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

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, March 22nd, 2013 at 7:10 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

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?

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92 Responses to “Mt. Diablo school district misplaces hundreds of legally required public documents”

  1. Anon Says:

    Obviously no. They don’t even know where the files are. Disgrace. Well done Theresa bringing this to the publics attention.

  2. Hell Freezing Over Says:

    Who in the district is responsible for ensuring the Form 700s are completed by the appropriate individuals when due, turned in on time and filed for public easy access/review?

    How hard is it to keep a log of who must file, with dates showing when compliance had been requested and whether the form has been completed and turned in?

    How hard is it to manage the storage of a box of paper files marked with dates and contents in a secure place that allows easy access by staff to retrieve when requested by the public, as is legally required?

    From the other thread, at least one person employed by the district has been asked several times to comply and repeatedly refused. What is the consequence of refusing to comply?

    If the person(s) responsible don’t do their job of ensuring the forms are completed, filed and stored for easy access by staff and public viewing – there is no consequence. Until someone asks to see the forms, and when they can’t be produced, files a complaint.

    And what is the consequence if the two former board members as of this past Nov 2012 – don’t comply and provide their 2012 Form 700s?

    If the district can’t handle the Form 700s compliance and retention appropriately, what other documentation has gone “missing” or not made available upon request?

    FCMAT reports the public paid for?
    Polls used to determine a new Measure that slammed solar panels onto sites at record breaking speed?
    Financial documents requested by one of the board approved over-site committee members?
    Emails and contract amendments for 5 top staff without proper dates and signatures?
    Emails and new contracts to hire more legal assistance / firms without details of what these firms will do for the district?
    Emails and new contracts, and several change orders for the hire and retention of district-wide translation services?
    Police reports and video from security cameras after the theft do the CFOs assigned laptop that was left unattended, not secured and not encrypted resulting in thousands of current and former staff social security numbers to be accessible?

    The list is seemingly endless.

  3. Wendy Lack Says:

    Here’s a link to the FPPC’s Form 700 information page.

    http://www.fppc.ca.gov/index.php?id=500/

    What little I know about Form 700s is based upon my first hand experience as a local government employee required to file this form on a regular basis.

    The Form 700 filing rules are straightforward, but do require careful consideration to determine the scope of the disclosure required for each individual role in an organization. As with all things government-related, the many pages of paperwork take some doing to wade through and fully understand. (Click on the link above and you’ll see what I mean.) That’s why organizations designate a staff person to become knowledgeable about the forms, in order to assist staff, elected officials and selected volunteers (e.g., members of a Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee) in meeting filing requirements.

    The Form 700 conflict-of-interest reporting is done under penalty of perjury. It is up to the public to examine the information and report suspected misstatements, errors, omissions, etc. Enforcement is done on an exception basis, in response to complaints. There are penalties for making false statements, but the harshest penalties are in the “court of public opinion.” This is why it’s so critically important that these forms be available for public review at all times.

    While the filing obligation is the individual responsibility of each filer (as are the penalties), in cities the City Clerk is tasked with managing the paperwork, helping employees to complete the correct forms suitable to their “disclosure category,” ensuring the forms are available for public review at all times, etc. In other public agencies this is handled by a Clerk of the Board or some similar role.

    I’m unsure what is the equivalent to a “City Clerk” role in schools, but surely there is a standard practice used by California’s nearly 1,000 public school districts.

    As is often the case with FPPC rules, it’s my guess that it’s seldom necessary for the FPPC to assess fines and penalties. Elected and other public officials comply because it’s required — and compliance is achieved because most individuals and organizations make an effort to comply with the law.

    Thus, in practice, the most effective “penalty for non-compliance” is the threat of embarrassment and discredit to the individual (and, to a lesser extent, the organization).

    Failing to make these filings accurately and timely can bring public humiliation that can be a real political-career-killer for Elected Officials. If a public agency reports to the FPPC that an individual left office without completing a “leaving office statement” (final report while in office), then the FPPC would have an enforcement role to play. I’m unsure whose obligation it is to report such incidents to the FPPC, but I imagine the agency is obligated to do so within certain time frames.

    Due to the public humiliation factor, presumably non-compliance doesn’t occur with individuals who plan to pursue future political or professional careers in the field, since inability to perform on “fundamentals” doesn’t look so hot on a resume. Failure to file as the law requires suggests, at best, an inability to meet one’s personal obligations and job responsibilities or, at worst, the presence of an unreported conflict of interest.

  4. Doctor J Says:

    Form700GATE does not bode well for the BIG5 and contract extensions on Monday. Did you see on the Agenda a “second” closed session at the end of the meeting for public employee discipline/dismissal ? Should be a hot time in the old town on Monday night.

  5. Hell Freezing Over Says:

    Wendy #4 – thanks for the information. That is good knowledge for the public to have, and is a great example of how we, the public, can hold the district accountable and responsible.

    Also, as TH pointed out in her post, the CFOs secretary is doing a good job of keeping the forms filed, secured yet accessible for the public to view. The fact that forms are missing from individuals for 2010 thru 2012/13 is NOT her responsibility to enforce compliance. That is the responsibility of the CFO in this case it appears as her manager.

    The fact that ALL forms prior to 2010 are “missing”, and not one person at Dent knows where the boxes of forms are, is simply incredible! When the current secretary was tasked with receiving, logging and filing these forms, I hope she made it clear to her manager – the CFO – that there was no transition of this duty & process from the person who was responsible before her. How else could ALL Form 700s prior to 2010 are missing?

    It may seem small to some, but the district has a legal responsibility in regards to the forms. The seemingly lackadaisical manner in which this legal responsibility is handled reflects on the entire district, and our Board. I hope we hear soon that the missing forms have been found, the individuals who were required by law to complete and file the forms have done so, and the process to handle these legal forms has been re-evaluated and cleaned up so this type of disregard for legal responsibity and process doesn’t happen again.

  6. Doctor J Says:

    One would think there would be an army of people at Dent today searching every nook and cranny — or maybe even calling the prior employee to see if she could give some guidance. Instead, its just a “I don’t care” attitude. Over a 100 forms for every year. Ultimately, the Supt Steven Lawrence is to be held accountable — his management skills are non-existant. I think when they get copies from the county, they will find many are MIA. We need the FPPC to swoop down with search warrants to uncover the ugly truth.

  7. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Actually, the forms are missing from 2011 and earlier. The secretary only has them from March 2013 and 2012, which correspond to the 2012-13 and 2011-12 school years. Also, after I pointed out that Pete Pedersen hadn’t filed his forms, he filed them. As Wendy points out, trustees and employees are supposed to file exit forms when they leave. But, it appears that is not done in MDUSD.

  8. g Says:

    Well, since it’s been 10 days since Theresa asked for the files; a) the negligent parties have all had plenty of time to fake some dates and catch up with the requirement and request.

    Also–My guess is it was the job of the Asst. Supt. Administration Services who was in charge of requesting, receiving and oversight of the forms. When that job belonged to a real administrator, Dr. Nicoll, files were ready when requested.

    When that job went to Pedersen, forms were not requested, or files disappeared. The question is Why?

  9. Doctor J Says:

    Obeying the law is not a strong suit of MDUSD. Who is enforcing the law ?

  10. Theresa Harrington Says:

    G: You are correct that the assistant superintendent of administrative services used to be responsible for this. But, when that position was eliminated and his secretary retired, the handoff of forms does not seem to have been done in any sort of methodical way.

  11. g Says:

    I don’t know about everyone else, but I can’t remember a single time in my working life that I filed a form, signed a document directly relating to me or wrote a letter that I didn’t keep a copy for my own personal files.

    It seems to me that CYA has always been one of the first things taught in any business course.

  12. g Says:

    Theresa #10; that is why I suggested the older files were probably moved to Holbrook.

  13. Wendy Lack Says:

    FYI:

    This article by Roger Lowenstein in today’s Wall St. Journal is “behind the wall” (not available online to non-subscribers) – but available on the newsstands. It’s titled, “The Choice: To Squawk or to Go?” It’s highly recommended for those seeking a better understanding of dissent in organizations and customer dissatisfaction.

    Link to title info: http://on.wsj.com/YlRPAB

  14. Giorgio C. Says:

    Dr. J#10,
    Who is enforcing the law? Theresa, can you write a piece on enforcement of school districts? I look at this org chart, and I can’t tell, but there are some “investigations” and “compliance” staff.
    http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/di/or/documents/orgchartoverview.pdf

    When I contacted Dept of Ed about violations regarding the SARC documents, they told me no one was available to enforce the law. I spoke to the following individual.

    Dana Kertel
    SARC Team
    916-319-0406

    Grand Jury is not really an enforcement entity, but does forward some matters to the County DA. The Bureau of State Audits does not oversee school districts. WASC does not oversee school districts, either.

    Theresa, has anyone else called for the establishing of an Office of Inspector General for CC County school districts? If not, perhaps the time has come. Here’s an article about the US Office of Ed Inspector General acquiring Remington 12 gauge shotguns for their enforcement purposes for violations probably more serious than incomplete SARC documents.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/education-department-swat-team-raids-california-home/2011/06/08/AGUxlKMH_blog.html

  15. g Says:

    Ya gotta love the Summary description on item 16.16 for Monday’s meeting. Title 1, Board Policy; another little “Ooops, we dropped the ball, and couldn’t find it for two years.

  16. Theresa Harrington Says:

    g: Good point about making a copy of your own forms. Ironically, although forms from two years ago were missing, the secretary was able to produce the 1992 forms from the fiscal director at that time, who made a copy for her own files.

  17. Doctor J Says:

    What will Steven Lawrence answer on Monday night ? Who is responsible for ensuring commpliance with Form 700 filings ? Possible answers: 1) I don’tknow 2) Bryan Richards but I never followed up with him 3) I am, but never got around to it. Whatever his answer is, constitutes termination for cause immediately. We will see three terminations for CAUSE on Monday: Steven Lawrence, Greg Rolen and Bryan Richards.

  18. Wait a Minute Says:

    Dr J @17,

    God I hope so for the good of the long-suffering children, staffs and taxpayers.

    I’m sure that there is more than sufficient cause already known and after they leave and a more thorough investigation conducted this should uncover all the details and make it airtight.

    So, there is the facts to support termination for cause.

    Is there the will?

  19. Doctor J Says:

    What excuse could Steven Lawrence offer that will save his job ?

  20. Wait a Minute Says:

    Rolen, S Lawrence, Richards have so relied on a well oiled (by public money/jobs) web of influence by scratching each others backs and giving each other and their friends favors.

    The million dollar question on whether this saves them or cushions their fall from the public trough somewhat is really going to be how Brian Lawrence votes.

  21. Hell Freezing Over Says:

    G #15 – it just keeps getting more and more incredible …

  22. anon Says:

    Employees throughout the district are counting on Brian Lawrence to vote no on renewing contracts for Rolen, Lawrence, and Richards. Bargaining units are angry about the misuse of funds; they won’t trust any offer the district makes because of the numerous incidents of secrecy and lies.

  23. g Says:

    The fault started with the hiring of both Lawrence and Richards–both were jumping way out of their league –into a district much too large and diverse for their experience level.

    They’ve had well over three years to learn what it takes to do the job—more time than is given for a medical intern to become a brain surgeon.

    They need to give up and look at going back to much less demanding jobs. Although I do give Richards credit for doing a good deal of clean-up on his department’s portion of the website.

    Rolen—there just is no excuse for him.

  24. Mika Says:

    These HIGHLY paid admistrators, lawyers, CFO, and admin staff are not giving us taxpayers the services they are paid to do. This is getting to be ridiculous, one “Gate” after another. What a bunch of clowns. The board will do a huge disservice to the students, their families and the hardworking staff at the school sites if they allow this crap to continue.

  25. Chewacca Says:

    Theresa,
    Remember what Sarah Palin did for Tina Faye’s rise in stardom? You found your Palin!
    Aren’t you glad you have Stevie and Rolan to hold their feet to the fire? If they stick around you could get your own TV show.
    I’ld love for the Times to recognize the true journalism tract you are taking. The pen is mightier then the sword…. Now it’s time for the board to act on all the atrocities you have brought to light.
    My kids are in the Charter school, so I really shouldn’t care, but I do. I hate to see the district getting screwed by this festering scab of “leadership” feeding off the public trough.
    Only saving grace is Hanson on the board. Without her, watch all the schools succeed from the district within a few years. Hard to beat her class act and integrity.
    Now we need the rest of the board to stand up for what is right as well.

  26. Anon Says:

    Question…..did Dr. Mills contract get extended or is it still just a 1 year? I am so confused if she is here for many years or just while brown is out on leave?

  27. g Says:

    Mills got about a 9month ‘interim’ contract due to be reviewed (soon) and renewed with a hefty raise as of July 1.

    Stay tuned in for the ‘second closed session’ Monday night!

    The Brown Act requires bodies to “publicly report any action taken in closed session AND the vote or abstention on that action of every member present,” specifying particular procedures based on the justification for the closed session. Gov’t Code § 54957.1(a). For closed sessions authorized for personnel decisions, the Brown Act provides that “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 old board skipped this little tidbit when they gave Browne a new title AND a leave with pay.

  28. Doctor J Says:

    Why hasn’t the original July 26 FCMAT report on Special Ed been released so we can see what was withheld from the Board when they voted at the end of August on Kerri Mills contract ?

  29. anon Says:

    why is special education in mdusd in such disarray? just look at the lack of leadership and knowledge…students who should be placed in the correct programs are waiting on the sidelines because the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. why can’t some of the students who really need particular classes and programs get into them,,,politics, who one knows.

  30. Doctor J Says:

    @Anon#28 Is there anything in MDUSD that is not in disarray ? Its lack of leadership. A new broom sweeps clean.

  31. Anon Says:

    Special Ed was starting to run a bit better now we have the slash and burn tactics of dr mills. In my opinion dr mills needs to go too. We need quality efficient people who care about the kids in place.

  32. Anon Says:

    Are they going to talk about fcmat at the meeting? Perhaps I missed it on the agenda.

  33. Theresa Harrington Says:

    No, surprisingly, the special ed FCMAT recommendations are not on Monday’s agenda. But the strategic plan is.

  34. g Says:

    I believe SpEd plans are a done deal in Lawrence’s mind—and Dr. Mills will do as she’s told.

    At Santa Barbara she was brought in specifically to slash & burn per their newly revised SpEd plans—and she carried out her orders.

    I think her many years of overall SpEd dedication and experience could allow her to be a very good SpEd leader who would work ‘for the kids’ and stay closely within a reasonable budget~~IF she weren’t hampered by a smoke-jumper Superintendent being led around by a fire-breathing General Counsel.

  35. Hell Freezing Over Says:

    Anon #31 – can you elaborate on the “slash and burn”?

  36. Giorgio C. Says:

    Has any requested to see their document control SOP? Do they not have an overall Quality Assurance program-manual, including a procedure for record retention, storage, version control, etc.? Every business and government agency has such.

  37. g Says:

    Georgio: You may have missed Anon 29’s comment. This is MDUSD, remember.

    Department piled upon department–the left hand does not know what the right hand is even supposed to be doing!

    The lawyer handles busing, the accountant handles legal compliance, etc. etc….

  38. Anon Says:

    She was brought here to cut, cut, cut. That is all she does. This is what she did in Santa Barbara. I spoke to some special Ed parents in Santa Barbara when we got her and they said sorry. She left the special Ed department way worse then when she got there. I think most can agree that there are ways to work together to get the kids what they need and maintain a decent budget. The fact that special Ed encroaches on the general funds will always happen because it costs more to educate special Ed students. She is cutting programs and it is taking more than 6 months to get kids placed properly. Perhaps this is Lawrence giving direction but I don’t think so. In the past we were able to find solutions to placement and now no.
    I think we all know that she was brought in to cut and then she will be gone and we will be left with cleaning up the mess.

  39. g Says:

    It is worth noting that Kerri Mills’ contract given on 8/27/12 ALSO says, under Duties and Responsibilities:

    “Such duties and responsibilities, as amended from time to time, shall be attached to this Agreement as Exhibit A.”

    But, (of course) there was no Exhibit A attached.

  40. Hell Freezing Over Says:

    G#39

    Maybe it’s time to ask for a copy of Dr. Mills’ job description and responsibilities.

    The contract presented on the 08/27/12 agenda of course contained no such data, as it appears from the verbiage in the contract that the job description and responsibilities were still to be written and approved; and as you pointed out there was no attachment A detailing the job at that time.

  41. Doctor J Says:

    Remember that Kerri Mills husband is a former school district superintendent — he knows the drill. She follows orders.

  42. Doctor J Says:

    @G#39 The whole system is corrupt when the “complete” contract is not attached. How could the Asst Supt of Personnel remain silent when the complete contract is not attached for Board approval ? Julie B-M is complicit in the corruption.

  43. g Says:

    Agreed! Although she may not be as “complicit” as she used to be–of course that’s just speculation. I suspect she also knows where some skeletons can be found.

    On the other hand–by my book on education–even though they both ended up with the same certifications, Kerri Mills 30 years of SpEd dedication and her Ed.D. trumps Lawrence’s business/math Ph.D any day. And her dedication runs circles around his 15 years of “I’ll be a teacher, No I’ll be a researcher, No I’ll be a teacher, Next, I’ll be a principal, Now I’m on a roll, I’ll be a Superintendent for a small district, No,–wow–look what mdusd pays (and I’ve already worked up a Bond/Solar deal for the ONE High School in my little district)—they’ll think I’m an expert!”

  44. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s an editorial that urges the MDUSD board to fire the superintendent and general counsel: http://www.contracostatimes.com/twitterl/ci_22865768/editorial-time-mt-diablo-school-board-fire-its

  45. Doctor J Says:

    The Times editorial was way too kind — all of the Big 5 need to go, even Rose Lock, who in the past has been a kind hearted soul but followed the path to self-destruction by not following her moral compass. Julie B-M should have stood her ground — but she didn’t and must go too.

  46. Theresa Harrington Says:

    At the CBOC meeting last week, Board President Cheryl Hansen told me that she still learns more about what’s going on in the district from my blog than from the superintendent, general counsel and other district staff. Case in point: she said she was unaware of the Bay Point meeting until she read about it in my blog. That’s why she asked the superintendent to report on the meeting tonight.
    At the CBOC meeting, John Parker and others complained about the $180,000 that has basically been spent to update demographics data, with very little difference from one year to the next. As I have pointed out, the Bay Point Master Plan website is not even linked to the district website and no list of committee members, agendas or minutes have been posted.
    Luckily, our Bay Point reporter tipped me off about the last community meeting and attended it herself. Today, she informed me that there is a Bay Point Committee meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 27 in the Riverview MS Library. I wonder if the superintendent will mention this secret meeting during his report tonight and if he will let the board know who is on the committee and where the agendas and minutes of their meetings can be found.
    FYI, I have begun uploading videos from the CBOC meeting to YouTube.com/tunedtotheresa. The committee was somewhat critical of the audit and expressed concerns about lease-leasebacks and Bay Point expenditures. Also, they asked to see data showing whether the district is meeting its solar goals. The committee plans to meet in two months to discuss its annual report.

  47. Doctor J Says:

    Secret meetings do not equal open government.

  48. Theresa Harrington Says:

    And secret meetings that trustees are not informed about may not bode well for those who are failing to keep the board in the loop.

  49. g Says:

    The Times editorial is what it is, but even without Dr. J’s ‘gate’ phrase, it could have listed a dozen or more valid public grievances against those two.

    Lawrence, Rolen, Pedersen and EberMarsh are responsible for the rotten apple buried deep in the barrel. That is Measure C; with its handpicked shills on the Oversight Committee, Hiring/paying of staff, Favoritism in Contracts and legal spit-swapping. They and it need to be more openly exposed and culled.

    Hard as it will be, the board needs to do the right thing–if they get sued, so be it. Eventually, evidence and precedence will favor the board.

    We need to get a lot of stink aired out, and the courts are good at that. Many in this district know a lot more than they have ever talked openly about, and the only way they will ever talk openly is with their right hand raised under penalty of perjury.

    About a dozen of us comment here. Another several dozen may care enough about education to read what’s going on at the district here and in the paper.

    That leaves 50,000 voters that have NO idea that there is, or ever has been, anything amiss with their tax-funded schools.

    Maybe a good day-by-day blow of a courthouse expose’ is exactly what we need.

  50. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I was speaking with a government ethics expert who said it is imperative that employees in public agencies feel free to speak up about waste, fraud and abuse without fear of retaliation. If they blow the whistle to their supervisor and the supervisor turns a blind eye, they need to blow the whistle to the superintendent, she said. If the superintendent turns a blind eye, they need to go to the board, Grand Jury and/or DA, she said.
    As I have previously mentioned, several trustees blatantly told MDUSD administrators at the board retreat that they are concerned about the fear of retaliation that exists in MDUSD. Barbara Oaks spoke about it when she commented March 11 on Greg Rolen’s contract.
    This completely contradicts the warm, welcoming culture that Julie Braun-Martin and Bill Morones said they envision in the strategic plan. I wonder if this disconnect will come up during tonight’s discussion of the strategic plan.

  51. g Says:

    A use-the-right-buzzwords–feel-good–tell-em-what-they-like-to-hear Stratigic Plan is about as useful as wet tissue paper.

    They need to stop wasting time on it.

    Build a No-Nonsense—follow-the-law—not-the-loophole “Education First” District Policy.

  52. Theresa Harrington Says:

    The ethics expert also said districts can go beyond what the FPPC requires in terms of conflict of interest policies. So, a district could require any employee to recuse him or herself from any contracts involving friends or girlfriends/boyfriends, as well as contracts involving blood relatives or spouses. When there is the appearance of a conflict, the ethics experts said, that creates a culture of distrust.

  53. Linda L Says:

    Theresa,

    On March 1 I attended a meeting with the Northgate department chairs, administration, parent leaders, and Board Member Lawrence to discuss innovative learning opportunities. It was a great opportunity to hear from teachers who are really trying to make a difference. We discussed a trimester schedule and linked learning programs. We saw great examples of schools using one or both of these options. We had a guest speaker and received a lot of good input from those attending.

    Linked Learning would allow cross integration of subjects based around a common interest. If the linked learning hub was Medical then all subjects would be taught in a context that related to that interest. Students would gain all of the basic skills necessary but the environment would be relevant. There are great programs likes this across the country. It would be an incredible opportunity for our kids.

    Trimesters would allow students to take fewer classes at one time but more classes throughout their time at Northgate. Imagine the possibilities – we could actually provide electives that fit into a college bound student’s schedule and electives that would interest students looking for vocational opportunities. Classes would be slightly longer (but not the day) because there would only be 5 classes per trimester. This extra 15 +/- minutes per class would allow for more project based learning. The very thing that study after study has proven to make a difference in engaging high school students. The teachers in the room recognized the potential and seemed anxious to share with others.

    Sadly, rumor has it our teacher’s UNION is opposing this opportunity for students. Somehow they have decided that it is always about the student and it needs to be about the teachers… specifically the teachers who see this as too much work.

    I am hoping to do two things with this blog post:

    1.) Theresa I want to encourage you to CHALLENGE the union (as much as you do the District) and ask them how they intend to be part of the solution to making high school more engaging, relevant, and rigorous for our students? I am tired of MDEA’s spoon fed rhetoric about lack of salary, time, and professional respect. They have to start being part of the solution not simply an obstruction to innovation. Innovation is the only way to solve all those issues. They need to understand that they can wait until hell freezes over if they think it is going to be solved through the State budget.

    2.) I want to engage the parents on this blog to hold MDEA accountable. If you want real change for our kids then we need to hold them to as high a standard as we hold the District. In fact I would argue that they hold the most power and we allow them to fly completely under the radar. I am considering resurrecting my blog with the intention of promoting all of the amazing programs happening in schools around the country and around the world. We need to get on board because our kids are getting left behind.

  54. Linda L Says:

    I apologize for being off topic but wanted to get this off my chest and into the minds of those of you who are willing to take on these kind of challenges.

  55. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Linda, The district is part of a Linked Learning pilot program that also includes the Antioch and Pittsburg districts, with Antioch providing mentoring, based on its successful academies such as Libby-Dozier Medical.
    What you are describing would be a great topic for a board discussion. Too often in this district, these types of discussions are held behind the scenes and only select parents and staff members who are fortunate enough to be invited to the meetings actually know about them.
    If the superintendent hadn’t disbanded the centralized PAC meetings, this would also be a great topic for those. Now, it would be up to individual parents in each feeder pattern to bring this up — IF they even know about it.
    Bill Morones did a board presentation about Linked Learning, but I don’t think the idea of trimesters was discussed. Also, as I’m sure you know, there is a graduation requirements committee working behind the scenes to come up with recommendations about how to improve high school curriculum. Are you a member of that committee?
    These discussions should not be going on in vacuums. But, the district doesn’t post agendas or minutes for those meetings either, so it’s anyone’s guess whether the right hand knows what the left hand is doing.
    I hope that Trustee Brian Lawrence will report on this during his board report tonight and ask the superintendent to give a board update about this soon.
    In the meantime, I will also follow up with MDEA to get their take on this idea. Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

  56. g Says:

    Unfortunately there is no law about giving lucrative free-flowing taxpayer funded jobs to your good buddies.

    There are a couple more on the agenda tonight.

  57. Wendy Lack Says:

    @ G #49:

    I hope and pray that the District avoids unnecessary litigation, which is a costly distraction from the task at hand: Improving the organizational performance of MSUSD.

    @TH #52:

    Yes, it’s disappointing that legal requirements are typically used as performance standards by public agencies. Wow — doing more than what’s minimally required — what a concept!

    @LL #53:

    Among District administrators, faculty and classified employees and their unions, there are many stakeholders who must be held accountable. In a public agency, no one should “fly under the radar.” Thanks for raising this important point.

    I believe that effective organizational leaders ensure that unions own their stuff. If unions are obstructing, they need to be called on it. Employees and union leaders need to get on board . . . or be invited to get off the bus. No one gets a free pass.

  58. g Says:

    Is Linked Learning what they call it now? For me, a lifetime ago, in a galaxy far-far away, a little “Easy A” class called Home Economics was directly tied to what we were getting in math and English Lit at the same time. We cooked based on figuring out volumes and weights, not pre-measured markers and we cooked dishes and set tables based on past eras and mores–Les Miserables and Little Women comes to mind. I doubt if anybody got paid more to collaborate on those linked study plans–but then there was no fancy jargon AND there were no teacher unions.

  59. Anon Says:

    @31-Mills should go because she has let special ed be Rolens’ personal playground, at the expense of other kids who don’t get the services, but for which he personally arranges for others, using his minions to do his dirty work….and they should go too

  60. Northgate Fan Says:

    @Linda L. – I am not convinced that the current leadership at Northgate can accomplish such a seminal change in the programs there. Certainly, the district administration is incapable of providing both the energy and leadership. This meeting seems to be nothing more than a placebo to convince NHS parents that the district is looking ahead. My solution, as a longtime(13 years) NHS supporter, is to go charter. Only then will we be able to break free from the ineptness of Steven Lawrence and his minions. As long as he is superintndent, the NHS community is going to be given bread and circuses but not much substance

    As an aside, was at Country Wood Panera Bread last week at 8:15 AM and noticed Northgate principal John McMorris having a leisurely breakfast. What time does school start at NHS?

  61. anonymous Says:

    So,are you now finally going to acknowledge that MDUSD needs to be investigated by the STATE??? 4 years ago I told you this district was running illegally; it has only gotten worse. employees are losing their homes, cars and sanity while the head administrators take salary increase for themselves. this is why docs are missing. this is why the district had a BRAND NEW laptop, with thousands of employees personal info on it stolen and did not do anything to find the thief(s)…they are immoral, illegal administrators RUNNING the district and our kids into the ground!
    STOP them!!! ask for a state investigation NOW!!!

  62. anon Says:

    @Northgate Fan #60: McMorris is one of Lawrence’s pets, so he can get to NHS any time he wants. Another reason Lawrence needs to go.

  63. Anon Says:

    Hate to ask again, but what is the live stream site?

  64. Been Down That Road.... Says:

    #62 I’m with you…anyone? anyone??

  65. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s the link, but it says: “Lost signal” http://www.livestream.com/mtdiablounifiedschooldistrict

  66. g Says:

    http://www.livestream.com/mdusd –But nothing seems to be working–not on radio either?

  67. Kristi Says:

    You can listen to it here:http://www.kvhs.com/main.htm

  68. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Ironic if radio isn’t working, since KVHS is on agenda. Here’s link to live blog: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2013/03/25/live-blog-of-3-25-13-mdusd-meeting/

    Please note, however, that my editor wants me to file a live story after contract votes, so I won’t be able to keep up with live blog in a timely manner after that.

    Also, I’ll videotape when possible, but won’t be able to tape every agenda item.

  69. Kristi Says:

    Radio is working

  70. Doctor J Says:

    Linda Mayo says she doesn’t get emails from the address listed on the district website: mayolk@aol.com
    I wonder why ?

  71. Wait a Minute Says:

    OK, full mobilization by Stevie Lawrence of his “fan club” to try and save his job and take a few cuts at Theresa and the CCC Times because of the blog.

    The first speaker is lauding the superintendent for his newsletters which are few and far between according to the superintendent’s own promise to do so.

    Basically astroturf.

  72. MDUSD Board Watcher Says:

    #70 Dr. J.,

    That is funny because she has responded to my emails to her at that email address many times.

    If needed, I could copy a few of her responses here to prove it.

  73. Giorgio C. Says:

    Theresa,

    Some here are commenting on reporting violations to the state. What a joke! Today, the state (Mary Prather, CDE Liaison for SBE) kicked my complaint back, saying I needed to submit it to my district, the very district I was reporting. WTF?

    I wasn’t reporting a teacher for not providing books. I was reporting district management and the school board for not complying with the Ed Code. And I’m supposed to use the Uniform Complaint procedure and bring my allegations to those I am ratting out? Seriously? This isn’t my damn union who I am filing an internal grievance against. This is a bleeping government agency who takes my money and who I believe has been violating the Ed Code. When I previously reported Ed Code violations to the CDE, they responded, “Yes, you are correct. These are violations you are witnessing, but we have no one to enforce the law.” Way to go, CDE!

    And thanks to the sorry excuse for a County DA, we have no one enforcing any of the God damn laws on the books, so why have these laws in the first place? So much money and so little oversight and accountability. The Dept of Ed is the sorriest excuse for a government agency, so should simply be abolished. Torlakson, you are not getting my vote next election. Neither is Lonnie Hancock or any of the others who are part of this equation. Let’s include our County Board of Supervisors who are complicit for not providing us with a functional DA’s office. And the Grand Jury…they’re just so grand!

    Theresa, maybe some day, you can report on the lawlessness known as the public education system. I’m sorry for the MDUSD taxpayers and parents. Please excuse my rant. I’m used to blowing the whistle on government agencies and getting a response. That was before I turned my attention to the public education system. I wish I never looked.

  74. Wendy Lack Says:

    @ Giorgio C #73:

    Turn over any rock in the CA Education Establishment and ugly creepy crawlies slither out. This “system” (using the term loosely) is the product of the aficionados of Big Government-Big Labor which run the state. Don’t expect any improvements soon, given the permanent labor-owned Dem party that runs California. There is no impetus for change in a one-party state.

    On a more hopeful note, Indiana’s successful voucher program scored a big win in court today. That state has the largest school voucher in the nation. As a result of today’s court ruling, it will expand. See details at: http://bit.ly/YSVjEf

    Oh, and I’ll stick up for Contra Costa’s civil grand jury any day of the week and twice on Sunday. They tackle relevant issues and their work has led to important reforms (e.g., getting the county to finally own up to its unfunded liability for retiree health care). So, please don’t paint them with the same brush that you do others . . . they do what they can, given their limited role. It’s not their fault that many elected officials pooh-pooh their findings because they prefer to ignore and rationalize problems.

  75. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Giorgio: I have heard of special ed parents going to the state with complaints too, but they say the CDE does listen to their concerns. Still, lack of enforcement is a real issue, as we’ve seen with mandated reporting and the SIG grants.

    Wendy: The problem with the Grand Jury is that it has no enforcement power either. And when Greg Rolen responds on behalf of the board with no public discussion, the Grand Jury just accepts his response as though it had been publicly approved.

  76. Wendy Lack Says:

    @TH #74:

    Yes, enforcement is not the GJ’s role. Those who lie or provide unauthorized responses to the GJ should be held accountable by their respective agencies.

    The lack of prosecutors is a nationwide problem. Thus, generally speaking, it’s typically the “slam-dunk” crimes that are prosecuted. Low-level stuff is largely ignored (e.g., no Brown Act violation has ever been prosecuted in California, as far as I know).

    Legislators can enact all of the laws they wish, but the fact remains that law enforcement will only catch a small fraction and only a relative handful of those cases will ever be prosecuted.

    As a result, crime pays (in the short term and, often, over the long term, as well). That’s reality.

    This is why culture is so critical. Cultural norms, such as personal responsibility and accountability, are waning. We see this daily, as when politicians get caught with their hands in the cookie jar but attribute their misdeeds to a psychological diagnosis. No one wants to be held accountable any more, even as the culture tells us that making judgments about others’ conduct is “not fair.” Moral relativism rules.

    I believe that changing the culture is key. Actions need to have consequences. There is such a thing as clear right and wrong and we need to behave accordingly. Today, unfortunately, things like cheating and white collar crime are widely accepted as “expedient shortcuts” or “beating the system” or rationalized by a desire to “even the score.”

    In any event, the law establishes a minimum standard, not a desirable one.

    This is why many, including myself, advocate for character education in our schools, government and places of business (e.g., http://bit.ly/2FECCa). In an increasingly secular culture, character education is essential.

    When society considers cheating to be “smart” and playing by the rules as something only for “chumps,” no amount of law enforcement will suffice. Increasing numbers of people view ethics as an old-fashioned concept that, at best, only applies when convenient. Many view the only real crime is getting caught.

    In sum, no number of laws or prosecutors is a substitute for culture.

    Public organizations are a reflection of the culture. For example, the rash of reporting failures we see relative to abuse/molestation incidents is attributable to these cultural influences — and certainly not the result of a lack of laws on the books!

    “Who will stand up for the children?” becomes a very real question in a culture that eschews personal accountability and in which people fear “getting involved.”

    No doubt long-time MDUSD-watchers can cite their own examples that illustrate the ethical lapses described above. Behaviors such secrecy, withholding information, favoritism in hiring or awarding of contracts … all of these are examples of ethical issues.

    Citizens such as Giorgio C. need to continue to work within the system to hold public officials accountable. In addition, public discourse about ethical issues should be encouraged. Residents should hold public officials accountable to ethical standards — not merely minimal, legalistic ones. We can do this by speaking of ethical issues, communicating to our elected and appointed officials about what we expect from them and encouraging others to do likewise.

  77. Giorgio C. Says:

    Wendy,
    I think much of it is simply ignorance, not culture. There is an education process that is needed that comes with transparency. The citizens of Hercules learned this the hard way, but now they are part of the process every step of the way thanks to a government that includes them in the process, even with the drafting of an Ethics policy. People throw up their arms, simply frustrated by government. People don’t understand that it doesn’t have to be nebulous and complicated.

    As I always say, put it in writing. In a regulatory environment, what I witnessed were laws on the books that never made it to approved procedures in the workplace. That was the disconnect. Once you have approved procedures and everyone signing an attestation form that they have read and understood the procedure and that these very procedures are posted on-line for all citizens to read, then you begin to have accountability.

    The citizens must become educated on what to expect. Only then can they become part of the oversight and accountability process.

  78. Wendy Lack Says:

    Giorgio C: Agreed.

  79. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Wendy, This was also evidenced by the testimony of the grandparents at Monday’s board meeting. Although the district has an anti-bullying policy, it is obviously not being well-enforced.

  80. Wendy Lack Says:

    @ GC #77:

    Internal reporting systems are only as reliable as the human beings who manage them. This is why it’s of paramount importance, when hiring people into positions of authority, to hire only those that have the integrity and courage to do the jobs they’re hired to do.

    Today’s CCT follow-up story about the Moraga situation illustrates the need for regular training to protect the health and safety of innocents: http://bit.ly/YK0reH.

    This story also illustrates why external reporting is essential.

  81. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Wendy, At Monday’s MDUSD meeting, Rolen outlined newly implemented plans to beef up mandated reporting, but Hansen pointed out there was no real follow-up to see if principals actually train all of their employees.
    Here’s a video I shot of Annie Nolen talking about the district’s failure in the past to provide adequate training: http://youtu.be/_Fr8L3Slyio

  82. Doctor J Says:

    What is the status of the Form 700’s ? Have they all been produced now ?

  83. Wendy Lack Says:

    @ TH #81:

    I am puzzled why all of the top administrators work on contract. When I worked in city government, the CEO (City Manager) and the City Attorney had contracts and reported directly to the governing board. But other key roles (all HR staff, all legal staff, all department heads) were “at will” and could be terminated at any time “for any reason or no reason” because we worked at the pleasure of the City Manager. From a management perspective, this is the only arrangement that provides a CEO the necessary degrees of freedom to do his/her job.

    Use of employment contracts for these roles, as MDUSD does, baffles me: Why would you want to tie the hands of the CEO in this way? The chief executive should have the ability to replace any of his/her key department heads at any time.

    Once a new Superintendent is hired by the district, I’d recommend replacing all of the administrative heads (HR, Finance, IT) with managers from the private sector — they’re accustomed to working on an “at will” basis and would bring a fresh perspective. It’s plainly evident that the current administrators in the HR, Finance and IT roles are not suitable.

    MDUSD needs an organizational culture that fosters performance excellence, personal accountability and ethical conduct. A new CEO should have Board support to restructure, as described, to give him/her the flexibility necessary to make this cultural shift.

  84. Doctor J Says:

    @Wendy#83 Brilliant. Besides, they all have rights to return to the classroom as teachers. Oh, its half the pay. I have never heard a good explanation of what qualifies a teacher to become the head of Human Resources of a $350,000,000 organization, employing 5,000 people.

  85. Wendy Lack Says:

    @ DJ #84:

    Schools are a business and should be run accordingly.

    Experience as a teacher or school principal does not qualify someone to become an HR Manager over a large corporation.

    (If it did, you’d have major corporations doing head hunting in schools, to fill such roles — and that ain’t happening.)

    The key to success for any organization is hiring. Hiring decisions have greater, long-term impact on organizations than do any other types of decisions. This is why enlightened employers view HR as a strategic business partner, not a paper-pushing functionary role.

    The MDUSD case study vividly illustrates the impact of hiring decisions on organizational performance and business results.

  86. Doctor J Says:

    @Wendy#85 I agree with your key to success.

  87. Flippin' Tired Says:

    “Doctor” J @84, why don’t you walk down the hallway and ask Julie how she is qualified to be in charge of Personnel? I’m sure she’d enlighten you as to her curriculum vitae. You want a “good explanation?” Go to the source.

  88. Doctor J Says:

    Theresa, do you know when Dan B will get the rest of the documents, in addition to the “one” produced by Rolen ? BTW, did Cheryl happen to mention how they liked the attorney today ?

  89. Theresa Harrington Says:

    No, I don’t know the status of Dan B’s request. Also, I was on deadline when Hansen called, so I didn’t get a chance to talk to her about the attorney.

  90. Giorgio C. Says:

    Here is the WCCUSD HR Director job description, complete with sought qualifications
    http://www.edjoin.org/jobDescription.aspx?descriptionID=89519

    You might want to see how this position was advertised in your district previously if you have concerns. Were the qualifications changed?

  91. Hell Freezing Over Says:

    TH – it’s been 3 weeks, what is the status of the Form 700’s?

  92. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Actually, Cooksey said she had gathered most of them, but I haven’t had a chance to go look at them. I’ll try to do that this week.

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