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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:

Here are the Cure and Correct letters from Lack and Minyen:

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:

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

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123 Responses to “MDUSD superintendent and other top administrators hired attorney to defend against Brown Act violation allegations”

  1. Doctor J Says:

    The BIG5 going to sue the district ? Ha ha. Who would hire them next ? AB 1344 prevented those contracts from being extended as written which is why Greg Rolen delayed revising the agreements. Let them sue — time to post notices of vacancies and start the hiring process.

  2. Doctor J Says:

    Greg McCoy refers to “Steve” Lawrence — they are Rotary brothers. Don’t get too worked up about this letter. What everyone should be worked up about is that the Supt would conspire with four others to sue the district.

  3. g Says:

    I’m glad good ol’ buddy Greg McCoy got to see all those minutes from 4/23; the people’s records certainly don’t show them. Now they are public record without having to pay with your first-born to get copies. Thanks Theresa!

    Noticed also that he incorrectly spoke of the “original” contracts as expiring 2014, when in fact it was 2013, and he even based a good piece of his opinion on that incorrect date. And here I thought putting wrong dates on contracts were Rolen’s area of expertise.

    And, could someone explain to me why his learned opinion (including his attempt to invoke estoppel–ha ha) was directed to Ms. Brown, and NOT the board.

    Was Ms. Brown engaged to represent the board in ‘revoking’ the 4/23 vote? I don’t think so! And her presentation on 1/14 certainly didn’t sound like it — she was engaged just to give a presentation on Brown Act and opinion on the Cure & Corrects–right?

    Makes you wonder, if McCoy’s faxed 1/17 letter was intended to negatively influence the opinion of our attorney who was engaged to come back the next day, 1/18 to complete her study, doesn’t it?

    Dr. J: You are spot on about the five hooking elbows to get McCoy to sing their tra-la-la. But they didn’t actually sue. They just got someone to echo a Rolen thought-piece — errors and all.

    So, Theresa–did Ms. Brown reply to Mr. McCoy????

  4. Hell Freezing Over Says:

    If “they” hired this lawyer, are “they” paying for the service, or is the “district” (us, the public) paying?

  5. Doctor J Says:

    Don’t each of the BIG5 have different interests ? Doesn’t that create a “conflict of interest” with the attorneys ? What if the Board wants to extend 1 or 2 of the contracts and not the others ? How could the attorneys agree to some, but not all ? Hello State Bar.

  6. g Says:

    No. What they have in common is that their only interest is their paycheck. Everything they do comes right back down to that as their only motivation.

    HFO: They may write the check, but they’ll take it out of our hide over the next 16 months.

  7. vindex Says:

    Shameful. The saga continues. We must fire Rolen and Lawerence to turn the page. WE MUST DO A BETTER JOB WITH OUR NEW HIRE. McHenry was strike one. Lawerence is strike two. We must do a better job at looking at the character of the individual and not just how many letters they have after or before their name. Rolen is one of the worst individuals I have ever heard about, and he should have been fired yesterday. Lawerence is also a very interesting individual, though not on par with Rolen. Locke is a good lady.

  8. Alicia Says:

    This is a off topic, but important. For those employees whose social security number was on Richard’s stolen laptop, you should also be on the look out for Tax Fraud where false filings are made under your name and social security# to the IRS to seek refund claims. This type of fraud would not be detected on your credit report. Please see the article below addressing this type of tax fraud that is occurring nation wide on a rampant scale:–finance.html

  9. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Thanks, Alicia.

    In case you missed it, here’s a column by Tom Barnidge profiling Wendy Lack:

  10. Doctor J Says:

    @TH#9 Wendy knows how government works and how it doesn’t. Thankfully she just wants the truth told — which also is my mission.

  11. Wendy Lack Says:

    @DJ #10:

    Truth has been defined as recognition of reality. I adhere to this definition and am a seeker of truth accordingly.

    It has been said that you can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.

    I believe that the truth always triumphs. Reality cannot be denied, no matter what’s popular or in vogue.

    There is such a thing as absolute truth. It’s called reality.

  12. Teacher Says:

    People thought the district would be better by getting rid of Gary McHenry and the prople who worked with him. I long for the good old days!

  13. Alicia Says:

    @9 & Wendy…Great article! We need more public watchdogs like Wendy.

  14. Wendy Lack Says:

    My recent blog article about East Bay schools/job training was picked up by the website:

    Just sharing this because it’s one of the newer sites designed to be developed by and for local government watchdog types. Readers of this blog may be interested in reading and/or submitting articles on a whole range of topics, including education.

    (Theresa, hope you don’t mind use of this space to make a plug! But it’s for a good cause since the site promotes good governance, efficiency, transparency, etc. — all the things that interest readers of this blog.)

  15. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Wendy, No, I don’t mind. Thanks for the info!

  16. Theresa Harrington Says:

    For those who have been asking to see the superintendent’s priority performance goals in writing, here they are:

  17. Doctor J Says:

    I have been pondering the BIG5 contract extensions set to go to the Board on Monday and their powerplay to jointly hire Steve’s Rotary brother as their collective attorney. The only way to effectively combat that powerplay is to consider the contract extensions individually which then gives the Board the option to approve some and disapprove others. It will be very interesting to watch Linda Mayo since she tried last April to have Greg Rolen’s contract not extended. One last tidbit — Greg McCoy, their attorney, was a school board trustee in San Ramon Valley Unified from 1977-1985 but I don’t think he does much education law.

  18. Theresa Harrington Says:

    The board already agreed in a 4-1 vote that the contract extensions through June, 2014 were valid. So, I don’t anticipate anyone trying to revoke them on vote on them individually.

    The action on Monday is merely to clean up the contract language.

  19. Doctor J Says:

    AB1344 made a simple extension impossible which is all the Board on April 23 authorized. Depending on the language changes it might be open for debate.

  20. Wait a Minute Says:

    God I hope so Dr J.

    I can’t imagine squaundering this opportunity to be rid of this cancer and have the ability to hire new managment that is both ethical and competent.

    If they allow themselves to be intimidated by Rolen’s lawyer friends and squander chance then it will be both costly and delay any chances of real and positive change for another year plus.

  21. Doctor J Says:

    There may be hope on the horizon — capping a Supt’s severance pay to 3 months.

  22. g Says:

    Monterey (MPUSD) would be a perfectly sized school district for Steven Lawrence—and they’re searching….

  23. g Says:

    Which reminds me…did we EVER find out if Mildred Browne is receiving pay through the end of her contract—even though she is “on personal leave?”

  24. Doctor J Says:

    I don’t recall any public Board action on Mildred Browne. And while I am at it, where is the FCMAT report on Special Ed ? Both the first version and the final version ?

  25. Doctor J Says:

    Theresa, I sure hope you get your Brown Act video technical difficulties ironed out — am anxious to hear what the Board was told and what their questions were.

  26. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I keep getting an error message, but I’m hoping it will upload when I get to work tomorrow. If not, I took notes and can let you know what the questions were. The most interesting thing to me was that the board can collectively decide to waive its closed sesssion exclusion if it decides it is in the public’s best interest to release closed session or attorney-client privilege documents. Also, the board is supposed to report out settlements after they have been ratified. I don’t think the board currently does this.

  27. Doctor J Says:

    From the one video you posted of the Public Records Act, that atttorney from Sacramento of FFF seemed very knowledgeable.

  28. Doctor J Says:

    I hope you do blogs on all three of the major issues: Brown Act, Public Records Act and the Strategic Plan — the latter being the hardest to understand who was talking and what was being said — no fault of yours, it was just the venue.

  29. g Says:

    I suspect Rolen kind of thought of FFF as ‘his’ team, and wonder (if he’s still around next year) will they be brought forward again for renewal with the other legal teams? Rolen/Pedersen already (pretending it was a new idea and new need) replaced their duties as Measure C counsel with Mr. Henderson from Orbach Huff & Suarez. I figured that was because FFF might not have wanted to go along with all of the no real bid Lease/Leaseback bs.

    Which reminds me. We just added Orbach as a new outside counsel in Oct for measure C. WHY does Rolen want to give them “another” contract tomorrow?

  30. Doctor J Says:

    Rolen is like the dealer at the Blackjack table — he’s just dealing the cards. I wonder if his paycards reflect the time he was in court the last couple of months on personal business or if he actually took Personal Necessity days. Now that would be a good Public Records Act request Theresa, because you can match the court records with his time.

  31. Doctor J Says:

    Its nice to see the Brentwood school Board hold the Superintendent accountable and fire him.

  32. Giorgio C. Says:

    Speaking of Brown Act violations, I’m having to prod my elementary school to comply by posting the agenda 72 hours ahead of time for the School Site Council meetings. I wasn’t able to obtain an agenda until the day of the meeting.

    The SSC meeting is a great vehicle for parent-community involvement and oversight of each and every school, so it should be used to its fullest capacity.

  33. Theresa Harrington Says:

    At the retreat, I was switching back and forth between my flip cam and smart phone, due to storage issues. So, there are five video clips from the retreat at, including one from the morning session about the Public Records Act and four from the strategic plan discussion.

  34. Doctor J Says:

    LOL. And typing notes at the same time !! It was a little hard to see, but I thought Steven Lawrence said his “cabinet” was there in the afternoon. I noticed that I didn’t see Rose Lock. Was there any discussion about not including the public in the discussion about the cabinet’s proposed changes ?

  35. Wendy Lack Says:

    @ DJ #34: Rose Lock was in attendance during the afternoon session.

  36. Theresa Harrington Says:

    As Wendy pointed out, Rose Lock was there.
    Unfortunately, by the end of the strategic plan discussion, both my flip cam and smart phone were full, so I was unable to record the conclusion.
    Yes, Hansen pointed out that staff had essentially rewritten the strategic plan with no public input. Susan Petersen and others appeared to be surprised by this comment. Superintendent Steven Lawrence said the cabinet was merely trying to condense it and reduce repetition and try to prioritize it. He also said the public could have commented on it at the retreat.
    All of the board members seemed to appreciate the revisions, for the most part. Hansen said the revised version should be brought back to the board first as an information item for public comment, then to another meeting for adoption.
    Trustees suggested a few changes, which I hope to outline in a separate blog post.

  37. Wendy Lack Says:

    . . . at least the first part of the afternoon session, that is.

  38. Theresa Harrington Says:

    In looking at my video (which I am again trying to post to, it appears that Lock remained throughout the afternoon.

  39. Doctor J Says:

    @TH#36 Staff surprised that the definition of a Strategic Plan is to have ALL stakeholders, including the public, involved in its preparation ? Were any of the union leaders involved in the plan revision ? Did Susan Petersen explain why she was surprised by this comment ? This goes right back to the discussion I had with Lorie O’Brien about public input. The real problem in MDUSD is they don’t want any public input in the development of the plan — they are aristocrats. This is why Steven Lawrence liked all these secret committees — he hates real public input. Remember the secret vote conducted by Rose Lock ?

  40. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Petersen didn’t say she was surprised, I just observed that she looked surprised. It appeared that staff thought they were doing the board a big favor by cleaning up the strategic plan and prioritizing it for them. And, as I said, trustees also appeared to want to embrace most of the revisions. But, Hansen was the one who made the point that the public would need to be involved.
    Are you talking about the school closure vote? Yes, she also told me the school closure committee was uncomfortable speaking frankly when the press was there. But that is the point. These committees are making very important decisions that could affect thousands of students in the district. They need to be accountable.
    The Bay Point Master Plan committee is ostensibly formulating recommendations about school configurations in Bay Point and possibly plans for a new school. But, since the agendas and minutes aren’t being made public, no one really knows what they are doing.
    The Graduation Requirements Committee is ostensibly looking at increasing graduation requirements. But, no one will really know how they are coming up with their ideas until they are presented to the board at sometime in the future.
    The Technology Committee is apparently deciding how to spend about $12 million in Measure C money on school technology. But, again, no one will know what they are looking at until they bring their recommendations to the board.
    If the district wants to include parents more, then it should be letting ALL parents know about these committees and inviting them to participate BEFORE the recommendations are solidified.

  41. Wendy Lack Says:

    @TH #36

    In my opinion the staff did an effective job of putting meat on the bones of the Board’s draft plan adopted last fall. I found it refreshing to hear the staff presentation and dialogue about their respective areas of expertise.

    That’s not to say that I agree with all that I heard or that the draft staff document is complete IMHO. (Indeed, some portions should be revised to reflect the discussion, e.g., re the need to build trust.) But it certainly was a productive exchange and the Board appeared to benefit from it.

    And — a side note — it certainly was nice to have this conversation taking place during daylight hours, rather than in the Board meeting setting when everyone is tired at the end of a long work day. Granted, it’s rough to give up a Saturday — but it is good to do once in a while.

    I was frustrated by the Board comments re what I consider form over substance about the documents themselves. Though I understand the PR sensitivities given the District’s current position under the microscope, getting overly hung-up about the documents seems like a waste of energy.

    Let’s hope a blueprint for the future can be adopted without unnecessary process. With apologies to Nike, let’s “Just Do It” already. The endless focus on process is soul-sucking, mind-numbing, distracting.

    Ultimately I’d like to see 3-5 action areas identified for Board focus in the short-term. The Board would monitor progress on these items on a frequent basis using appropriate methods (qualitative and qualitative, objective and anecdotal). These would be congruent with the longer, more detailed planning document that staff has prepared and, in most cases, is already using.

    It would be a happy thing if the snappy catch phrases and jargon were eliminated from these kinds of documents — but I suppose that’s too much to ask since these terms have become standard fixtures in the organizational vocab via past staff trainings, etc. It’s just annoying — and an obstacle to clear communication with those new or from outside the organization. But this is a relatively small matter that, perhaps, could be mitigated by incorporating embedded links to relevant source docs, where appropriate, into the online version.

  42. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Wendy: I agree that the discussion was refreshing and it was clear that the trustees appreciated the opportunity to discuss the plan with staff. I also understand what you’re saying about just doing it and not getting hung up on process.
    But, the problem here is that the board never directed staff to rewrite the strategic plan. Apparently, the superintendent directed his cabinet to do that.
    And while everyone appears to be pretty happy with the result, the public does need an opportunity to weigh in.
    Although staff verbally explained how what they wrote correlated to the adopted plan, it would be helpful if the superintendent prepared a staff report that outlined the changes in writing. Then, it would be clear to the public that the plan is essentially the same. Without such a written staff report, some people might be left wondering what was added, what was deleted and what was changed.
    And if you have suggestions about eliminating or defining edu-jargon, you can make suggestions about that before the revised plan is set in stone.
    As you say, district staff needs to embrace the idea of building trust through transparency. One way to do that is to create more comprehensive staff reports than it is accustomed to preparing, instead of hoping that a quick PowerPoint and verbal report will suffice.

  43. Doctor J Says:

    @TH#40 Yes, the school closure vote. I agree with you on the secret committees. Government, and the school district is government, is supposed to be open. I will bet the Bay Point Master Plan committee is getting hemroids over the Governor’s school finance reforms when it realizes that the MDUSD Bay Point ADA will be about $2000 less per student that Pittsburg’s. One good example of getting the public involved in the Technology Committee is there are many public members who have tremendous expertise and could be very valuable in helping plan for the future. Some of them probably know what is coming down the road and most of the technology today was developed several years ago.

  44. Wendy Lack Says:

    Re: #39 & #40

    The District’s current web of committees doesn’t appear to be meeting needs. Apparently people don’t feel their interests are represented in decison making. The current communication mechanisms aren’t working — if they were, these complaints would taper off and this blog would be less active.

    It’s a fact of life that, in the eyes of others, we are remembered for our last, worst act. While we don’t think of ourselves that way, others do.

    So it is that the District’s reputation is itself an obstacle to positive change. Once an organization gets a reputation for something — such as top-down authoritarian decisionmaking or lax enforcement of policies or deception/secrecy — it sticks. A bad reputation can become a magnet for criticism, deserved or not.

    Many years of concentrated effort, usually combined with a change in leadership, is necessary in order to slowly turn things around. Rehab of an organization’s reputation takes at least ~10 years of consistent, focused effort.

    Arguably building trust (internally and externally) should be the Board’s #1 goal.

  45. Doctor J Says:

    Wendy, the District needs to have a tab on its website with a list of the committees, invite membership, and post agendas and minutes. Personally, I believe staff is afraid of the public interfering with their plans.

  46. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Dr. J: Actually, Joe Estrada blamed the website and said no one knows how to add the kinds of tabs you are talking about. He said the district needs to decide if it wants to stick with the current system or get a new one. If it wants to stick with the current system, he suggested hiring someone part-time to add committee tabs, get rid of outdated information and make the site more user-friendly.
    I hope the district also improves the Measure C site so that each web page has its own URL. Now, it’s impossible to link to specific pages on the site, because they all share the same general URL.

  47. Wendy Lack Says:

    @TH #42:

    Yes, it appears this plan revision process got the cart before the horse. The “staff version” came out of left field, leaving some feeling blind-sided. Rookie mistake.

    Yes, the lack of complete staff reports is a chronic problem. Again, not a new issue and a rookie mistake.

    We’re talking about perceptions. The District is a good case study in what not to do to gain the faith and confidence of employees and customers.

    For example: A bank will not succeed if it fails to issue accurate bank statements to customers. It doesn’t matter what else the bank does well — it’s still viewed as a failure if it cannot perform on fundamentals.

    This is the position that the District finds itself in. Until the fundamentals are done reliably well, the organization is viewed as a categorical failure. This may not be fair, but it is true.

    Oh, and in case there’s any doubt: Keeping confidential employee records safe, consulting with stakeholders regarding decisions and providing good quality information to the Board/public before meetings are fundamentals . . . in addition to many other responsibilities of school districts.

  48. Doctor J Says:

    @#46 I thought it added a couple of tabs in the last couple of years ? Maybe I am wrong. Who developed the website ? There must be a record someplace. Developing a website is just not that expensive compared to some of the consultants that are hired.

  49. Doctor J Says:

    Wendy#47 I will hit the “like” button. Well said.

  50. Doctor J Says:

    Wendy #47, Actually let me take that back. :-) I wouldn’t call it a “rookie” mistake — its Steven Lawrence’s attempt to control the Board and pre-empt the discussion. The irony is that the cabinet should have been involved in the initial preparation but Lawrence did everything he could to avoid the Strategic Plan and delay it.

  51. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Wendy: And yet, Trustee Brian Lawrence and the administrators at the table were loftily talking about making Mt. Diablo the best district in the state or the world. How about starting by just making it satisfactory?
    You cite what you call “rookie mistakes.” The problem is: these are not rookies. These are long-time administrators who should know how to run a district.
    There was a very interesting discussion about retaining and recruiting high quality employees in which Julie Braun-Martin said the district is really good at attracting rookie teachers because it can help them get clear credentials and they usually don’t care very much about health benefits. Trustee Brian Lawrence pointed out that when they get 5-7 years of experience and are just starting to hit their stride, they bail and go to districts like San Ramon Valley.
    Braun-Martin said the economy is helping the district retain employees, because they don’t have anywhere else to go.
    But, there was acknowledgement that the district’s reputation is definitely not helping it to recruit and retain employees. Some districts, like Livermore Valley, actually have promotional videos that help them market the district. Trustees wanted to know how MDUSD is marketed. Braun-Martin didn’t appear to have many new ideas to offer up.

    Dr. J: Estrada said the website was developed through something called Sharepoint, which nobody apparently knows how to use to revamp the website.

  52. Wendy Lack Says:

    #50 & 51:

    My sense is there’s nothing wrong with MDUSD that competent leadership at the Superintendent level wouldn’t improve.

    Innovative leadership at the BOE level wouldn’t hurt, either.

  53. Doctor J Says:

    @TH#46 I just did a quick google on Sharepoint websites and its a Microsoft product. There are all kinds of people who know how to use it. Why didn’t Joe just google it ?

  54. Giorgio C. Says:

    @52Wendy, regarding the County Board of Education, I have concerns with respect to how they conduct their business. Some little red flags.

    Our trustee had missed many meetings and wasn’t responding to emails. How was I to know she was out ill? There was no message on the website telling me to email a different trustee. They should have had someone formally fill in and it should have been noted on the website. Or the agenda flyer that advertises “3 minutes” per public comment, so I drive to Concord from Hercules and am told I have 1 minute. WTF?

    These same folks will not even lift a finger to investigate Ed Code violations of my school district, such as the incomplete SARC documents which my board didn’t address until 7 months later.

    Another law that no one will enforce is the following. Our bond oversight committee has two union reps on the committee. This is unlawful per the following language

    (b) No employee or official of the district shall be appointed to
    the citizens’ oversight committee. No vendor, contractor, or
    consultant of the district shall be appointed to the citizens’
    oversight committee.”

    The irony is that this same County BOE (or DOA?) enforces these very laws when they are making the decision as to whether or not they should shut down a charter school. Then all laws matter with respect to that particular charter school, but a school district such as the WCCUSD can violate laws at will.

    I think we need to put the microscope on the BOE and the rest of the Contra Costa County Office of Ed. There is a whole lot of money flowing through there, but what are we getting for it?

  55. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s something interesting:
    The CVCHS analysis on the FCMAT website is dated Feb. 13:
    The one the superintendent distributed is dated Jan. 14:
    Yet, they both appear the same.

  56. Theresa Harrington Says:

    The County SELPA also has agendas that make no sense. I noticed that at the March 5 meeting, there is going to be a “Progress Report – Juvenile Hall/Boys’ Ranch Cost & MDUSD” It notes there is an “Exhibit J.” But when I called to get a copy of the exhibit, the person who prepared the agenda said she wasn’t sure if there would be any written report, but she just puts exhibits next to all the agenda items because that’s the way she’s always done it. I pointed out that this gives the impression there is something in writing. She said, “Oh, I guess you’re right.”
    I can’t believe that no one else has ever asked to see the nonexistent exhibits!

  57. Doctor J Says:

    FCMAT still has not posted the Special Ed report — why ?

  58. g Says:

    Theresa #55. That’s an easy one. Remember back in July/August I pointed out that the dates on the Transportation study had been altered at the district because the fonts did not match.

    In this case Lawrence got the report in Jan., but (somebody) did not give FCMAT “permission” to release it until Feb., at which time FCMAT went back and altered their own dates.

    Lawrence had been caught altering with non-matching fonts on the Transportation report, so he had no choice but to release this one ‘as-is’. Do you suppose he had any idea, when he finally told FCMAT it was OK to release this one that they were going to make the date alteration to match their release date?

  59. Anon Says:

    I have not seen it on the district site either

  60. Anon Says:

    never mind it is on the district site. Printing it as I type.

  61. Doctor J Says:

    FCMAT has now posted the Special Ed report — the report says it is dated Feb 25, 2013 but on the list of reports says it is listed as “1-25-13-941”

  62. Wendy Lack Says:

    @ Giorgio #54:

    Duly noted. I believe the Board of Ed should be the role model of public responsiveness, transparency and ethics. Instead, its focus is on the care and feeding of a narrow range of pet constituencies (taxpayers not among them).

    There’s plenty of room for performance improvement at both the BOE and district levels. But the BOE should be held to a higher standard of conduct, as it sets the tone for others.

    Perhaps it’s a good-news, bad-news silver lining kind of thing, since it appears there’s nowhere to go but UP!

  63. g Says:

    Dr. J: Yes, no one can keep up with their own altered dates. Wouldn’t you love to see the Draft that has been kept under wraps since last Fall while changes (called corrections) were being made?

    So the final-final was apparently issued in Jan 25 (during the heat of big 5 contract talks), but (someone) directed FCMAT to change the dates and not to release it until Feb 25.

    Remember Gallaspie saying: “FCMAT doesn’t allow ‘changes’ but does allow for corrections.” Well, they apparently follow directions (from the guy who cuts their checks) about changing dates–so what else was “corrected.”

    We’ll never know–no one will ever see that draft copy from last year!

  64. Doctor J Says:

    When Kerri Mills was hired as interim Asst Supt with a guaranteed contract extension based on Supt’s “review”, did Steven Lawrence already have the draft FCMAT report ? If so, we need to see the initial report. The reason I ask is because the “final” version indicates that MDUSD is top management heavy in Special Ed and that MDUSD is the only district of the comparisons to have an Asst Supt over Special Ed. IF, and its an IF, Steven Lawrence withheld the report from the Board when Mills was hired, the Board may very well have decided to drop the position down to a comparable one of other districts compared for cost savings. Now the district is pretty well stuck with a high priced Asst. Supt.
    I think that the initial draft and the final version really need to be compared in order to accurately assess the situation.

  65. Wait a Minute Says:

    Have to love this quote from pg 11—“Following a comparative review of single-district SELPAs of similar size, FCMAT found that Mt. Diablo Unified has more upper-level administrative positions than other districts.”

    I think this same problem exists throughout Dent.

    Very top-heavy with very poor results.

  66. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Yet, MDUSD has far fewer COUNSELORS than other districts. Carolyn Patton recently told the CAC this could be a problem. But, as I have previously pointed out, the disproportionality report (which was approved with no discussion on the consent calendar last night), does not address mental health to the same degree as Pittsburg’s. Instead, it focuses on academic and behavior interventions.

  67. Doctor J Says:

    Wow, the FCMAT report should have affected the Disproportionality Report.

  68. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s my story on the CVCHS FCMAT report:

  69. Doctor J Says:

    Concealment = fraud and deceit

  70. g Says:

    The “Management Letter” from FCMAT was in fact just a letter. It had nothing whatsoever to do with Management or a Study. It appears one person took what the district provided and said “Yes, the figures you provided add up to the balance you provided.”

    The dirt here is that we are supposed to believe that just TWO board members “commissioned” the report. Two board members who do not sign checks. Although the cost should be deducted from Mayo’s stipend!

    Of course, there was NEVER a consensus from a third board member (Eberhart or Dennler) who, had there been, would have once again, violated the Brown Act. They wouldn’t do that! Oh, No, Never.

  71. Doctor J Says:

    @G#70 You’re right. Two Board members cannot act for the Board. Its just Steven Lawrence’s excuse for having FCMAT reguritate the district’s fantasy.

  72. g Says:

    Theresa, can you get a copy of that Oct 3rd “signed study agreement” that Debi Deal refers to in the letter?

  73. g Says:

    Dr. J: Do you believe for a minute that Eberhart, and maybe even Dennler didn’t know about, and agree to, commissioning the “study?”

    Yes, Lawrence wanted to prove he was right, and if the study came in under $25K could have commissioned it himself—but, he would not have laid it off onto Mayo last night. He cannot afford to throw away a friendly vote that easily.

  74. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I have asked both the superintendent and FCMAT for a copy of that letter. Interestingly, when I called FCMAT, the person who looked it up said it was signed by the superintendent on Oct. 8. She said, “So, it went to the board at the meeting just before that.”
    Although there WAS a board meeting Oct. 8, this contract was not on the agenda. I guess FCMAT doesn’t realize MDUSD operates differently than other districts.

    Also, it is very interesting that the district left the County Office of Education out of the FCMAT report, despite County Superintendent Joe Ovick’s specific request to be included.

    Here’s what Peggy Marshburn wrote in an e-mail:

    “We were not copied on the FCMAT report by the district or FCMAT. We requested last fall to participate in the event the district decided to go forward with a study, that did not occur. Dr. Ovick requested of FCMAT that we be interviewed as part of the study, that did not occur. The County Office conclusions were not included as part of the study.”

    So, how valuable is the study? It’s still the district’s word against the county’s.

  75. Doctor J Says:

    Oct 8 ? Was this a campaign activity by the Supt to support Sherry Whitmarsh before the November election ? Especially since Lawrence excluded the COE involvement and just got someone, not a CPA, to regurgitate the district numbers. Debi Deal’s letter says the district asked for it in Aug 2012 but Lawrence didn’t sign the study agreement until Oct 8. This could very well be something the FPPC would look into.

  76. Giorgio C. Says:

    I’d like to propose that concerned citizens from both the WCCUSD and MDUSD form a committee for purpose of exploring the creation of an Office of Inspector General of Education for Contra Costa County or possibly the state. Currently, there is NO oversight of school districts in this part of the world.

    Contact me if you are interested

    Los Angles Unified,256485&_dad=ptl&_schema=PTL_EP

  77. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Speaking of WCCUSD and MDUSD, there was an interesting vote at Monday’s MDUSD meeting regarding the county’s CSBA delegates, where three trustees were running unopposed for three seats, including WCCUSD Trustee Charles Ramsey. Board President Cheryl Hansen supported the other two, but made a motion excluding Ramsey, saying she couldn’t support him, but wouldn’t go into details. The board unanimously approved the other two candidates, then took a separate 4-1 vote approving Ramsey.
    I happened to speak to Ramsey yesterday for another story I was doing and he brought this up. Obviously, word travels fast. He said Hansen doesn’t know him at all and has never spoken to him. He said that if she really wants transparency, she should have stated why she didn’t vote for him, since he assumes she was basing her opinion on things she has heard and read, rather than on first-hand knowledge.

  78. Doctor J Says:

    @TH#77 I don’t have a clue, but perhaps she had some knowledge based on her working at the COE. Since most of us had never met the presidential candidates, we also based our opinions on things we have heard and read. Its not unusual. What else do WCCUSD & MDUSD have in common ? Bryan Richards.

  79. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I have received a copy of the FCMAT agreement from FCMAT:

    When I asked how the FCMAT rep could have signed it Sept. 5, if it wasn’t created until Oct. 3, the person who sent it to me said she forgot to change the date on the final agreement. The draft agreement was sent Sept. 5, she said.

    So, the superintendent has been keeping this a secret for more than five months!

  80. g Says:

    Ooops! Forgot the change dates (again) to match what the district ordered us to do. Ooops! No one considers this pay for play?

    Transportation; where final reports were held up for months “for editing” but the final report miraculously matched an early draft “word-for-word.”

    SpEd; where reports supposedly were not available, but were quoted (ooops) in an open board meeting many months earlier.

    Charter Audit; this one was just plain in violation of just about everything a district should stand for!

  81. Theresa Harrington Says:

    g: You make good points. And with the transportation report, staff began IMPLEMENTING recommendations BEFORE the report was ever finalized or publicly released.

    Regarding the audit, the only way to truly figure out why the district’s numbers are so different from the county’s numbers is for BOTH the district and the county to come together at a public meeting and explain how they came to their conclusions. If the district had included the county in the FCMAT report, that outside agency should have been able to do that. But, the district chose to ignore County Superintendent Joe Ovick’s request to be included in the report. The district also failed to provide FCMAT with the number of special ed students who went to CVCHS this year. It’s very odd that a report issued in February is merely hypothesizing about how many special ed students might attend CVCHS in 2012-13. That information should be readily available and FCMAT should have included it, so the ACTUAL fiscal impact would be known. The board should demand that the superintendent decipher the hypothetical analysis and give the public the true number.

  82. Wendy Lack Says:

    Numbers shouldn’t be this difficult to calculate.

    Nor should it be this tough to communicate with one another.

    I’m at a complete loss to explain what’s going on here.

    Is the confusion and turmoil in the District a result of intentional obfuscation/deception, corruption or incompetence? Or all three?

    Is the problem at the Board level or staff level, or both?

    It’s numbers. It’s communication. It’s not that tough. And if those responsible are having difficulties with such fundamentals, then clearly they’re not right for their respective roles.

    Sheesh. This schtick is getting quite tiresome.

  83. Doctor J Says:

    @Wendy, MDUSD numbers are smoke and mirrors — Steven Lawrence’s explanation on Monday night was simply “lame”. The COE numbers are more reliable and he refused to have a CPA audit and report. If you read the FCMAT report, it was NOT an audit — just a regurgitation of the “client supplied” information. It was not by a CPA. I don’t think a CFE, Certified Fraud Examiner, is even a California state license. By the time Steven Lawrence ordered the “letter” in October, the horse was already dead — and he complains about deficit spending ?

  84. Doctor J Says:

    @Giorgio C. In California, we have a “State Auditor” which performs that function.

  85. Doctor J Says:

    @TH#81 Significant that the FCMAT “study agreement” says that the County Super will get a copy of the agreement and report per AB 1200. Does Superintendent Joe Ovick‚Äôs office say they never received a copy of the Sept/Oct [unsure which] agreement ? If they did, perhaps they should have been more proactive in providing their information.

  86. Wendy Lack Says:

    @DJ #83:

    Yes, I read the letter.

    As you say, it was a “ditto” of the staff’s interpretation — not a credible, independent review.

    How much did this FCMAT letter cost the District? Do we know?

  87. Doctor J Says:

    @Wendy, the “Study Agreement” linked in TH’s post in #79, I believe said the cost was about $5,000 dollars. What a waste of money — and Trustee Lynne Dennler complained on Monday night there was not enough budget money to buy new projector bulbs at $300 each for teachers. Well, that is about 18 bulbs. Lynne ought to be complaining to her Board partner Linda Mayo for authorizing such extravagance.

  88. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Wendy, the agreement estimates it will cost $4,300. I have asked for the final cost, but have received no response.

    Dr. J: The county said they did not receive the final report. Peggy said the county was aware that the district might pursue such a report and asked to be included, if it went forward. That request was ignored. I’ll send Marshburn a copy of the study agreement and see what she has to say about AB1200.

    It would have been well worth the money if it had included the county’s estimates. Then, the public would have a credible outside analysis of BOTH the district’s and county’s projections and rationales. But, as you and Wendy note, it is virtually worthless because all it does is regurgitate the district’s numbers. And as I have pointed out, FCMAT didn’t even bother to get the actual special ed enrollment at CVCHS this year, which makes its estimate less reliable.

    Also, Dennler’s frustration was partially aimed at the superintendent, who apparently sent her a memo saying there was no way to fund light bulbs without making cuts elsewhere. Hansen offered to donate her stipend to pay for televising board meetings. The board should have an agendized discussion about how to pay for maintenance of technology that it purchases. Dennler has a valid point that it doesn’t make sense to buy a bunch of equipment, if you can’t afford to maintain it.

  89. g Says:

    I liked Georgio’s link to the Ill. Inspector General site. So far, I only read the 2012 report on Chicago Public Schools—and it was a hoot!

    There were instances of fraud and misappropriation, etc. that you could just about scratch out the CPS and fill in MDUSD, and cross off vague references to Staff, Principals and Officers that you could cross off and write in MDUSD names.

    Dr. J. if our state did anything even close to this, we’d be with Dorothy–back in Kansas.

  90. Doctor J Says:

    @TH#88 The COE was supposed to receive a copy of the Study Agreement — did they ? Ask FCMAT when they sent that to the COE. I agree with you that the study would have been worthwhile if it had actually considered both sides of the coin — but it didn’t. I agree with Lynne Dennler that budget money ought to end up in the classroom as a first priority. Instead it gets spent on trips to Monterey, So. Cal, and even out of state for ADMINISTRATORS. There is too much money being spent on lunches, snacks, SUBSTITUTE TEACHERS for trainings, and the like. Can’t people stop at Starbucks and bring their own coffee and donuts ? One good thing about Jerry Brown’s education funding reform, by taking away “categoricals” ALL money becomes money available for the classroom — the Board will be held responsible for all the extravagant spending. Lets also talk about cell phone stipends. Why are we subsidizing administrator’s cell phones ? Almost everyone is one an “unlimited” plan anyways. Lets not forget about Board Medical/Dental/Vision.

  91. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Yes, board medical/dental would pay for a lot of lightbulbs!

    I have already requested a copy of FCMAT correspondence to the County Superintendent regarding the agreement and final report. And I have already sent an email to Peggy Marshburn asking if they received notification about the agreement and double-checking again whether they have received the final report from FCMAT.

    You also make a good point that the district will no longer be able to claim that “categorical” money has to be spent on professional development, etc. Dennler could insist that money for snacks and coffee instead be spent on lightbulbs for Elmos. On that note, the board did not have food brought in for the retreat. Instead, staff and trustees were expected to bring their own lunches.

    Regarding the website, I have now successfully uploaded 19 video clips from the Strategic Planning portion of the Board Retreat to, along with four videos at I haven’t yet had time to listen to them all, but somewhere in that discussion you will be able to hear what Joe Estrada said. Someone who no longer works for the company created it, he said.

    Unfortunately, I have been unable to upload most of the Brown Act/PRA videos due to technical difficulties, but I will post the materials that were passed out. The attorney stuck to her PowerPoint, so you can see most of what she said just by reading that.

  92. Doctor J Says:

    The more I learn about FCMAT, the more I fear that FCMAT is being very poorly managed and has lost its “independence”.

  93. Theresa Harrington Says:

    The board could invite County CBO Bill Clarke to come and present the county fiscal analysis, then have Debi Deal present the FCMAT analysis, then invite questions from the public and the board. That would help cure and correct the secret deal struck between Whitmarsh, Mayo, the superintendent, and FCMAT. The agreement includes a “Board Presentation, to be determined, if requested.” The board should request it.

  94. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here is Marshburn’s emailed response to my questions (which included a request for a copy of the county’s response to the FCMAT notification):

    “Dr. Ovick received notification of the study and responded that he wanted to be interviewed as part of the study. That did not occur. The County Superintendent has not received a copy of the final report from FCMAT or the district. The copy we received came from the Clayton Valley Charter high school. I will have to research the response to the notification.”

  95. Doctor J Says:

    Lets cut to the chase: Why does the district continue to subsidize administrator cellphones ? As far as a Debi Deal and Bill Clarke debate, why don’t they just share each other’s thinking and see if they can come to a consensus ?

  96. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Apparently FCMAT wasn’t interested in having a discussion with the county.

  97. Doctor J Says:

    @TH#94 Wow, the snub of Dr. Ovick by FCMAT puts a whole new face on FCMAT’s credibility, or lack thereof.

  98. Doctor J Says:

    Yikes, there is much more to this than appears on the surface. Somehow Steven Lawrence got FCMAT to ignore Dr. Ovick ? Unbelieveable — maybe that’s why there was a month between the sending of the agreement and when Steven Lawrence signed the agreement ? If so, what a conspiracy. The state should remove FCMAT from Kern County.

  99. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Maybe that’s why Lawrence didn’t want to bring the report to the board.

  100. g Says:

    Can anybody tell us exactly why Kern got that contract when FCMAT was formed, and why it has remained there as a boon to their economy, at the cost of everyone else? Doesn’t it seem like that would be an agency that should be moved around every 5 years or so?

  101. Doctor J Says:

    @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.”$16

  102. g Says:

    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!

  103. g Says:

    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.

  104. Hell Freezing Over Says:

    How much? What did it cost us?

  105. Hell Freezing Over Says:

    Does MDUSD have this?

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

  106. Theresa Harrington Says:

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

  107. Theresa Harrington Says:

    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:
    The policy was supposed to be in place by March 1.

  108. g Says:

    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.

  109. Doctor J Says:

    What page ? Better print it out quick,

  110. g Says:

    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?

  111. Doctor J Says:

    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.

  112. g Says:

    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.

  113. Theresa Harrington Says:

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

  114. Doctor J Says:

    @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.

  115. Doctor J Says:

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

  116. Hell Freezing Over Says:

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

  117. g Says:

    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.

  118. Theresa Harrington Says:

    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: 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

  119. Wendy Lack Says:

    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?

  120. Doctor J Says:

    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.

  121. Theresa Harrington Says:

    More than 700 school boards have adopted resolutions asking Congress to stop sequestration, which would deeply affect education funding:

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

  122. Doctor J Says:

    Brentwood fires its Superintendent.

  123. Giorgio C. Says:

    @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.

    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.

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