse, it will be sending letters to all individuals whose information was on the laptop by December 18, 2012. The letters will have instructions for enrolling in credit monitoring that is being paid for by the district. The district will also provide a dedicated call center for individuals who receive a letter to call.

The letters will be mailed to all individuals who worked at the District between 1998 and 2010. If you do not receive a letter by December 21, 2012, please visit our website where you will find instructions on how to find out if you are affected. We will use the United States Post Office change of address database to find current addresses.

‘We do not believe that any of the information was improperly used, however, as a precautionary measure, we are making this notification and offering eligible individuals one year of credit monitoring and assistance in identity theft protection,’ said Superintendent Dr. Steven Lawrence.

The district deeply regrets any inconvenience this incident may cause. To help prevent a similar incident from happening in the future, the district has implemented measures to minimize the use of employee Social Security numbers [and will install encryption on computers that contain sensitive information].”

After I attended a special board meeting at the district office Friday, Chief Financial Officer Bryan Richards told me that 15,927 letters had been sent to employees and former employees of the district. In addition, he told me that a second round of similar letters would be sent to 2,200 people who worked in the Berkeley school district between 2003-04, because their confidential information was also believed to have been on the laptop.

Richards confirmed that the laptop was stolen from his office and said it had been a “loaner” because his regular laptop was “in the shop.” Two bricks were found outside his office where a window was broken, he said.

The laptop had previously been used by an employee who had worked for the Berkeley district before coming to the Mt. Diablo district, he said. That employee no longer works for Mt. Diablo, he added.

Richards said the district didn’t notify employees sooner because it took a while to determine what was on the laptop, using a backup system. He also said it took a while to find the current addresses of the people whose information was on the laptop.

The social security information was left over from the time when districts used to put such data on payroll documents, Richards said. Now, he said, social security numbers are no longer used on pay check stubs.

Regarding the surveillance video, Richards said it was his understanding that it had been reviewed and that it was not possible to identify the suspect(s).

Board President Cheryl Hansen said she wasn’t sure how much it was costing the district to provide the identity theft service, but she thought it might be covered by district insurance. She said the board learned about the the theft during closed session Dec. 10, under “anticipated litigation,” since it’s possible that employees could hold the district liable if their identities are stolen.

Richards said the district has already begun implementing procedures that do not use social security numbers in documents. He has also begun exploring the possibility of using encryption, but no decision has been made about contracting for that service, he added.

The big outstanding question here is: Why did a “loaner” laptop that apparently wasn’t being used by any employee have all that confidential information on it? And how many other computers in the district may have this type of information on them and be loaned out to employees when their computers are in the shop?

Richards said his laptop, which was being repaired, did not contain this type of confidential information.

Trustee Brian Lawrence told me he wants to review the district’s security protocols and strengthen them, where they may be lacking. Clearly, computers should be wiped clean of confidential information when employees who are using them leave the district (or when the information is no longer being used).

Alicia Minyen has said the district needs to hire an internal auditor. I’m not sure if an internal auditor would have caught this, but it seems pretty likely that an internal auditor would not condone keeping this kind of data on “loaner” laptops.

What do you think the district should do to tighten up its protection of confidential employee information?

DEC. 28 UPDATE: I have just spoken to CFO Bryan Richards who clarified that the information was not on a “loaner” laptop after all. He said it was a laptop that had been reassigned to him by the Technology Information Systems Dept. and the data had been transferred from his previous computer, which was left-over from a previous CFO. He said he is not sure who brought the data to MDSUD from Berkeley.

In addition, Richards said he could not answer questions regarding how much it is costing to provide the free identity theft service. That question, along with any other legal or insurance questions, should be answered by Greg Rolen, he said. Unfortunately, however, Rolen has not yet responded to my phone message asking for more information.

DEC. 28 UPDATE: Here is a followup story that touches on questions about the theft being raised by MDUSD employees and retirees:

I will prepare a new blog post with additional information I received from Rolen and Richards.

Posted on Sunday, December 23rd, 2012
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 111 Comments »

MDUSD teachers’ union seeks medical benefits for all teachers

I received the following contributed opinion piece from the Mt. Diablo Education Association, which argues that providing medical benefits to all teachers would improve the district:

“Providing medical benefits to teachers would improve the Mt. Diablo Unified School District

A recent Tom Barnidge article was critical of Antioch teachers asking for a raise in such close proximity to the passage of Proposition 30. Mr. Barnidge went on to state that the Mt. Diablo Trustees had negotiated employee furlough days, and implemented devastating cuts to music, libraries, and sports programs, all of which is true. The point of the Barnidge article was that Antioch teachers asking for a raise in the current economy is a tough sell, given the nexus between voters’ recent passage of Prop 30, and the timing of Antioch teachers’ bargaining demands.

While we certainly understand Mr. Barnidge’s view that most working people are struggling in this economy, comparing Antioch teachers’ circumstances to those of Mt. Diablo teachers leaves out at least one vitally important point: Mt. Diablo teachers are, and have been, in a compensation hole for the last twelve years, looking up to where our colleagues in surrounding districts are standing, in terms of the compensation their districts provide.

What led to this ‘subterranean’ compensation model was a fateful agreement twelve years ago between Mt. Diablo’s teachers and the School Board, whereby teachers gave up district paid medical insurance for salary increases. The understanding was, since future raises would be calculated on higher salaries, the compensation increases generated would more than cover future increases in health care costs. Unfortunately, in the ensuing years, health care costs increased astronomically and raises afforded Mt. Diablo teachers have been miniscule or non-existent. As a result, Mt. Diablo’s teachers’ compensation is near the lowest of any Bay Area unified district with teachers earning, on average, $12,000 less than comparable Bay Area districts, when out-of-pocket health care premiums are considered.

Even with the tens of millions of dollars MDUSD has saved on the backs of teachers as a result of the health care debacle, teachers have stepped up repeatedly to ensure that projected budget uncertainties would not lead to the district’s financial ruin. Just this year, teachers committed to give up eleven (11) workdays, the equivalent of a 6% pay cut, to ensure the district’s continued solvency, in case Prop 30 failed.

Despite the gloom and doom MDUSD has projected since the Great Recession began in late 2007, the district has steadily amassed a huge budget reserve, almost seven times the 2% reserve the state requires for a district of its size. This enormous budget reserve was built on the backs of teachers and classified employees, students and district parents, many of whom must now assume costs for transportation and after school sports, all the while witnessing vital programs like libraries and elementary music disappear.

Until district leaders have the courage to correct the health care benefits mistake, the district will continue to be a revolving door for young talented teachers. As the economy improves, the competition for teachers with neighboring school districts will increase, and MDUSD will revert to being a training ground district where young teachers hone their craft, and then flee with these sharpened skills to neighboring districts that reap the profits of MDUSD’s ‘investment.’

Taking steps to ensure MDUSD has a compensation system in place that allows it to compete for the best teachers would be a good first step in repairing the district’s damaged reputation.

Tyson ‘Guy’ Moore President, Mt. Diablo Education Association”

As a side note, school board members are currently entitled to receive medical benefits for themselves and their families. Although Board President Cheryl Hansen previously suggested eliminating these benefits, the rest of the board voted to keep them. Trustee Linda Mayo receives more than $20,000 in benefits for herself and her husband.

The Grand Jury issued a report comparing benefits and compensation for all school boards in the county. Although most district boards publicly reviewed these reports and approved their responses, the Mt. Diablo school board never publicly reviewed its response. Instead, attorney Greg Rolen responded on behalf of the board, with no opportunity for public input.

Do you believe the district should agree to provide medical benefits to all its teachers?

Posted on Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 85 Comments »

MDUSD Superintendent gives guidance to staff in wake of Connecticut shooting

I have obtained a copy of a message that was reportedly sent from Mt. Diablo Superintendent Steven Lawrence to district staff on Friday afternoon, in light of the Connecticut shooting. I am posting it below, so district parents can see what was directed, encouraged and/or suggested to staff regarding school safety.

“Subject: Connecticut Tragedy

Good afternoon,

This morning a shooting happened at an elementary school in Connecticut. At this time, information about this incident is still developing, so we do not have all of the factual information. However, we do know that along with the recent shooting in the mall in Oregon, people’s sense of concern is very high. First, I would like to thank you for all of the things that you do on a daily basis to ensure that students are safe. Second, in order to assure parents that we are doing everything that we can to ensure their children’s safety, I am encouraging site administrators, teachers and support staff members to continue to implement the following practices:

1. During times of tragedy it is paramount that site administrators and other staff members are highly visible in order to reassure parents that our schools are safe places.

2. Ensure that any visitor on campus either has a MDUSD badge or a visitor badge which indicates they checked in at the front office. For parents who regularly volunteer, many sites have badges that they pick up and drop off in the front office that indicates they are a parent volunteer. If your site does not have volunteer badges, please create them.

3. To help create a positive classroom environment and help with overall school safety, we encourage teachers to greet students at their classroom door during the passing time prior to shutting and locking the door. When students are in the classroom, teachers should keep their doors shut and locked except during passing time.

4. Principals should regularly review the school site safety plan and school safety procedures with the entire staff throughout the school year. Also, parents should be invited to attend School Site Council meetings where the safety plans are reviewed and updated.

5. Some of our schools have volunteer parent patrols that circulate throughout the campus during instructional time as well as passing periods, brunch, and lunch. Best practice for parent patrols is that parents patrol in pairs and be given a walkie-talkie to communicate with administrators, campus/noon-duty supervisors, and front office staff.

6. Taking accurate student attendance each period is critical to assure that we know where their children are at all times. Also, accurate data of students who leave campus early is critical especially in cases where students live in multiple households.

7. In times of an emergency it is equally important to know the whereabouts of school staff members. Therefore, any time a school site staff member needs to leave campus during the instructional day, it is critical that he/she informs someone in the front office.

8. In case you need guidance on how to help your students and their parents cope with the tragedy of the Connecticut massacre, CDE has some guidance online at

For a majority of our school sites, the above list is just a reminder of all the things you already do to ensure our students are safe and accounted for at all times. A district-wide phone call will go out this afternoon to all parents informing them of the tragedy and the steps our schools are taking to ensure their child’s safety. Again, thank you for all that you do.


Steven Lawrence


Many of the items listed do not appear to be required, but instead to be suggestions.

Also, I have heard that not all schools have doors that can be locked from the inside with a key.

Do you believe the school board should establish clear policies regarding safety protocols?

DEC. 19 UPDATE: In response to an email, Superintendent Steven Lawrence has clarified some of the issues raised in his initial memo above. Here are my questions, followed by his responses:

“Q. There seems to be some question about whether teachers are required to lock their doors or whether this is merely a suggestion. Are classroom doors required to be closed and locked during class time?

A. There is no board policy or administrative regulation that requires doors to be locked. My statement was a suggestion and not a mandate. Given recent events, we think it is prudent for teachers to operate out of an abundance of caution. Please note that many teachers already shut and lock their doors.

Q. I have heard that some schools do not have “Columbine locks,” which can be locked from the inside of the classroom using a key. How many schools and classrooms have these locks and how many do not? Is there a plan to install these types of locks on all classroom doors as part of the Measure C upgrades? If so, what is the timeline for competing this? If not, why not?

A. The 2002 Measure C Program did not include district-wide or wholesale installation of ‘Columbine’ type locking hardware. Rather, it included a classification called ‘ADA Priority 1’ items which referred to those high priority items identified in the Consent Decree/ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the District’s Transition Plan. With respect to door hardware, the 2002 Plan called for the retrofitting of no less than 50% of existing non-compliant door hardware with ADA compliant hardware. In selecting that compliant hardware, we elected to use a ‘Columbine’ type door hardware that could be locked down from the interior of the classroom. While we endeavored to expand the percentage of door hardware actually retrofitted as we progressed through the five year Measure C program, there still are at least 43 sites which have not been fully retrofitted with ‘Columbine’ type devices.

Recognizing the number of doors left to be retrofitted (post-completion of the 2002 Measure C Program), the remaining doors were identified and included in our 2010 Measure C Master Plan and were originally scheduled to be addressed in the ‘Modernization’ phase of the 2010 Measure C Program. Because this particular program element was scheduled to be implemented beginning next year and phased over several years, I have asked Pete Pedersen to dedicate his efforts to installing the locking hardware retrofit to accomplish as soon as possible. To this end, I have scheduled a meeting scheduled this week with staff to discuss and draft an action plan.”

“Q. I have heard that the safety plans for most schools are not posted online. Where can parents can review them?

A. The plans are available at the school site.”

I have a copy of the complete MDUSD “2010 Facilities Master Plan Update/Proposed Bond Program Profile: 2010 Facilities Improvement Plan,” which has never been posted online. Before the Measure C election, Pete Pedersen said Superintendent Steven Lawrence told him it was too big to post. I was urging the district to post it in the interest of transparency, since it includes the complete list of projects, as well as costs, for every school in the district. Now that Brian Lawrence has weighed in about the ease of posting thick documents online, it appears the district can’t use that as an excuse anymore.

According to the document, the district planned to spend $8.14 million on a “security system,” about $775,680 on “door hardware,” $773,500 on exterior doors and $242,558 on fencing replacement. Also according to the document, “door hardware” is described as: “Remove and replace all door hardware including closer with ‘Columbine’ style devices and/or approved panic system,” at a cost of $1,010 per item.

Here is a list of schools slated to get this door hardware, along with the quantity, according to the report:

Ayers Elem.: 6
Bel Air Elem.: 2
Cambridge Elem.: 35
CPHS: 55
Dent: 21
Diablo View MS: 17
El Dorado MS: 1
El Monte Elem: 16
Fair Oaks Elem: 50
Foothill MS: 1
Glenbrook MS: 24
Gregory Gardens Elem: 2
Hidden Valley Elem: 12
Highlands Elem: 17
Holbrook Elem: 4
Loma Vista Adult Center: 2
Meadow Homes Elem: 44
Monte Gardens Elem: 10
Mountain View Elem: 6
Mt. Diablo Elem: 16
Mt. Diablo HS: 29
Northgate HS: 7
Olympic HS: 15
Pine Hollow MS: 21
Pleasant Hill MS: 24
Pleasant Hill Elem: 2
Rio Vista Elem: 40
Riverview MS: 11
Sequoia Elem: 11
Sequoia MS: 20
Shadelands Center: 10
Shore Acres Elem: 50
Silverwood Elem: 6
Strandwood Elem: 4
Sun Terrace Elem: 16
Sunrise School: 1
Valhalla Elem: 3
Valley View MS: 18
Walnut Acres Elem: 23
Westwood Elem: 13
Willow Creek Center: 10
Wren Ave. Elem: 21
Ygnacio Valley Elem: 72

This means that as of about two years ago, more than 768 classroom or office doors throughout the school district may not have been lockable from the inside with a key.

Posted on Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 31 Comments »

MDUSD reassures parents about school safety in wake of the Connecticut shootings and anonymous phone threat at Sequoia Middle School

Northgate High students remembered victims the week after horrible shooting in Connecticut.

The horrific shooting that left 27 dead in Newton, Conn. last Friday has prompted many school and state leaders to reassure parents and the public about safety procedures in local schools.

Mt. Diablo school Superintendent Steven Lawrence sent an automated message to parents Friday informing them that district schools would review their safety plans and ensure that classroom doors are locked during the day:

Three days later, the district’s safety plans were put to the test, when Sequoia Middle School in Pleasant Hill received an anonymous call at 10 a.m. Monday from someone who said: “You’re next.”

Both Sequoia Middle School and Sequoia Elementary, which is next door on Boyd Road, immediately went into lockdown, along with the elementary campus day care center. Pleasant Hill police responded and the superintendent came to the site, where no threat was found. The lockdown was lifted around 10:30 a.m.

Here is the message sent to Sequoia Elementary parents by Principal David Franklin:

Early this evening, Lawrence sent out the following automated message to all parents in the district about the incident:

Karen Booth, president of Sequoia Middle School’s Parent Faculty Club, said she felt anxious after hearing about the threat and kept looking at the clock every half-hour because she wanted to pick up her kids, who are in the sixth and eighth grades. But, she said the superintendent’s message Friday was reassuring, especially since many parents don’t know their schools have safety plans.

“I like to think that cooler heads prevail when people are feeling anxious and upset,” she said. “I want to be one of those cooler heads and I feel like I need to model that for my kids.”

Today at Northgate High in Walnut Creek, the school community honored the memory of students killed in Connecticut with this message: “Remember Sandy Hook Elementary.”

Here is a link to guidance for teachers and parents to help children cope with national tragedies from the National Association of School Psychologists:

Do you believe your students are safe at local schools?

Posted on Monday, December 17th, 2012
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Pleasant Hill | 18 Comments »

Community watchdog focuses scrutiny on MDUSD

Pleasant Hill resident Wendy Lack has been watching the Mt. Diablo school district for years in dismay, frustrated by what she believes is a serious lack of transparency.

“I’m of an opinion that we need to clean house,” she said Thursday, during a phone interview regarding her recent allegation that the board may have violated the Brown Act in its handling of contract extensions for five top-level district administrators. “The executive staff have failed the organization. They’ve failed the kids of this district.”

After she made her allegations during Monday’s board meeting, she learned that some staff members may also believe the executive team is failing them.

“As I was standing out in the hallway chatting with people, I had individuals that identified themselves as employees of the district come up and shake my hand and thank me with tears in their eyes,” she said. “It was an emotional outpouring that indicated: ‘You have no idea how bad things here are. Working here is just like a genuine hell.’ That human response told me volumes about the depths of the problems in the district. These are good, hardworking people. It was inferred that what they see is incompetence and dishonesty and they were grateful that this citizen is going to help. That surprised me. That was a very powerful anecdote for me just to experience that. I’m still blown away by that staff reaction.”

Lack said this response mirrored what she has experienced when she has requested public records from the district.

“I’m an organizational development kind of person and I see a very dysfunctional, troubled organization,” said Lack, who has worked as a city human resources manager. “All I know is honest people don’t act the way these people do. Honest people don’t play games with contracts. When honest people respond to records requests such as I made for MOUs (Memorandums of Understanding), people don’t get jerked around. They don’t get this off-putting response.”

Lack said she told the board before a closed session meeting several months ago about her dissatisfaction after she requested to see MOUs with all of the district’s unions. She was forced to pay $52 for a stack of expired contracts that she believes should be available for free on the district’s website. Since the documents weren’t online, she said the district should have provided her with electronic copies at no cost.

“I said with incredulity: ‘There’s no electronic document here? This was typed on a typewriter? I don’t believe that,’” she recalled. “And they answered me with a blank stare.”

Lack said she has asked other agencies to post their MOUs online and they have done so.

“This school district doesn’t do that,” she said. “Is it incompetence or is it deliberately obfuscating records or concealing records? They treat the public like crap. It’s like there’s no obligation at all to be responsive to you.”

Lack said she has heard many parents air similar complaints. And after voters ousted former Board President Sherry Whitmarsh in the November election, Lack said she decided it was time to challenge the district to change its ways.

“I hear enough pain and disappointment among parents throughout the district that it actually hurts,” she said. “It’s time to shape up. With the election results as they were, I wanted to send a very strong signal. I’d like to have them reform their practices regarding how they place items on the agenda and how they provide them to the public in advance. I want to make them aware they are functioning in a fish bowl as regards to transparency issues.”

Lack said she doesn’t know if her Brown Act allegations are true or not.

“I don’t have the facts,” she said. “That’s the point. Do your business in the public and you won’t have this kind of uncomfortableness happening. It’s not tough. But it’s attitudinal. The superintendent sets the tone for good faith, fair dealing and open and honest communication with staff and the public and I don’t get a sense from him that he has a genuine commitment to openness.”

Public officials, she said, should accept personal accountability.

“They should do their best,” Lack said. “And I don’t know that we’re really getting our best out of this district.”

What is your reaction to Lack’s comments?

Posted on Friday, December 14th, 2012
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 54 Comments »

MDUSD Board Accused of Violating Brown Act

At tonight’s board meeting, district resident Wendy Lack submitted the following letter to the board, accusing Trustee Linda Mayo, former Board President Sherry Whitmarsh and former Trustee Gary Eberhart of violating the Brown Act when the three of them signed contract extensions for Superintendent Steven Lawrence, General Counsel Greg Rolen, CFO Bryan Richards, assistant superintendent for personnel Julie Braun-Martin and assistant superintendent of Student Achievement and School Support.

Here is a copy of her letter:

President of the Board
MDUSD Trustees
Mt. Diablo Unified School District Board of Trustees
Mt. Diablo Unified School District
1936 Carlotta Drive
Concord, CA 94519

Re: Brown Act Violation; Demand for Board of Trustees to Cure and Correct Illegal Action

Dear Madam President:

This letter is to call your attention to what I believe was a substantial violation of a central provision of the Ralph M. Brown Act, one which may jeopardize the finality of the action taken by the Mt. Diablo Unified School District Board of Trustees.

The nature of the violation is as follows: In a meeting at an undisclosed time and unannounced to the public, three MDUSD Trustees, Linda Mayo, Gary Eberhart, and Sherry Whitmarsh, took action to sign contracts extending employment of five district administrators for a period of one year.

The action taken was not in compliance with the Brown Act because it occurred as the result of a meeting which was not permitted under the provisions of the Brown Act. There was no adequate notice to the public on a posted agenda that the matter would be discussed, and there was no finding of fact made by the
MDUSD Board of Trustees that urgent action was necessary on a matter unforeseen at the time.

In the event that it appears to you that the conduct of the MDUSD Board of Trustees specified herein did not amount to the taking of action, I call your attention to California Government Code Section 54952.6 which defines ‘action taken’ for the purpose of the Act expansively, i.e., as ‘a collective decision made
by a majority of the members of the legislative body, a collective commitment or promise by a majority of the members of a legislative body to make a positive or negative decision, or an actual vote by a majority of the members of a legislative body when sitting as a body or entity, upon a motion, proposal, resolution, order, or ordinance.’

As you are aware, 1986 amendments to the Brown Act created specific agenda obligations for notifying the public with a ‘brief description” of each item to be discussed or acted upon and also created a legal remedy for illegally taken actions, namely the judicial invalidation of them upon proper findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Pursuant to that provision (Government Code Section 54960.1), I hereby demand that the MDUSD Board of Trustees cure and correct the illegally taken action, as follows:
1) In a properly noticed public session and placed on the agenda, the Board shall rescind approval all contract extensions;
2) In a properly noticed public session, the Board shall provide copies of the proposed language of each individual contract and provide for both public and Board discussion and questions;
3) Ensure that language for each contract is compliant with the requirements of AB1344;
4) In a properly noticed public session, the Board shall vote to approve or deny contracts as presented and with all changes in language; and
5) If approved, the Board shall sign the contracts during the next properly noticed, regularly-scheduled meeting of the MDUSD Board of Trustees.

As provided by Section 54960.1, you have 30 days from the receipt of this demand letter either to cure or correct the challenged action or inform me of your decision not to do so. If you fail to cure or correct as demanded, such inaction may leave me with no recourse but to seek a judicial invalidation of the
challenged action pursuant to Section 54960.1, in which case I would seek the award of court costs and reasonable attorney fees pursuant to Section 54960.5.

Respectfully yours,

Wendy Lack
Mt. Diablo Unified School District Resident”

The board agreed to meet at 7 p.m. next Monday to vote on sending letters to Superintendent Steven Lawrence, General Counsel Greg Rolen, CFO Bryan Richards, assistant superintendent for personnel Julie Braun-Martin and assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and School Support Rose Lock informing them that their contracts may not be renewed after all, since the validity of the signed contracts is in question.

The board expects to discuss the merits of Lack’s allegations and potential “cures” in January.

I will try to post copies of the contracts tomorrow. The copies I received were only signed by former Board President Sherry Whitmarsh, former Trustee Gary Eberhart and Trustee Linday Mayo.

After tonight’s meeting, newly elected Board President Cheryl Hansen told me that Mayo handed her a file folder after the meeting had ended and told her the contracts were inside. At that point, Hansen said she told Mayo she would not sign them, since they were in dispute.

But, Hansen was shocked that the superintendent never gave her the contracts before. She said she didn’t even know they existed until she read about them in my blog.

She also said that Grand Jury reports have typically been discussed during closed sessions, even though they should be discussed openly. I said that I have never seen them on a closed session agenda and have never heard any action on them reported out during open session. So, if they have been discussed and approved during closed sessions, there may have been more Brown Act violations.

Hansen said she hopes her election ushers in a new era of transparency.

Do you believe the superintendent should have presented the contract extensions at a public board meeting, after the contract language was updated?


Trustee Cheryl Hansen has informed me that the board will not meet tonight to discuss the contracts after all. Instead, she plans to invite an outside counsel to address the board about the cure and correct process during its special meeting at 4 p.m. Friday at the Dent Center.

The board had agreed to meet at this time to review and potentially approve Measure C construction contracts, after denying the superintendent or his designee the authority to enter into these contracts without board approval in a 3-2 vote (Dennler, Mayo against).

Unfortunately, I was unable to videotape Lack’s comments, due to technical difficulties. But, here are video clips of the board’s discussion about how to respond:

Board discussion part 1: (As noted above, the Dec. 17 meeting discussed in this clip has been canceled. Instead, the board expects to discuss the “cure and correct” process Friday.)

Board discussion part 2:

Board discussion part 3:

Here is a link to the new contracts posted by Trustee Brian Lawrence after the Dec. 10 meeting:

Here is a link to the April 23 agenda report, which presented the old (existing) contracts to the board, but did not present the new contracts:

Note that the board motions listed at the bottom of the agenda report do not accurately reflect all of the motions made. To get a better picture of the comments and motions, refer to the minutes: and to the meeting audio:

The new contracts are nearly the same as the previous contracts, except the end dates have changed. But, since the start dates are the same, they appear to be original, even though they are actually extensions. Also, the original clause 13 in the superintendent’s contract has been completely removed in the new contract, even though the board did not discuss or approve this deletion. And, Bryan Richards’ original contract included a hand-written change to item 7 that amended the number of vacation days he was permitted to accrue from 40 to 48. The new contract changed that to 40, without board discussion or approval of that change.

There is also an unresolved question about whether these contracts meet the requirements of AB1344, which prohibit automatic salary increases above the California Consumer Price Index:

Posted on Tuesday, December 11th, 2012
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 169 Comments »

Live blog of MDUSD 12-10-12 meeting

Newly elected trustees Brian Lawrence and Barbara Oaks were sworn in.

Dennler nominated Mayo as president and Oaks nominated Hansen as president.
Trustees voted first on Hansen. Public couldn’t see votes, but Mayo said she got at least three so she won.

Hansen nominated Oaks as vice president and Brian Lawrence seconded it. There were no other nominations and Oaks was elected.

Board appointed Superintendent Steven Lawrence as secretary.

Mayo moved, Dennler seconded to accept meeting dates.
Hansen made motion to amend to changing to Thursday nights. There was no second.
Original motion unanimously passed.
Separate motion by Dennler, seconded by Mayo to establish above meeting dates.

Certificate of Signatures to be amended with correction of Hansen as president. Moved by Mayo, seconded by Lawrence.
Unanimously passed.

Consent calendar:

Alicia Minyen spoke about items 9.7, 9.14 and 9.18.

Brian Lawrence removed item 9.27 (lease-leaseback) from agenda.

Hansen removed items 9.2 mins, 9.7 fiscal, and 9.14 taber

Board unanimously approved rest of consent calendar.

Hansen moved to change mins to remove “amended” on motions regarding translation contracts, since they were original motions.
Unanimously passed.

9.7 Fiscal: question re Anna Koroni (spell?) overpayment and adjustment.
There seem to be a number of overpayments.
Richards: CalPERS adjustment.
Hansen asked about cash on hand and Wells Fargo Bank.
Richards: This is paying contract retention for Sun Power.
Unanimously passed.

9.14 Taber: Hansen asked about change order and Pete Pedersen explained it. He said contractor has not yet been paid. He said Measure C expenses are very transparent. He said he vhas given authority for work to be done.
Brian Lawrence asked what would happen if board didn’t approve and Pedersen said he thought the district would still be on the hook for payment.
Mayo pointed out some costs that seemed unforseen and Supt. Lawrence praised Pedersen’s team for low overall change orders.
(Please note that I am uploading some portions of meeting to and
Pedersen said anyone can come and look at books.

9.27 lease-leaseback:
Brian Lawrence asked for an explanation of lease-leaseback and Pedersen explained it. He said district enters into contractor with experience and contractor assumes certain liabilities. We get value and predictability, he said.
Brian Lawrence asked about lowest responsible bidders and Pedersen said no contractor wants to be called unresponsible.
Hansen said the Sweetwater Dist. has gotten into legal trouble with this and Pedersen offered to show board a bid summary. “It won’t address whether this is an end-around public contract law,” he said. But he said it would be more transparent.
Hansen said some deals are being cut in other districts.
Mayo asked if Hansen wanted trustees to disclose whether they had been approached for any deals. Hansen said she wasn’t asking for that.
Mayo asked what would happen if board denied the contract and go out to bid.
Pedersen said it would delay project, but wouldn’t cost district anything.
Dennler asked whether the board should be concerned that something shady was going on and Pedersen said, “no.” He said as long as the district employs the people in his shop, the board will never have to worry about that.
He said this was the best way to do this and get good quality in a good timeframe.

Public comment:

Dan Reynolds: Thanked board for supporting Prop. 30 and opposing Prop. 32, as well as voters.

Wendy Lack: Alleges that Linda Mayo, Sherry Whitmarsh and Gary Eberharted violated Brown Act by signing contracts.

Willie Mims asked for copy of letter submitted to board by Lack and asked for positive changes in 2013. He also said he believed there can be no discussion under Roberts’ Rules of Order if there is a motion and no second. He challenged Hansen to engage more with the public.

Alicia Minyen brought up Grand Jury report in May 2012 regarding Bond Oversight. She asked why this was not publicly discussed. She said the board owes the public this transparency. She said the district refused to implement some recommendations. She said she would provide her request in writing and wants the CBOC to discuss the Grand Jury report this Thursday because it directly pertains to the work that they perform.

Hansen reassured Lack that board would respond and call a special meeting Monday of next week to address the contracts under question. She said the board would take action to notify district administrators that their contracts may not be renewed.

Mayo expressed concerns that she stood as one of the accused and asked Rolen to provide a legal opinion. He said the deadlines are in the contracts.

Mayo said she found a contract that says 45 days prior to termination and asked if Hansen planned to terminate the employees. Hansen said it didn’t mean that.

Dennler clarified that the Monday meeting would not address whether the allegation is correct. Rolen said he thought it required a legal analysis and offered to look into it. Hansen said he would have to be careful about double role, since his contract is one of those in question. He offered to ask someone on the outside to look into it.

Hansen said the board would decide in January what to do.

Mayo said she is feeling very threatened by the word “cure.”

Brian Lawrence said he would be out of the country and would participate by phone.

The board agreed to meet at 7 p.m. Monday.

Superintendent’s Report:
Barb Moser of Foothill MS has been nominated as California League of Middle School Teacher of the Year:

Ernie DeTrinidad presented District English Learner Advisory Committee report.

Bill Morones presented AB 790 Linked Learning Pilot Grant.

Board appointed former Antioch employee as Database Administrator.

Board appointed Melanie Coslow as Construction Manager 1.

15.3 CFO Bryan Richards is presenting First Interim Report 2012-13:

Unfortunately, the PowerPoint has not been posted.

He said there will be no furlough days and employees who had money taken out of paychecks for possible furlough days have already received refunds.

Richards is predicting a decline of about 270.5 in ADA next year. Major drop from last year to this year was due to the Clayton Valley Charter. But, there was a large kindergarten bump that lessened the decline.

Next year will be sixth consecutive year without a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA).

Solar CSI credits are about $3 million.

About 88 percent of budget is for salaries and benefits.

Projected ending balance is $30.7 million, including 2 percent reserve of $5.8 million.

Certified as Qualified, meaning may not be able to pay all bills in three years. Said multi-year projections were amended. Will have to cut $3.3 to about $7 million, cutting at least $3.3 million by second interim.

Mayo pointed out that district may not be able to spend about $2.9 million more if enrollment drops below 30,000 students and required reserve jumps from 2 percent to 3 percent in about 2014-15. But Brian Lawrence said the district has time to turn things around and start attracting more students to the district by then.

15.4 Delegating authority to Superintendent or his designee to approve agreements:
Superintendent said this would grant authority to Pete Pedersen.
Pedersen said this is necessary to ensure classrooms are ready by the beginning of the school year.
Brian Lawrence asked what the last day could be for board to approve. He said Dec. 24.
Supt. Lawrence said district could post agenda Dec. 19 and amend it Dec. 20 for a 4 p.m. Dec. 21 meeting.
Brian Lawrence said he’s not comfortable approving multi-million dollar contracts without seeing them.
Mayo asked if the district could be forced to delay construction a year if they don’t approve contracts. Pedersen said that would be the board’s discretion, but he would want to delay demolition if that were the case.

Motion to grant authority to superintendent failed 2-3, with Mayo and Dennler in favor.
Board agreed to meet at 4 p.m. Dec. 21.
Mayo said she hoped the board realized how much extra work M&O was going to have to do because of this vote.

Board agreed to extend meeting to 11:30 p.m.

15.5 Board unanimously approved easement at College Park HS.

15.6 Board unanimously approved easement at Sun Terrace Elementary.

15.7 Board unanimously approved Sungard Bi-Tech Upgrade 7.9.7

15.8 Board unanimously approved MDUSD/Solution Tree – Mike Mattos contract for Response to Intervention Development Day, Jan. 31

15.9 Board unanimously appointed Trustee Linda Mayo as CSBA rep.

15.10 Call for nominations for California School Board’s Association (CSBA) Delegate Assembly
There were no nominations. Hansen noted that delegates from other districts serve.

15.11 Crossroads job descriptions
Julie Braun-Martin explained that these were being revised to better reflect duties and better position Crossroads to receive grants.

Board Reports:

Trustee Lynne Dennler praised the WOW assembly at YVHS.

Trustee Brian Lawrence congratulated CVCHS on their football victory and said he attended the Ayers feeder pattern meeting, but only about five parents showed up. He said he received the notice for the Northgate meeting, but he asked that it be more inviting in the future. He said it didn’t appear to invite all parents to attend.

Trustee Barbara Oaks said she plans to attend the obesity awareness meeting at MDHS tomorrow.

Trustee Linda Mayo said she prepared a list of meetings for the other trustees.

Board President Cheryl Hansen welcomed new trustees.

DEC. 27 UPDATE: It has come to my attention that the district’s audio recording of the Dec. 10 meeting doesn’t include the report out of closed session. I recorded the first part of the report, which was from the Nov. 5 closed session. Mayo said the board provided the superintendent with direction regarding Public Employee Discipline/Dismissal/Release/Complaint (related to a certificated employee) number 23883. Here is the link:

Unfortunately, I did not get the portion of the report that included the Dec. 10 closed session and I didn’t write anything in my notes regarding that report out. We have now learned that the board discussed the theft of a laptop computer containing confidential employee information during the Dec. 10 closed session, ostensibly under “anticipated litigation:”

Here is the district’s “partial audio” recording of the Dec. 10 meeting:

Posted on Monday, December 10th, 2012
Under: Education | 32 Comments »