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Archive for March, 2013

Mt. Diablo school district’s top administrative leadership is in question


The Mt. Diablo school board on March 25 approved amended contract extensions through June, 2014 for Superintendent Steven Lawrence, General Counsel Greg Rolen and three other top administrators. But, there is public speculation that a Wednesday closed session meeting to consider discipline, dismissal or release for two unnamed contract employees may be related to Lawrence and Rolen.

This is because the contract extensions approved two days earlier in split 3-2 votes were considered by a majority of the board to be legally required, since they reaffirmed extensions that had been approved by the previous board in April.

Those extensions, however, do not prevent the board from dismissing or releasing Lawrence and Rolen before their contracts expire with or without cause.

If they were terminated for cause, all compensation and benefits would cease on the termination date. If their contracts were terminated without cause, both would receive payments equal to one-half the value of their remaining compensation, not to exceed nine months.

The general counsel’s contract does not provide any option to appeal or respond, if the board decides to terminate him. But the superintendent’s contract says that the board shall not terminate the employment agreement for cause until it has notified him in writing of its intention to do so, including its reasons.

If this occurs, the superintendent would have five business days after receiving the written notice to request a conference with the board. If such a conference were requested, the superintendent would be given reasonable opportunity to respond to the written concerns, with a representative of his choice.

“The conference with the board shall be the superintendent’s exclusive right to any hearing otherwise required by law,” according to his contract.

After Wednesday’s closed session, Board President Cheryl Hansen announced that trustees took action on two contracted employees, but she declined to name the employees, state that nature of the action or reveal how individual trustees voted. Attorney Deb Cooksey said the actions taken were incomplete and “in process.”

Hansen told me after the announcement that trustees would hold another closed session Tuesday and may have more to report after that. But Vice President Barbara Oaks told me this afternoon that the April 2 meeting has been canceled and trustees may set a new date April 3.

A reader who wondered why the board wasn’t required to report out more about the Wednesday vote sent me the following information, which he found online related to the Brown Act:

“Action taken to appoint, employ, dismiss, accept the resignation of, or otherwise affect the employment status of a public employee in closed session pursuant to Section 54957 shall be reported at the public meeting during which the closed session is held. Any report required by this paragraph shall identify the title of the position. The general requirement of this paragraph notwithstanding, the report of a dismissal or of the nonrenewable of an employment contract shall be deferred until the first public meeting following the exhaustion of administrative remedies, if any.”

So, it’s possible the board may be waiting for additional administrative remedies to be exhausted before it reports out its actions.

The public will be able to comment before trustees go behind closed doors at their newly scheduled closed session. The agenda will be posted at

At Wednesday’s meeting, a union rep urged the board to take its time considering contracts for the district’s top administrators and two residents spoke in support of the superintendent.

Northgate High parent Kent Caldwell threatened to withdraw support for the United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation if the board fires the superintendent. Caldwell said he and other Northgate parents might also consider “other options” for the high-performing Walnut Creek campus if Lawrence is let go, in an apparent reference to a possible charter conversion.

Do you think the Mt. Diablo school board should seek new administrative leaders?

Posted on Friday, March 29th, 2013
Under: Contra Costa County Board of Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 363 Comments »

Live blog of MDUSD 3-27-13 closed session regarding dismissal of two employees

The Mt. Diablo school board is currently holding a closed session meeting to consider possible discipline, dismissal or release of two contracted employees.

Here is the agenda for the meeting, which began at 2:30 p.m.:

“1.0 Call to Order
1.1 President will call the meeting to order Info

1.2 Pledge of Allegiance and Roll Call Info

2.0 Public Comment
2.1 The public may address the Board concerning items that are scheduled for discussion during closed session only. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers or the three minute limit may be shortened. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info

3.0 Adjourn to Closed Session

3.1 Public Employee Discipline/Dismissal/Release/Complaint Action

4.0 Reconvene Open Session

4.1 Report out on Closed Session Info

5.0 Adjournment
5.1 Adjourn meeting Info”

I shot video of the portion of the meeting before trustees went into closed session, but am unable to upload it right now because YouTube is blocked from the district’s WiFi. I will upload it later. Also, Joe Estrada is recording the proceedings.

Here is a recap of what has happened so far:

Pledge of allegiance and roll call, with all trustees present.

1. Trustee Linda Mayo asked how and when the trustees would sign the contracts approved Monday. She said she believed some trustees agreed with district resident Wendy Lack that contracts should be signed at public meetings. She suggested that the board sign the contracts when closed session is reported out.

Hansen said the board should probably discuss that. Mayo said she believed it should be done expediently, especially after criticism that contacts were not signed quickly after they were approved last year. She asked that the contacts be attached to the April 8 agenda for signature and Hansen agreed.

2. Rebecca Jensen: Spoke in support of the superintendent. “I see a good man accomplishing good things.” She said a question was raised at the last meeting: Is this a man we would want to hire for another year? She answered yes and said the decision to be made could have long-term implications for the district and the superintendent’s family.

3. Carmen Terrones: Referred to Mayo’s comments regarding signing the contracts. She said there should be no rush to sign the contracts and urged the board to take the time to make sure the right decision is being made. Said she is a union rep and she visits school sites often. “The morale in this dist is very sad. People are very frustrated.”

On the subject of adjournment: Mayo asked who would provide legal counsel to the board during the closed session. Hansen said Deb Cooksey would be on standby in her office. Mayo said she believed it was important to have legal advice and she did not support the use of advice from a third-party legal counsel that has not been approved by the board. Hansen said that would not be the case today.

4. District resident Kent Caldwell spoke in support of the superintendent. He said the superintendent has achieved many accomplishments. He said nothing the superintendent has done warrants early dismissal. He asked why anyone would want to work for a school board that makes negative comments about the superintendent publicly. “How many prospective candidates would be interested in serving in such a toxic environment?” He questioned whether it would be ethical to fire Dr. Lawrence. He said Dr. Lawrence has all the attributes that Hansen said in the CC Times that a superintendent should have. “If you fire Dr. Lawrence, are you building trust and morale within the district?” He said firing Dr. Lawrence would have consequences and that he would shift from a district advocate to an adversary and he would immediately withdraw from UMDAF. “An organization I helped create and served tirelessly for four years.” He said he and other Northgate HS parents would seriously question whether Northgate should remain in the school district if the board fires the superintendent. “As we know, there is another option out there for Northgate. I strongly urge you to not prematurely dismiss Dr. Lawrence as superintendent.”

Hansen announced that she expected to reconvene and report out at about 4:30 p.m.

During the closed session, Deb Cooksey walked back and forth between her office, Rolen’s office and the closed session.

At around 4:30 p.m., Hansen came out and said she expected the closed session might last until 5:30 p.m.

At around 5:25 p.m, Hansen came out and said she expected to report out in about 10 minutes. She asked Deb Cooksey to join trustees behind closed doors.

5:40 p.m. The superintendent’s wife is waiting to hear the report out, along with three union reps and me.

6:15 p.m. Still no sign of trustees.

6:30 p.m. Hansen announced the board took action on two employees, but she would not say what the action was. She told me afterwards that there were two separate votes and there will be another meeting April 2 and she will see if she can report anything else at that time.

Posted on Wednesday, March 27th, 2013
Under: Education | 106 Comments »

Live blog of 3-25-13 MDUSD meeting

7:51 p.m. Meeting is underway, with board voting on expulsions.

Here’s the agenda:

1.0 Call to Order
1.1 President will call the meeting to order Info

2.0 Announcements
2.1 In closed session, the Board will consider the items listed on the closed session agenda. Info

3.0 Public Comment

3.1 The public may address the Board concerning items that are scheduled for discussion during closed session only. These presentations are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers or the three minute limit may be shortened. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info

4.0 Adjourn to Closed Session at 6:00 p.m.

4.1 Negotiations – The Board may discuss negotiations or provide direction to its representatives regarding represented employees, pursuant to EERA (Govt. Code Section 3549.1) Agency negotiators: Julie Braun Martin and Deborah Cooksey. Agencies: MDEA, CSEA, Local One M&O, Local One CST, MDSPA, and Supervisory. Action

4.2 Readmission Action

4.3 Expulsions Info

5.0 Reconvene Open Session
5.1 Reconvene Open Session at 7:30 p.m. Info

6.0 Preliminary Business
6.1 Pledge of Allegiance and Roll Call Info

7.0 Report Out Action Taken in Closed Session
7.1 Negotiations Info
7.2 Readmission Info
8.0 Expulsion Recommendations
8.1 Expulsion Recommendation – Student #13-13 Action
8.2 Expulsion Recommendation – Student #14-13 Action
8.3 Expulsion Recommendation – Student #15-13 Action
8.4 Expulsion Recommendation – Student #16-13 Action
8.5 Expulsion Recommendation – Student #18-13 Action
8.6 Stipulated Expulsion Agreement & Waiver of Student Expulsion Hearing and Agreement to Complete Readmission Plan for Student #17-13 Action

9.0 Student Representatives
9.1 Student representatives will report on activities at their schools. Info

10.0 Consent Agenda
10.1 (Item #1) Items listed under Consent Agenda are considered routine and will be approved/adopted by a single motion. There will be no separate discussion of these items; however, any item may be removed from the consent agenda upon the request of any member of the Board and acted upon separately. Action
10.2 (Item #2) Minutes of the meeting of February 25, 2013 Action
10.3 (Item #3) Recommended Action for Certificated Personnel Action
10.4 (Item #4) Request to decrease Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for the 2012-2013 school year Action
10.5 (Item #5) Student/Intern Teaching and Administrative Intern Agreement between Notre Dame De Namur University and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action
10.6 (Item #6) Recommended Action for Classified Personnel Action
10.7 (Item #7) Classified Personnel: Request to Increase/Decrease Positions Action
10.8 (Item #8) Classified Personnel: Resolution of Reduction or Discontinuance of Classified Employees (Classified Layoff) Resolution No. 12/13-36 Action
10.9 (Item #9) Student Success Team Management System License Agreement between San Joaquin County Office of Education and Mt. Diablo Unified School District Action
10.10 (Item #10) Approve contract with Resource Development & Associates (RDA) for evaluation services for Tobacco Use Prevention Education (TUPE) grant evaluation for the 2012-2013 school year Action
10.11 (Item #11) Procurement and Installation of New Synthetic Track Surface for the Outdoor Athletic facility at Clayton Valley Charter High School Action
10.12 (Item #12) Authorize submission for the Contra Costa County Family and Children’s Trust (FACT) grant to support the Crossroads Program Action
10.13 (Item #13) Contract Amendment: PHd Architects: Site Addaptive and Design Modifications Required to facilitate new classrooms and use of District Pre-Checked (PC) 1440 square foot design to meet Eagle Peak site needs. Action
10.14 (Item #14) Award of Lease-Leaseback Agreement to Taber Construction, Inc. for Chemistry Classrooms 2013 at Concord/Nueva Vista and College Park High School Action
10.15 (Item #15) Final Change Order – for LLB #1594 for New Chemistry Classroom Construction at Mt. Diablo and Clayton Valley Charter High School Action
10.16 (Item #16) Notice of Completion for LLB #1594 Action
10.17 (Item #17) Request Approval to Purchase (5) 2013 Ford F-150 Pickup Trucks Action
10.18 (Item #18) Request Approval to Purchase a 2013 Ford F350 One ton Flatbed truck Action
10.19 (Item #19) Adoption of the German Honors course of study Action

11.0 Consent Items Pulled for Discussion

12.0 Recognitions

12.1 The Board of Education will recognize Teacher of the Year Nominees Info

13.0 Public Comment
13.1 The public may address the Board regarding any item within the jurisdiction of the Board of Education of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District that is not on this agenda. These presentation are limited to three minutes each, or a total of thirty minutes for all speakers, or the three minute limit may be shortened. If there are multiple speakers on any one subject, the public comment period may be moved to the end of the meeting. Speakers are not allowed to yield their time. Info

14.0 Communications
14.1 District Organizations – At regular Board meetings, a single spokesperson of each recognized district organization may make a brief presentation following the Consent Agenda. Items are limited to those which are informational. Info

15.0 Superintendent’s Report
15.1 Northgate High School – United Nations Team Info
15.2 Concord High School Boys Soccer Team – Coach Alfonzo Munoz Info
15.3 Bond Refinance Update Info
15.4 School Safety Report Info
15.5 Bay Point Attendance Boundary Process Info

16.0 Business/Action Items

16.1 Amended Contract for Assistant Superintendent, Student Achievement and School Support, for Board Action Action

16.2 Amended Contract for Assistant Superintendent, Personnel, for Board Action Action

16.3 Amended Contract for Chief Financial Officer for Board Action Action

16.4 Amended Contract for General Counsel for Board Action Action

16.5 Amended Contract for Superintendent for Board Action Action

16.6 Appointment of Construction Manager II for Measure C Action

16.7 Update on Mandated Reporting Policy and Protocol (carried over from March 11, 2013 meeting) Info

16.8 Strategic Plan – Follow-Up and Next Steps Action

16.9 Technology Advisory Committee Info

16.10 Explore the potential multi-year lease of KVHS non-commercial FM Radio license: would not interfere with District’s right to provide KVHS programming via an internet-only-stream. Action

16.11 Public presentation of District’s Initial Proposal for a Succesors Agreement with Mt. Diablo Education Association (MDEA) 2013-2016 Info

16.12 Public presentation of the Successor Agreement Proposal for California State Employees Association (CSEA)to the District Info

16.13 Procurement and Installation of Surveillance License Upgrades with Three Year Maintenance Agreement for 950 Cameras Action

16.14 Update on the Board’s Response to the Public Records Act Request of the Contra Costa Times/Dan Borenstein Info

16.15 Graduation Requirements Update Info

16.16 Title I Policy MDUSD Proposed BP/AR 6171 Info

16.17 Meeting Extension Action
17.0 Future Agenda Items
17.1 Future Agenda Items Info

18.0 Board Member Reports
18.1 Board reports Info

19.0 Closed Session
19.1 Public Employees Discipline/Dismissal/Release/Complaint Action

20.0 Reconvene Open Session
20.1 Report Out Action Taken In Closed Session Info
21.0 Adjournment
21.1 Adjourn Meeting Info”

Live blog:

Board just recognized seven teachers who were in the running for district teacher of the year, including two district teachers of the year from Monte Gardens and El Monte elementary schools.

UPDATE: Here are the names of the seven teachers recognized:

District Teachers of the Year: Carissa Sugden, El Monte; and Shannon Prichard, Monte Gardens Elementary

Additional candidates:

Elisa Peters, Oak Grove Middle School
Janet Gowers, Ygnacio Valley High
Nicholas Sanchez, Shore Acres Elementary
Nina Pate, Woodside Elementary
Virginia Hewgley, Valhalla Elementary

8: 08 p.m. Student reps are now giving their reports.

8:17 p.m. Superintendent wants to move up recognitions for high school students.
The board recognized Northgate High’s United Nations Team and Concord High’s Boys Soccer Team.

8:25 p.m. John Parker just asked board to scrutinize lease-leaseback contracts.
Hansen pulled item 10.14 and Oaks pulled 10.9.

10.9 Student Success Team Management System License Agreement between San Joaquin County Office of Education and MDUSD:
Oaks: This is a $44,000 item that I’ve not heard about. I’d just like some information about who’s in charge of documenting this. I know it used to be done by hand. Is there a reason we’re now going to an online management system?
Lock: Yes, it used to be done by hand by principals. We found data very inconsistent. Last year, there was a committee of staff who explored this new product. Every SST is documented. This process is going to really assist us in significant disproportionality monitoring because we are required to monitor all referrals. This product was originally approved by the board last year. Sold to Accelify, then back to San Joaquin County Office of Education. This contract reduces our cost by $10,000. Three year cost. Typically there could be 20-25 per school. There could be two or three for one student over the years. Administrator can be monitoring to see if staff is staying on top of the actions. We did a trainer of trainer model back in August. Those trained went back and trained their staff.

8:32 p.m. License agreement unanimously approved.

Supt announced 11.2 was pulled by staff to be brought back later (I didn’t catch which original item that was.)

Extensive discussion of lease-leaseback with outside counsel talking about it.
Approved lease-leaseback contract in 4-1 vote (Hansen no)

Annie Nolen spoke about mandated reporting requirement and ID theft porgram.

Two district residents complained about their grandson being bullied.

Willie Mims spoke (I didn’t catch all his comments because I was talking to the grandparents in the lobby).

9:38 p.m. Back to rest of Superintendent’s Report:
15.3 Jon Isom is giving a bond refinance update with a PowerPoint.

9:40 pm. Superintendent is reporting on safety. Locks will be replaced along with several older doors, for a total cost of about $2.5 million. Current RFQ going out for locks. Hopefully will bring back firm responses in May and expect to bring doors back in near future.
Brian Lawrence asked about Ayers crossing guards.
Superintendent said he would have to ask principal, but the district is trying to re-evaluate the opening of the parking lot.
Brian Lawrence asked for an update from the superintendent and general counsel on the liability issues around crossing guards.

9:43 p.m. Superintendent is giving a Bay Point Master Plan update.
He said the growth projections don’t bear out a new high school, but Delta View is overflowing 100-200 students. So, a committee recommended having a public forum and asking for parent input. He said anybody can join the committee (I wonder how they’re promoting that?) The committee is meeting Wednesday.
Hansen: This surprised a couple board members because we didn’t know about the meeting. We didn’t know there were three scenarios. This has to be a team effort, where the board is informed and the board is participating.

Willie Mims: I was at Bay Point and we learned a lot and we heard a lot. One of my concerns is when you’re discussing boundaries, you have some new sections and some old sections. Concerned about possible Gerrymandering effect. I did not get a copy of the boundary proposal and would like to get one.
carries 3-2 (hansen and oaks against)

16.1 Amended contract for Assisant Superintendent, SASS (Rose Lock):

Rebecca Jensen comment:
Chastised the press. Said the FCMAT report about CVCHS costs seems to have been the match (to ignite this situation). The superintendent is very transparent. It feels as if this whole debacle is being used to do some housecleaning. Mistakes have been made, but I don’t believe them to be egregious enough to warrant this. If administrators can be so easily dismissed, what message does this send? Why would any qualified person ever want to work for our district?

Unanimously approved.

16.2 Amended contract for Assistant Superintendent, Personnel (Julie Braun-Martin):
Dennler moved approval and Oaks seconded. Then Dennler told Braun-Martin that one of her responsibilities is to interact with teachers who may lose their jobs. “This is a time of disappointment. I ask you to go above and beyond. Listen with patience and compassion. Four years ago, when I faced this position, I found you to be heartless and rude.”
Unanimously approved.

16.3 Amended contract for Chief Financial Officer (Bryan Richards):
Hansen said she is looking for a CFO who can answer questions about the budget. “I get concerns that requests for information are made and there’s not responsiveness. We have to have a CFO who can anwser questions quickly in language and terms that really answer those questions so people aren’t wondering what the heck’s going on. We need a CFO who really can be among his staff in fiscal. I think movement across the hall has not been helpful. I think people may not be managed as effectively as they could be. Payroll and fiscal is not a department where you want any unhappy campers.

Mayo: I want to express my concern that a ministerial action has been used to create firestorm of controversy. In them meantime, these employees have carried out their duties. Since December 2012, at least six attorneys have given input about these contracts. Despite this, the board still seeks other opinions. Attorneys have indicated that the action on April 23 is legally binding. I want to caution that comments made about employee performance may expose the district to a complaint. Although tonight’s action is legally unnecessary, I will support the extension as legally prepared by Roy Combs, attorney at law.

Hansen: Legal opinions are legal opinions and the only way something becomes legally binding is in a court of law with a judge making a decision. I am personally concerned that I was on this board last April 23 when these contracts came forward. I asked last April, ‘Where the heck are these contracts and why aren’t they posted for public viewing?’ I asked in the summer, ‘Where are these contracts?’ And I was ignored. The fact that we have spent money on outside attorneys is appalling to me, but I couldn’t get a second. Here we sit with a new board having to spend the first three months of their tenure having to fix the last mistakes. I am very concerned and offended. I am very unhappy that people on this board chose not to follow through. I’m also unhappy that the district administrators failed to follow through and advise the board. I resent the outside attorney fees.

Unanimously passed.

16.4 Amended contract for General Counsel (Greg Rolen):
Jack Weir: I expect the general counsel to be the district’s watchdog. The very manner in which these contracts were handled is all the evidence I need to know that there has been complete mismanagement in this regard. The public is very unhappy. Here we are trying to clean up a mess and we ought to be trying to make things better. We need new leadership at the top so we can move forward.

Posted on Monday, March 25th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 128 Comments »

Mt. Diablo school district misplaces hundreds of legally required public documents

Beat reporters are encouraged to routinely request public documents about the employees of public agencies we cover, such as Form 700s — Statements of Economic Interest.

Since it had been a few years since I had done this, I recently requested these public documents for every Mt. Diablo school district trustee, as well as Superintendent Steven Lawrence, General Counsel Greg Rolen, Chief Financial Officer Bryan Richards and assistant superintendents Rose Lock and Julie Braun-Martin. I asked to see the forms for this year and prior years, since the trustees were elected and the administrators were hired or promoted into their current positions.

The board expects to vote Monday on amended contract extensions for the five top administrators.

Although these Statements of Economic Interest are legally required to be kept on file for public review, I was told when I called about them that I needed to file a Public Records Act request. I complied on March 15, but included a paragraph saying I didn’t believe it was necessary to file a formal request for documents that are supposed to be available for routine public inspection.

On Monday morning, I received a voice-mail message from Richards saying that the forms for this year and last year were available for review, but that those from previous years had been “archived,” which is why he wanted a Public Records Act request. I sent an e-mail saying that I had already submitted a formal request for the older documents, but would visit the district office Tuesday to view the more recent forms.

When I arrived, Richards’ secretary showed me two very well-organized files containing the forms for 2011-12 and 2012-13, which she had compiled. But, she very apologetically explained that records from prior years did not appear to be well-organized and she was unsure where the missing documents were located, since she had not worked in that department when they were collected.

As I was going through the forms from 2012-13, I noted that General Counsel Greg Rolen’s form was checked off on the list, yet was missing. In addition, forms for former trustees Gary Eberhart and Sherry Whitmarsh — who were overseeing district affairs through Dec. 10, 2012 — were not included.

When I pointed out the missing documents to Richards’ secretary, she called Rolen’s secretary to ask for his form. Rolen’s secretary then provided a form dated March 17, two days after he had received my Public Records Act request.

While I was there, attorney Deb Cooksey told me she would be handling my Public Records Act request for the older documents, but she wasn’t sure where they were. She promised to search various locations, including other buildings where files may have been moved.

Since the district sends the forms to the county, I later suggested to Cooksey in an e-mail that she might be able to save time by simply requesting the forms from the county. She agreed to this idea.

In the meantime, it may be faster for me to request the forms directly from the county myself.

Do you think the Mt. Diablo school district responds adequately to requests for public records?

Posted on Friday, March 22nd, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 92 Comments »

Governor’s Local Control Funding Formula brings optimism and concerns

The governor’s plan to give school boards more control over how they spend money — and give more funding to districts with a needy students — is creating both optimism and concern in the education community.

At a New America Media briefing about the proposal Wednesday, three panelists described the frenzied debate going on in Sacramento and districts throughout the state, which are trying to get as much money as possible for their students.

A California Budget Project policy analyst joined the executive director of Education Trust-West and an EdSource reporter to talk about how this proposal could revolutionize school funding in a way that the state hasn’t seen in decades.

Jonathan Kaplan from the California Budget Project said the formula would give schools with low-income students and English learners more money over seven years, which could end up flip-flopping current funding inequities. For example, the Dublin school district now gets about $1,000 more per student than Alameda City Unified, he said. But under the governor’s proposal, Dublin would get about $3,000 less per student after seven years.

“Some people say there are winners and losers after this,” he said. “But, are there winners and losers now?”

Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust-West, said the extra money for low-income and immigrant students could help the state overcome the persistent achievement gap. But, the proposal needs to be strengthened to ensure that extra money really goes to those students and not to other board priorities, he cautioned.

He said civil rights groups are struggling with the proposal because they agree that needy students deserve more money, but they think school districts should be required to show how they will use it to help struggling kids.

“Who’s going to hold districts accountable?” he said.

John Fensterwald, a longtime education editor and journalist, said local control will require school boards to be effective.

“The dynamic is changing,” he said, “so it requires much more intelligent, involved school board members than we’ve had before.”

He hinted that some may not be up to the task.

“There is debate over the wisdom of local school boards,” he said. “Those of us who have been around school boards have seen that they vary in quality.”

But he said everyone fundamentally agrees that more money should go to the neediest students.

“The dichotomy over winners and losers distracts from overall agreement that inequity needs to be addressed,” he said.

One issue of concern is that funds currently set aside for specific programs that help vulnerable students, such as those for foster youth, will be lumped together in a pot of money that districts could spend however they want.

“The language needs to say it will supplement dollars being spent on needy students,” he said, “not supplant it.”

Another twist is that money will not be designated for individual schools, it will go straight to the district. So, in districts such as Mt. Diablo — which includes poor communities as well as wealthy communities — the poor schools may not be assured of getting the extra money meant for their students.

“Parents are going to have to be very vigilant,” Fensterwald said, “and hold boards and districts accountable for spending money on needy students.”

Ramanathan agreed.

“For years, school boards have punted this to Sacramento, saying, ‘Our hands are tied,’” Ramanathan said. “Now, they will be accountable for how they spend money.”

Panelists also agreed that the estimates released by the state are not set in stone, since the Department of Finance hasn’t explained the assumptions it used to create them. For the next few months, superintendents and others are bringing their concerns to Sacramento, hoping to influence the final budget, which the Legislature should adopt by the end of June.

“The critical question,” Ramanathan said, “is: ‘What would districts do with more money?’”

What do you think districts should do with more money?

Posted on Friday, March 15th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 115 Comments »

PEAK Ed Foundation awards more than $48,000 to six Walnut Creek schools

The PEAK Education foundation, which supports Walnut Creek schools in the Mt. Diablo district, sent out the following news release today about its most recent donation to local schools:

“At its third annual stakeholders meeting, PEAK Education Foundation awarded $48,153 to Northgate High; Foothill Middle; and Bancroft, Eagle Peak, Walnut Acres and Valle Verde elementary schools. The award, a 50 percent increase over 2012, represents the proceeds from contributions and fundraising events including: Forma Gym Turkey Trot, Safeway Corporation, Sports Basement, Walnut Creek Downtown Business Association Wine Walk, Kish Rajan for City Council, Whole Foods, Minuteman Press of Lafayette and Pet Food Express.

Since its founding three years ago, PEAK has raised over $91,000 for its member schools. Principals and leaders of the school’s Parent Faculty Organizations were at the meeting to accept the awards. The individual school’s award amounts were proportional to student populations at each school. According to PEAK’s mission, the funds will be utilized to support academics, with most of the school representatives indicating they planned to use the funds to support the greater use of technology in the classroom.

On behalf of PEAK and each of the six schools we support, we would like to thank all of those within the community who attended, volunteered or otherwise supported PEAK and our fundraising events. Our success is the result of the community recognizing the need and working together to support high quality education in our schools.

To find out more about PEAK, see a complete list of donors and the specific award amounts by school, visit our website at For questions about PEAK and to find out how you can get involved, email us at”

Pleasant Hill also has a foundation to support local schools.

Do you think Concord should form an education foundation?

Posted on Thursday, March 14th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | No Comments »

WCCUSD resident pushes for city reps on board

Giorgio Cosentino, a West Contra Costa school district resident and former teacher, thinks the district should elect trustees from each city instead of electing all trustees citywide. Here’s a copy of an email he sent to trustees about that today:

“Dear WCCUSD school board,

As a result of the Measure K fallout, I have been giving much thought to Mr. Ramsey’s comments about Hercules and Pinole seceding from the district. There was no one to defend Hercules and Pinole, that we had no one advocating for us or explaining our position. We had no voice. I believe the secession option is not even a choice as the County BoE had ruled previously against it when Hercules sought secession. So let’s address the cause of the problem. Perhaps Hercules and Pinole feel that they have no voice.

We can change that. I believe it is time to do away with the at-large elections. It is time for each city to have a representative on the WCCUSD board. El Sobrante, Hercules, Pinole, San Pablo, El Cerrito, Kensington, and Richmond should each have a member on the WCCUSD board. This will result in more buy-in. Currently, there are 3 board members from El Cerrito and one each from San Pablo and Richmond.

In fact, Education Week just published the following article last week, so my thoughts are on the same wavelength as the rest of the nation.

I shall submit a letter to the media for the purpose of seeking to establish an exploratory committee to review this option in greater detail. If you have any thoughts on this, please feel free to share. Thanks.

Giorgio Cosentino, Hercules”

Former WCCUSD trustee Antonio Medrano had also suggested this idea without success. This is an idea that could be tried in Mt. Diablo as well, perhaps with trustees from Bay Point-Pittsburg, Clayton, Concord, Martinez-Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek.

The Contra Costa County Board of Education elects representatives in this way, from different geographic areas called “wards.”

Do you think it makes sense for large K-12 districts such as MDUSD and WCCUSD to elect trustees according to geographic location instead of districtwide?

Posted on Wednesday, March 13th, 2013
Under: Education, West Contra Costa school district | 4 Comments »

County school districts compared in budget presentation to Mt. Diablo school board

The Mt. Diablo school board held a special meeting last week to prepare for its Monday budget discussion, where it approved its Second Interim Report.

John Gray, a consultant from School Services of California, gave an interesting presentation comparing districts in Contra Costa County in terms of spending and revenues. The presentation is at

Gray looked at enrollment growth and decline in the county, which showed that the Liberty Union High School District in Brentwood has grown the most — about 18 percent from 2006 to 2011 — while the Antioch Unified District has lost more than 6.5 percent of its students during the same time period. Mt. Diablo’s student population has dropped about 2.5 percent, which means its state funding is also declining. If the district’s student population falls below 30,000 students, it will have to set aside 3 percent of its budget in reserve, instead of the 2 percent it now sets aside. The district’s current enrollment is around 32,000 students.

Gray also showed the difference in state per-student funding in Contra Costa districts, with Acalanes at the top of the heap with about $7,319 per student and Moraga at the bottom at $6,050 per student in 2010-11. Mt. Diablo ranked 10th with $6,346 per pupil. Gray said that high school districts receive more per student than unified districts, which receive more per student than elementary districts.

But the total amount of money each district has to spend varies even more, due to parcel taxes, education foundations and large parent donations in the wealthier areas of the county. The Orinda district topped this list, with a whopping $4,111 per student in “other local and prior-year revenue” per student n 2010-11, while Mt. Diablo had the smallest amount, with $408.43 per student.

In comparing teachers and other certificated employees who are not managers, Acalanes spent the most on salaries per student, with $4,387, while John Swett paid the least, at $3,035. Mt. Diablo ranked ninth in this category, at $3,534.

When looking at school and district administrator salaries, Canyon spent the most — at $1,040 per student — and Brentwood spent the least, or $381 per student. Mt. Diablo ranked 16th in this category, at $412 per student, in part because it is such a large district. Canyon spends more because it only has about 66 students.

Due to the fluctuating state budget, most districts statewide have accumulated large reserve funds, Gray said. This is because they have been bracing themselves for cuts that haven’t materialized thanks to the passage of Proposition 30.

Canyon has the highest reserve per student, at $6,496, while Liberty has set aside the least amount per student, at $1,060 in 2010-11, Gray said. Mt. Diablo ranked ninth in this category, with a set-aside of $1,795 per student.

All districts must submit their budgets to the County Office of Education this month, certifying whether or not they believe they will be able to pay all their bills in the next three years. When Mt. Diablo prepared its last budget, it projected that it would need to make cuts or raise more revenues in order to meet its financial obligations.

The board reviewed the budget in detail Monday and approved a “positive” certification, after CFO Bryan Richards told trustees the district will be able to pay its bills through the next three years:

The board on Monday also heard dozens of recommendations for spending cuts in special education during a FCMAT special education report presentation:

The district’s Budget Advisory Committee expects to review the budget in more detail at 5 p.m. Wednesday:

Do you think the district should make budget cuts to reduce its deficit-spending?

Posted on Tuesday, March 12th, 2013
Under: Contra Costa County, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 7 Comments »

MDUSD live blog of 3-11-13 meeting

During its special meeting earlier this evening, the board voted 4-1 to direct staff to review its policy related to responding to Public Records Act requests and to come back with recommendations for openness. Trustee Linda Mayo voted against the motion, saying she believed it was out of order, since it wasn’t on the agenda as an action item.

The board then voted 3-2 to authorized Board President Cheryl Hansen and Vice President Barbara Oaks to contract with an outside attorney to review the documents that General Counsel Greg Rolen withheld from Contra Costa Times columnist Dan Borenstein.

In closed session, trustees discussed negotiations and readmitted two students, and admitted one student to MDUSD, and discussed expulsions.

Board is voting on expulsions. General Counsel Greg Rolen just entered the meeting.
Motion carried 4-1.

Here is a link to the agenda:

Board is voting on second expulsion. Motion carried 5-0.

Did not discuss public employee discipline and dismissal, but there was a board discussion regarding a response to a uniform complaint and board took action on that item.

Consent calendar:
Hansen pulls 10.2 (minutes of Jan. 28 meeting) and Lawrence pulls 10.12 (adjustments to position control for 2013-14).
Motion to approve all other items passes 5-0.

10.2 Hansen moves to approve minutes with amendment on page 7 under public comment by Ron Hansen, remove the word “not” in sentence about board is legally or morally obligated to approve contracts.
Lawrence seconded.
Carries 5-0.

10.12 Adjustments to position control
Public comment by Willie Mims: pg 2 of 4, assist. supt. on special assignment. Who is this person? If he or she was on special assignment, when was last date. Another position is being created that appears to be replacing that person. Who was this person on special assignment and when was this person’s last date of employment?

Braun-Martin says Mildred Browne was on a leave of absence and that was the assist. supt. on special assignment and interim assist. supt. Kerri Mills has been acting in that position. She said positions can be brought back with categorical funding in the spring.

Carmen Terrones, Local One CST Unit President: I have a few concerns for my members. The interim assist. supt. for special ed. services is being eliminated, so the current person is being placed into the position. Has she been evaluated? Once again, we are paying an assist. supt. on leave her regular salary and we are also paying more money for an interim assist. supt. The message we receive is we are hiring more administrators at higher salaries, but classified employees get nothing. It’s not fair. (Applause).

Supt. Lawrence says evaluation of Mills is supposed to be conducted in May. The position is budgeted as a place-holder for next year.

Braun-Martin says district has until end of May to do administrator evaluations, but paperwork can be turned into personnel in June.

Bryan Richards says position is being budgeted with no person assigned to it.
Motion carries 5-0. Greg Rolen walks back into the board meeting.

12.1 Public Comment:

1. Willie Mims: Complains about how cold the board room was during the last regular meeting. Says board agendas need to be streamlined. He says the board should not take up all the people’s time with long reports. Says trustees repeat themselves too much when they are trying to make their points, making circular arguments. “You go round and round, but you’re not moving forward. You should not waste the people’s time by repeating the same language. I’ve been watching this board for some time and until there’s a positive working relationship between all of you, you’re not going anywhere. Streamline your agenda, because the people should not have to be here until 12:30 (a.m.), and then freezing too.”

13.1 District Organizations

1. Ernie De Trinidad: Says tonight is a special night for DELAC, which is pleased to see the English Learner Master Plan, which will improve services and help the district reach its goals. Urges board to approve the master plan.

Hansen praises the work of Jeanne Duarte-Armas, Rose Lock and others involved in the creation of the plan.

No superintendent report.

15.1 Amended contract for Rose Lock: Oaks praises Lock. Dennler and Mayo apologize for what she’s had to go through.

15.2 Contract for Julie Braun-Martin: Oaks compliments Braun-Martin on her hiring and retaining of employees.

15.3 Amended contract for CFO Bryan Richards:
Willie Mims: says Lock represents color and he also supports Richards. Says district should work toward diversity.

Hansen: I have some concerns about the current state of our fiscal services dept, including lack of oversight, security and accountability, so I will be giving this contract some serious thought as we move forward to March 25.

Dennler: What do you mean?

Hansen: This board has to take action on these contracts. Last April, I asked that this vote be postponed until the new board was seated and I did not get a second. I asked that it be delayed and it was rushed through in April. The idea was those contracts had to be revised and cleaned up and at this point, this current board must take action on these contracts and this current board is entitled to vote any way this current board wants to vote. Our names will be on these contracts. It is not a rubber-stamp situation. Today is not the time to go into how we might vote, but it’s to discuss concerns.

Dennler: These contracts are legal and the only thing we will be doing is cleaning them up. They are legal until 2014. That’s what we were thinking in January when we voted and now all of a sudden we’re talking about new contracts.

(NOTE: Video of the remaining conversation will be uploaded to

15.4 Amended contract for General Counsel Greg Rolen:
Hansen: I’ve brought Exhibit A for review.

Oaks: I’ve been on this board a few months and have found there is a lot of controversy, which I didn’t expect. Morale is extremely low. There’s a lack of trust and I think it’s time to seek new leadership.

Hansen: I will not support this contract.

15.5 Amended contract for Superintendent Steven Lawrence:

Classified union rep Debbie Hickey: I’m disheartened by district leadership and lack of responsiveness from this board. It is disheartening to know we are not getting any support.

Hansen: I think enough is enough. It’s time for new leadership. We need a superintendent who builds trust. We need to cut our losses. I’ve heard from so many staff about the need for change.

15.6 FCMAT report on special education
CAC Chairwoman Lorrie Davis voiced many concerns about the recommendations, followed by CAC parents Dorothy Weisenberger and Denise Lambert, who also expressed concerns about the recommendations.
District resident Willie Mims expressed concerns about why the district invited FCMAT to create a report in the first place.

FCMAT staff presented report and board agreed to bring back in March 25.

15.7 Questions on FCMAT report
Carmen Terrones, Local 1 union rep: It’s my understanding there was a draft and the recommendations were slightly different from what’s presented. CI would like to know if Dr. (Mildred) Browne was part of this study, because some of the recommendations, I can’t see that they would come from Dr. Browne. My members are concerned about more upper management and the draft being a bit different. It makes us wonder how trustworthy higher management is.

Hansen: I did see a draft. It was different. Hopefully we can build a culture of trust and make sure we’re forthright about the info.

I will continue blog tomorrow.

Posted on Monday, March 11th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 175 Comments »

MDUSD board to discuss Public Records Act request

Today, the MDUSD board will discuss the district’s response to a PRA by Contra Costa Times columnist Dan Borenstein. I am also sending a copy of Greg Rolen’s response to my recent PRA to the board, along with a copy of my response to Rolen.

Here’s Rolen’s response to my PRA, which I received via snail mail today:

Here’s my emailed response to him:

“Dear Greg,

I received the attached response to my Feb. 28 Public Records Act request today. I did not specify a time period for the writings related to the Oct. 3 FCMAT agreement because I want ALL writings related to that agreement. I did specify a time period for my requests related to the district’s CVCHS cost analysis because I do not need to see the documents related to the various cost projections that were exchanged before the charter was approved by the county.

Thank you,

Theresa Harrington
Education Reporter
Contra Costa Times/Bay Area News Group”

Here’s my email to the board:

“Dear Trustees, Since I know you will be discussing the district’s response to a PRA from Dan Borenstein, I am also forwarding you a response I received to my Feb. 28 PRA from General Counsel Greg Rolen, via US mail today, along with my emailed response to him.

I would like to point out that I sent similar PRAs to FCMAT and the Contra Costa County Office of Education. Both of those agencies have already complied with my requests, providing documents to me electronically at no charge. Also, representatives from both of those agencies followed up with phone calls and emails immediately after receiving my requests, to let me know they were working on them.

This is in stark contrast to the general practice of your general counsel. Although my requests always asks for emailed responses, he consistently responds via US mail. He easily could have called or emailed to question the scope of my request, thus preventing needless delays.

It is my hope that district staff will be encouraged to use more expedient means of communication in the future.

Thank you,

Theresa Harrington
Education Reporter
Contra Costa Times/Bay Area News Group”

Do you believe the district should respond electronically to PRA’s if requested?

Posted on Monday, March 11th, 2013
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 28 Comments »