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MDUSD superintendent and other top administrators hired attorney to defend against Brown Act violation allegations

By Theresa Harrington
Saturday, February 16th, 2013 at 6:22 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

In response to a Public Records Act request by the Contra Costa Times’ editorial department, the Mt. Diablo school district recently released a letter from the law firm Gagen McCoy that disputed the Brown Act violation allegations raised by Wendy Lack and Alicia Minyen.

Here is the letter: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B3cLD5zizbLtR0JuTFBjQTc3dGs/edit

Here are the Cure and Correct letters from Lack and Minyen: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=6231&mtgId=394

Although the Gagen McCoy letter disputes the Brown Act violation allegations, it fails to address the fact that the revised contracts signed by four board members did not take into account the legal questions raised by Lack with regard to AB1344 or board bylaws, which were discussed by Board President Cheryl Hansen at the Jan. 18 meeting. It also fails to address substantive changes made to the contracts without board approval for Superintendent Steven Lawrence and CFO Bryan Richards.

The board agreed in a 4-1 vote that the contract extensions were valid and it was not necessary to cure or correct the April 23 board action. However, trustees also agreed to seek advice from outside legal counsel regarding possible deficiencies in the contract language.

That contract language is expected be addressed Feb. 25 by another outside attorney: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=6269&mtgId=371.

Do you agree with the arguments made in the Gagen McCoy letter?

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  • Doctor J

    @G #100 Its on their website: “How FCMAT Was Established”

    AB1200 specified that one county office of education would be selected to administer the team. In the spring of 1992, all county offices of education were notified of the opportunity to apply to be the administrative agent for FCMAT. The selection, as required by law, was made by the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Secretary of Child Development and Education. The office of the Kern County Superintendent of Schools was selected to administer FCMAT and signed a contract with the governor’s office to administer the team in June, 1992. Overseeing the establishment of policies for the new unit is the FCMAT Board of Directors. The board is comprised of one county superintendent and one district superintendent from each of the state’s 11 service regions, the Chancellor of the Community College or his or her designee, and one member of a community college district governing board chosen by the chancellor. A representative of the California Department of Education also is on the board. The board meets quarterly to set policies and billable rates ($500 per consultant per day plus expenses) and to monitor FCMAT’s progress.” http://www.fcmat.org/stories/storyReader$16

  • g

    Thanks, but that’s the agency. I wanted to know “why Kern.” FCMAT brings a lot of money in. Can we assume it was based on Kern being heavily Republican and Pete Wilson was Governor at that time?

    Well, duh!

  • g

    On to more fun stuff. Yes, Rolen/Lawrence did in fact use district funds to pay for their outside legal counsel, Gregory McCoy, to sign his name on a letter to pressure and otherwise get close up and personal with the district’s advising counsel from LLL.

  • Hell Freezing Over

    How much? What did it cost us?

  • Hell Freezing Over

    Does MDUSD have this?

    http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_22679559/california-schools-must-set-up-fee-complaint-systems

    Of course I can’t find anything on the district website so thought I’d ask here to see if anyone knows.

  • Theresa Harrington

    g: How do you know that? Who approved that expenditure?

  • Theresa Harrington

    This is what Dr. J has been talking about for a while.
    Although the board hasn’t yet adopted it, a new PROPOSED Uniform Complaint Policy is on the district’s home page: http://www.mdusd.org/NewsRoom/Pages/uniform-complaint-policy-changes.aspx
    The policy was supposed to be in place by March 1.

  • g

    I saw it when the warrant reports came out. Of course without seeing the invoice, it’s anybody’s guess, but–we’ve never used this firm before. Since it was a small amount, I thought I’d wait to see if there was more to come in Feb payments, but, we’ll have to wait another month for those to publish…so:

    Gagen McCoy McMahon (et al), Legal Expense, $249.62, 010-5028-52-5850. The 4 codes are: Dent-General counsel-Board/Supt.-Legal

    Very small amount, but I imagine all Gagen had to do was put Rolen’s assertions on their letterhead and sign it.

  • Doctor J

    What page ? Better print it out quick,

  • g

    In cases like this where Rolen/Lawrence/Richards are all complicate it would not matter, but in a district this size, and with an annual budget well over half a billion dollars when you factor in the bond spending—does it make any sense that our checks only need ONE signature?

  • Doctor J

    If Gagen McCoy represented the District, it could not have written the letter on behalf of individuals against the district. So I think one has to assume that Gagen McCoy was being paid for the personal legal expenses of the Big5 — but the invoice will be the key. Will be interesting to see who the invoice was being sent to and who authorized the expenses. This could be a career ending event. Its always possible the board authorized it in closed session, but that was never reported out.

  • g

    We have SEVEN official outside firms, with two more requested, and on hold until Rolen resurfaces to present his reports. Gagen is not one of them.

    On this same report I had noticed and mentioned the FCMAT payment for SpEd study, and wondered about it being about $5K over what that report was supposed to cost, especially since we had learned that Lawrence had ‘lowered’ the scope of that study—Now we know-slip in a secret invoice and pay two under one warrant!
    That one also seems strangely coded. $27,936.86 Program Code-COMMUNITY DONATIONS.

  • Theresa Harrington

    g: Maybe that is why FCMAT hasn’t responded to my request for the invoice.

  • Doctor J

    @G#112 Funny, because at the Board meeting Steven Lawrence said the cost was exactly what the contract said which I believe was like 22,200.

  • Doctor J

    And the district management can’t understand why the public has mistrust of the district ?

  • Hell Freezing Over

    $20,675.00 to Nacht and Lewis Architects for “Y110800 Alves Master Program” warrant date 12/07/12

  • g

    HFO: We’ve spent a wad already for the Alves site. Much of it (other than the original approved Engineer agreement running nearly $200K) has been kept in increments under the $25K that comes to the board for approval.

  • Theresa Harrington

    HFO: Thanks for pointing that out. As I have previously stated, the Bay Point Master Plan Committee has met secretly, but there have been no agendas or minutes posted. Now, however, a new report by Schreder has appeared on the Bay Point Master Plan website, after nothing was posted since May of last year: http://www.baypointmasterplan.com/. Perhaps Nacht and Lewis were also involved with that.
    As usual, there seems to be a discrepancy with the dates. Although the report itself is dated Feb. 5, 2013, the link to it on the website is dated Feb. 26, 2013. Maybe that’s the date it was uploaded – one day AFTER the Monday board meeting, so no one could bring it up, since they didn’t know it existed.
    The Nacht and Lewis payment fell conveniently below the $25,000 threshold for board approval. Perhaps the board should consider lowering that threshold to $20,000, if it wants to be kept in the loop.
    Hopefully, trustees will request a board presentation of the report, so they and the rest of the public can find out what has been going on in the secret meetings.

    And speaking of secrecy, Trustee Brian Lawrence on Monday asked Julie Braun-Martin to release bios of candidates to the public at the same time the board receives them, so the public can weigh in on appointments. This means the public will know the names of candidates BEFORE they are announced and voted on. Hansen agreed that the public has aright to this information. Slowly, Brian Lawrence and Hansen are forcing transparency on the district.

    And the superintendent announced some good news at the meeting: Diablo View and Foothill middle schools, along with College Park High, are all receiving site visits because they are being considered for recognition as California Distinguished Schools.

    Please note that I have started uploading video clips from Monday’s board meeting to YouTube.com/tunedtotheresa.

  • Wendy Lack

    Surely the District has an approval policy for contracts and expenditures that covers both individual expenditure amounts as well as cumulative amounts to vendors — so as to avoid circumvention of authorization rules in this manner.

    If not, this is a clear loophole in the District’s financial policies that needs to be plugged pronto.

    It’s disappointing that the District keeps shooting itself in the foot, with one abuse after another. Perhaps the Finance Director figures these kinds of shenanigans won’t be noticed if they keep coming faster and piled higher and deeper?

  • Doctor J

    I can’t believe that it is proper for the district to pay for the personal legal expenses of the BIG5 in their contract issues with the district without Board authorization.

  • Theresa Harrington

    More than 700 school boards have adopted resolutions asking Congress to stop sequestration, which would deeply affect education funding: http://nsbac.org/?p=1452

    The MDUSD board is not one of those . Instead, it seems to be challenged just trying to keep up with its own district business.

  • Doctor J
  • Giorgio C.

    @84Dr. J,
    I am familiar with the BSA. It took a lot of effort to get them to come in and help clean up a problem with my own state agency. In fact, I finally had to enlist both the Feds and BSA in order to accomplish anything. They should also be given authority as they have none. They simply make recommendations, hence my simultaneously contacting the Feds. I am proud to have a letter from the BSA acknowledging my efforts as a whistleblower. They normally do not provide such a letter, but I needed it to protect myself from retaliation.

    The BSA currently receives approximately 5,000 complaints per year. I do not believe school districts are part of their purview. They are responsible for overseeing the following agencies.
    http://www.bsa.ca.gov/reports/agencies

    They do oversee the Dept of Ed, but not the school districts. If the CDE is not fulfilling some sort of legally required obligation with respect to overseeing the school districts, then one can make a complaint against the CDE.

    We need someone tasked 100% of the time with providing oversight of our schools.