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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?

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

  • g

    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.

  • Theresa Harrington

    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.

  • Linda L

    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.

  • Linda L

    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.

  • Theresa Harrington

    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!

  • g

    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.

  • Wendy Lack

    @ 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.

  • g

    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.

  • Anon

    @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

  • Northgate Fan

    @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?

  • anonymous

    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!!!

  • anon

    @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.

  • Anon

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

  • Been Down That Road….

    #62 I’m with you…anyone? anyone??

  • Theresa Harrington

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

  • g

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

  • Kristi

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

  • Theresa Harrington

    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.

  • Kristi

    Radio is working

  • Doctor J

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

  • Wait a Minute

    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.

  • MDUSD Board Watcher

    #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.

  • Giorgio C.

    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.

  • Wendy Lack

    @ 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.

  • Theresa Harrington

    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.

  • Wendy Lack

    @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.

  • Giorgio C.

    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.

  • Wendy Lack

    Giorgio C: Agreed.

  • Theresa Harrington

    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.

  • Wendy Lack

    @ 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.

  • Theresa Harrington

    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

  • Doctor J

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

  • Wendy Lack

    @ 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.

  • Doctor J

    @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.

  • Wendy Lack

    @ 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.

  • Doctor J

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

  • Flippin’ Tired

    “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.

  • Doctor J

    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 ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    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.

  • Giorgio C.

    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?

  • Hell Freezing Over

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

  • Theresa Harrington

    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.