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

By Theresa Harrington
Wednesday, March 27th, 2013 at 5:36 pm in Education.

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.

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106 Responses to “Live blog of MDUSD 3-27-13 closed session regarding dismissal of two employees”

  1. Anon Says:

    If no discipline were being taken, I would think they would have reported out “no action” by now.

  2. Theresa Harrington Says:

    And they wouldn’t need legal advice.

  3. Anon Says:

    I would absolutely support a Northgate Charter option. It should have been done long ago.Surprised that CVCHS beat them it to.

  4. Waiting... Says:

    Anxiously waiting for news!

  5. Theresa Harrington Says:

    No news yet. Trustees have not emerged from the closed session.

  6. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here they come.

  7. Anon Says:

    And……..?

  8. Theresa Harrington Says:

    See 6:30 p.m. update to this blog post.

  9. Anon Says:

    Well, more waiting to see if we can start looking for quality leadership. The wait is killing me. I want nothing more than a functioning school district for the generations to come.

  10. vindex Says:

    I’d be shocked at this point if they were not terminated. This would be a good step. Now, can we hire the right people?

  11. g Says:

    I just noticed that the “Coordinated School Health Council meeting was scheduled for same time, same room, today. I don’t remember seeing it before.

    I suppose they found other accommodations.

    I tried to find the agenda for the Bay Point Master Plan Committee meeting this evening—but couldn’t find one.

  12. Theresa Harrington Says:

    G: There was another meeting in the board meeting from about 3:20 pm to 5 pm or so. But it didn’t conflict with the board’s open session.

  13. Anon Says:

    Theresa, did you take video of the report after closed session? Did Hansen report the vote count for each action? Odd that they did not report what the actions were under the agenda (discipline, dismissal, release, etc.) Because everybody knows what employees were being considered, I have a feeling Cooksey told them they could not give more public information on whatever action they took.

  14. Hell Freezing Over Says:

    #13

    Action summary:

    Meeting Date:  Wednesday, March 27, 2013 – 2:30 PM
    Category:  Adjourn to Closed Session
    Type:  Action
    Subject:  3.1 Public Employee Discipline/Dismissal/Release/Complaint

    Policy: 
    Enclosure: 
    File Attachment: 
    Summary:  Consideration of the dismissal of employees #22936 and #28941.
    Funding: 
    Fiscal Impact: 
    Recommendation:  Action
    Approvals: 
    Recommended By:
    Signed By:
    Loreen Joseph – Secretary to the Superintendent
    Signed By:
    Steven Lawrence – Superintendent

  15. g Says:

    Anon; In this case, Cooksey probably got it right. If there was a termination, the “action” is not complete until the terminated person is in receipt of a letter formally advising him of that action.

  16. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Anon: Yes, I did videotape the report out and will post it on YouTube.com/tunedtotheresa.
    Cooksey said the actions taken did not need to be reported out because the were confidential and “in process.”

  17. help the kids Says:

    What’s going to happen with the technology advisory committe recommendations that got cut off at the last board meeting????

  18. Anon Says:

    After their presentation Hansen said she really wanted to hear the full presentation before they took action, and put it on the April 8 agenda so the board could hear the rest of their report and to take action. She apologized to them and thanked them for being so patient. From what I heard from Hansen the board will vote on their recommendations at the next board meeting. She also said this is what she wants to be doing at board meetings.

  19. Theresa Harrington Says:

    FYI, I popped by the district office this morning to pick up the documents related to Mildred Browne’s mysteriously created position. I noticed the superintendent was there, working. The general counsel’s office, however, was dark.
    After glancing through the documents, I can see why Trustee Linda Mayo has been warning the rest of the board not to make disparaging remarks about district administrators, saying they could result in a claim against the district. Browne filed a $48,000 claim against the district for disparaging remarks she alleged were made about her by the superintendent and others.

  20. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Please note that I have just finished uploading all four video clips from yesterday’s closed session to YouTube.com/tunedtotheresa.

  21. Wait a Minute Says:

    Theresa@18, did the “others” making disparaging remarks include Rolen and if Brown filed a claim against the district then why in the hell would they put her a paid leave?

    Oh I know why, because its not their money!

  22. Theresa Harrington Says:

    WAM: I haven’t had a chance to read through all the documents yet. The claim was based on comments she received from other people both inside and outside the district, who told her that she was not expected to work for the district during the last year of her contract. One person allegedly asked her: “Why doesn’t the superintendent like you?”

    Concerned parent: Based on your allegations, I checked with the County Office of Education to find out what kind of background checks they do on employees. Here’s what County Office spokeswoman Peggy Marshburn wrote in an email:

    “The COE checks references and former employer/s on all prospective employees. If the position is a credentialed one, the credentials are verified. All employees have to be fingerprinted and vetted through the DOJ. We can’t comment specifically on an individual employee as reference checks are not public information.”

  23. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s a webinar that MDUSD officials might want to participate in regarding how to attain high achievement in diverse districts: https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/746528230

    MDUSD scored near the bottom on the Ed Trust report cards, as I recall.

  24. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here is my short story about the closed session: http://www.contracostatimes.com/twitter/ci_22886754/mt-diablo-school-boards-lengthy-closed-meeting-results

  25. Doctor J Says:

    I applaud Steven Lawwrence’s wife for “standing by her man” but wonder where the hell was Marisol ?

  26. Doctor J Says:

    @TH#19 What was the date of the claim ? And why wasn’t it identified earlier as a claim by Mildred Browne against the district ? That is illegal.

  27. Theresa Harrington Says:

    The claim was dated 7-16-12. And even Mildred Browne herself wonders why it hasn’t been publicly approved at a board meeting.
    Before responding to my PRA, the district contacted Browne to let her know about my request. In a Monday email to Deb Cooksey, Browne wrote, in part, about the settlement agreement: “I am still puzzled as to why it must be released and it has not been ratified in an open session by the Board.”
    So, it appears that Rolen and Lawrence’s tendency toward secrecy even surprises Browne.

    Regarding Padilla, the district is in the process of drafting a new AIS contract to bring to the board at a future date. Since Rolen has established an “ethical wall” between his office and her, perhaps she could feel conflicted about appearing by his side.

    But, it is noteworthy that while a few supporters have showed up to advocate for Lawrence, so one has similarly praised Rolen’s job performance.

  28. Doctor J Says:

    So its not just a claim, but an actual “settlement agreement” ? Maybe the Board won’t approve it.

  29. Anon Says:

    Theresa @ 27, an ethical wall? That’s a joke! They are married and AIS business address is Padilla’s home address! What wall? The one between the bedroom and the bathroom? That’s ridiculous. Rolen is benefitting financially from her contract- isn’t that a conflict of interest?

  30. Doctor J Says:

    Mildred Browne Timeline:
    April 19, 2012 FCMAT Study Agreemment for Special Education signed
    April 19, 2012 Board Agenda posted and excludes Mildred Browne’s contract extension.
    April 23, 2012 Board declines to include Mildred Browne’s contract with the BIG5 for contract extensions.
    June 4-8, 2012 FCMAT conducts study at MDUSD
    July 16, 2012 Mildred Browne files her claim against the Supt and others for $48,000 and not noticed on any Board agenda or disclosed.
    July 26, 2012 FCMAT issues initial report but not made public
    August 27, 2012 MDUSD Board hires Kerri Mills without disclosing FCMAT report.
    January 23, 2013 FCMAT issues final report to Supt Lawrence but not made public
    February 23, 2013 FCMAT redates report and Supt Lawrence releases it to public after demand by Board President

    I am not making commentary here on the Mildred issues, just stating a factual history.

  31. Theresa Harrington Says:

    According to the docs I received, the board reviewed the agreement in closed session in January. However, it’s unclear whether it was approved.

  32. Doctor J Says:

    I don’t see it on any agenda.

  33. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Anon: Hansen told me that after she found out about Rolen’s relationship with Padilla, she told him that he would have to disclose his marriage. But, this begs the question of whether he should have disclosed his relationship to her before they were married. Now that he has publicly admitted it, it is up to the board and public.

  34. Doctor J Says:

    Read Board Policy 4112.8 which defines “relative” to include “co-habitation” :””Relative” means a connection between persons by blood, marriage, adoption, domestic partnership, or other personal relationship including co-habitation.” It also states: “Not every relationship that can create favoritism or the appearance of favoritism can be listed here. Whenever an employee enters into a relationship with another employee, she/he should ask whether the appearance of nepotism or whether an audit or control function may be compromised.”

  35. g Says:

    Old leadership of the last board is gone–because they thought they knew best about what was or wasn’t good for the public to know. They were wrong!

    All the while, that board and every one on this board knows (except maybe Dennler…) that if even one single dollar is spent behind closed doors–it MUST be brought out in the open right then–not a year later!

    Let’s hope this PRA, Browne, FCMAT, Padilla AND hidden Legal Expenses swill is cleared out before it starts to stink up this board– –I’m already getting a bad whiff from somewhere.

  36. MDUSD Board Watcher Says:

    Am I to understand that the current board has been hiding illegal dealings with Mildred Browne?

  37. g Says:

    Board Watcher: No one has even hinted that any deal made was illegal—but they have certainly been wrongfully hiding it.

    They do not have to tell us the ‘who’ or the exact ‘why’ but they do have to tell us the ‘title’ of who, and exactly ‘how much’ it has cost.

  38. g Says:

    I should add…the who, why, what and how much has to be given—unless it is still in either arbitration or court and not settled yet.

  39. Wendy Lack Says:

    Bad news for California public schools. It looks like Prop 30 will be a wash, as the new tax revenue is needed to fund STRS pension liabilities.

    Here’s a link to a brief but excellent summary of Prop 30 and CA schools, by Stanford lecturer David Crane: http://bloom.bg/YLeYwB

    And here are a few excerpts:

    “Last November, California politicians persuaded voters to support a proposed seven-year, $50 billion tax increase, largely on the vow that the money would go to public education . . . The first five words of the initiative’s title were ‘Temporary Taxes to Fund Education.’

    “Now, just four months after the election, the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office has announced that the California State Teachers’ Retirement System requires an extra $4.5 billion a year for 30 years — $135 billion — to cover its unfunded liability for teacher pensions and that the money will have to come from some combination of school districts and the state.

    “To the extent that it comes from the school districts, $4.5 billion a year is 167 percent of the annual amount those districts expected from the tax increase. To the extent that it comes from the state, $4.5 billion is more than 100 percent of the annual amount it expected in new revenue.

    “Either way, more than $30 billion over the next seven years will go to the service of a debt that wasn’t disclosed before the voters were asked to approve the tax increase . . . Non-disclosure of CalSTRS’s liability before the tax vote continues a pattern of deception about California’s pension obligations.

    “There’s no free lunch here. To the extent that school districts pick up the cost, kids in school today will be hurt because more dollars will go to pension costs and fewer dollars will go to classrooms. To the extent that the state picks up the cost, residents will receive fewer services.

    “Either way, voters will get little for the tax increase they approved in November.”

    Any way you cut it, kids lose . . . and taxpayers do, too.

  40. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Someone appears to have approved a paid leave of absence for Browne. The deal also calls for a payment of nearly $48,000 in July 2014 and says Browne’s resignation would be announced at that time. So, if eagle-eyed board watchers hadn’t noticed that mysterious position on the board agenda attachment and I hadn’t done this PRA, it’s possible the public would not have known what was going on until it was all over.

  41. g Says:

    Wendy, I commented on this back in Oct, pleading with everyone to read the fine print. The fine print was there for all to see. First Prop 30 said the state would be ‘forgiven’ its current debts to the districts of what it has held back year after year, in exchange for increased tax funding, that would ‘maybe’ end up giving districts even more than the state already owed. Then in even finer print it said, First–the State would take funds to pay its debts–Second, it would fund Pre-Preschool. Third, IF anything was left over, it would be apportioned to the districts.

  42. g Says:

    Theresa; Back on your Local Control Funding blog on 2/22, when the 3/11 agenda came out, we started commenting on it. In addition to the Mildred Browne listing, Dr J. questioned a Payrol Tax Penalty and Interest for $56,621.23, but his question got lost in the discussion. That isn’t for tax-plus,etc.

    That’s for JUST the penalty and interest!

    It seems after the IRS debacle a few years ago–which we’re still paying off–someone would be under strict orders to watch what they’re doing!

    $56.6K is NOT small change. It’s enough to pay for a full time teacher for a full year!

    ~~or send 20 teachers all around the state for bleeping conferences (:>

    I wonder if the error was even taken to Lawrence. Or was this loss of education funds just swept under the CFO carpet.

  43. Doctor J Says:

    @#40 WE NEED A CURE AND CORRECT !!!! Lets stop the insanity !

  44. Wendy Lack Says:

    @ G #41:

    School choice is an idea whose time has come. Competition yields better quality and lower cost, wherever and whenever it is tried.

    Here’s a relevant commentary re Guv Brown’s education budget proposal: http://bit.ly/YNvtIA

    Excerpts:

    “…[Governor Brown’s budget] is based on the fallacious notion that if a … school district has enough tax dollars to work with, it will turn out well-performing students.

    “Indeed, Washington, D.C. spends $29,409 per pupil, the highest in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet, it received an F grade for K-12 student achievement on its 2013 report card from Education Week.

    “Throwing good money after bad doesn’t make sense, whether we’re talking about public schools in the District of Columbia or California.

    “If Brown was really about justice to unequals, then he would empower parents of low-income or English-language-learning schoolchildren to exercise the same school choice as the state’s more affluent parents.
    And the very best way to do that is with a K-12 low-income student assistance program that provides “scholarships” — vouchers — that can be used to enroll in public, private or parochial schools.”

    The Prop 30/CalSTRS debacle illustrates the need for education choice. That’s the only way that California public schools will improve and costs will be reduced. Schools will improve only when they’re forced to compete for students.

    School choice ultimately offers California taxpayers better value for the taxes they pay.

  45. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I have a call into Deb to try to get clarification on when or whether either of the two settlement agreements I received was actually approved by the board.

  46. Wendy Lack Says:

    “What you allow, you encourage.”

    A good read. Relevant to MDUSD’s situation:

    http://bit.ly/164Ni36

  47. Theresa Harrington Says:

    FYI, the audio from the public portion of yesterday’s closed session meeting has been posted: http://www.mdusd.org/boe/Documents/audio/2013/03282013part1-2-merged.mp3

    There was no public comment. Mayo was absent at the beginning and there was no announcement about whether she participated, although Hansen said she expected her to arrive soon. Board discussed negotiations and gave direction to bargaining reps. No action was taken.

    Also, I see that an April 3 closed session has also been scheduled.

  48. Anon Says:

    Any word on when the agenda will be posted for the April 2 meeting? Nothing posted yet.

  49. Theresa Harrington Says:

    The superintendent’s secretary says she hasn’t gotten any information on this yet. I would anticipate that it will be posted by sometime this evening. But, they technically must post it 72 hours in advance, so could post it as late as 4 p.m. Saturday. Likewise, the agenda for Wednesday’s closed session should be posted by 1 p.m. Sunday, but hopefully they’ll post it by this evening also.

  50. g Says:

    Another thing the board needs to insist on immediatly: A well defined (separate) accounting for revenue/expenses at CVCHS–just like they do for Eagle Peak. We should be able to look at the Interim Reports and IFAS warrant reports and go right to CVCHS just like EP, Measure Cs, Measure A, etc.

    In Feb a check was written for $386,107.00 for Rev. Limit transfer. Was this 1/4, 1/3 of the annual transfer? What?

  51. Theresa Harrington Says:

    You are correct. Then, it will be quite clear how much CVCHS is costing the district.

  52. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Regarding Dr. Browne, I have just spoken to Deb Cooksey and she clarified that the board in two separate closed sessions gave direction to staff to execute the settlement agreements. So, they were signed by Supt. Lawrence after that direction was given. The January emails that mentioned Cooksey bringing the agreement to the board were to show the new board members the agreements and bring them up to speed on what had already been approved. They won’t be publicly ratified by the board until the end of Browne’s contract term, since she is still an employee of the district, Cooksey said.

  53. Sue Berg Says:

    Theresa, #40: Do you mean July 2013? As her contract was not among those extended, it was to expire at the end of June 2013.

    G, #42: Is the “IRS debacle” you mention the one with the $800,000 penalty? If so, that case was resolved between the IRS and the district and the penalty was not charged. Dick Nicoll, then assistant superintendent who worked with the IRS on the district’s response, continually told the Board the matter would be resolved without penalty, but cautioned that it would take a long time, which it did. The possibility of the $800,000 penalty made headlines, especially when Gary Eberhart kept referring to it during his successful campaign to take over the district leadership. The resolution and dismissal of the penalty, sometime last year I believe, was reported in a small, easy-to-miss story in the Times.

  54. Hell Freezing Over Says:

    TH #52 –
    What dates where the two separate closed sessions that Cooksey is referencing?

  55. Theresa Harrington Says:

    HFO: Cooksey said she didn’t have her board notes in front of her. However, she said they were “duly noticed.” She thought the first one was in June or August. The second one must have been in November or December, since Lawrence signed the document Dec. 28 and it references an amended claim filed Nov. 26.

    Sue: Sorry, I received a few different versions of this and appear to have gotten that date wrong. Actually, the district agreed to pay Browne $78,779 prior to June 30, 2013.

  56. Theresa Harrington Says:

    FYI, the agenda for the April 3 closed session has been posted: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_agendaview.aspx?mtgId=402

    The board will discuss the response to Dan Borenstein’s PRA.

  57. Curious Says:

    I am curious, if Lawrence is bought out of his contract that is up in 2014, how long would it take to search for, interview, and hire another Superintendent? It seems like Nichols was interim for about a year. Who could be interim this time? Would it be worth a buyout when it could take up to a year to find a replacement? Will this Board have public meetings to ask the community what they want in a Superintendent like they did last time? Will there be workshops with a consultants like there were last time?

    The big question is who would be interim Superintendent? Locke? Richards? Braun-Martin? Cooksey? Rolen (haha)? Nothing got done to move the district forward during Nichols time as interim Superintendent. It would be disappointing to spend the money to buyout Lawrence and sit with one of these others while we search for the right candidate. Be careful what you wish for.

  58. Theresa Harrington Says:

    These are good questions. Hopefully, if the superintendent’s contract is terminated early, the board will be able to answer them.

  59. g Says:

    Sue, I did not miss the story of the IRS settlement, or the comments here when that happened.

    Unfortunately, I believe the new residents and taxpayers of today are still paying off the taxes from many years ago…so I don’t think we should just ignore that.

    Reaching a ‘no penalty’ agreement through years of negotiations doesn’t mean the district didn’t have to also spend a fortune on those negotiations.

    As no information has been made public to advise about the most recent tax debacle, we don’t know when the offense took place, or if it too is a bargained settlement, or what we have had to pay in legal funds to get to the $56.6K figure.

    We have the right to know, and They have an obligation to tell us.

  60. Anon Says:

    I really want to know what action they took at the last closed session….I think we all do.

  61. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I will be doing another blog post soon that lays out what could have happened, based on the superintendent’s contract and the Brown Act.

  62. Anon Says:

    There are a lot of experienced prior superintendents out there who can step in as the interim if no one in house is used. Also, if there was a buyout, I would expect Lawrence would remain through June, and an intense search would begin for a new Sup. over the summer. There are Sups all over the state who will be happily applying for the position. They won’t care that Lawrence was let go. Sups are politicians at heart.

  63. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Well, it looks like the district may have another secret to explain. After receiving the two settlement agreements related to Mildred Browne with the superintendent’s signature but no board signatures, I emailed Board President Cheryl Hansen to ask if the board had approved them.

    Here are my questions and her emailed responses:

    “Q: Did the Board approve the settlement agreement signed by the superintendent August 22?
    A: This is the first that I have heard that there was a settlement agreement signed by the Superintendent on August 22.

    Q: Did the Board approve the revised settlement agreement signed by the Superintendent in December?
    A: This is the first that I have heard that there was a revised settlement agreement signed by the Superintendent in December.

    Q: Does the Board intend to bring Browne’s settlement agreement to a public meeting for approval?
    A: Obviously, prior to determining our next steps, I will first need to investigate the information you have presented, find out who knew what and when, and why I was not given this information.”

  64. g Says:

    Obviously, from 2010 forward, Cheryl (and I suspect Dennler) was left ‘out of the loop’ on many back-room decisions concocted by the Ebermarshmayorolenlawrence cabal.

  65. Theresa Harrington Says:

    This is all very confusing. In a Jan. 23 email to Browne, Cooksey wrote: “I talked to Ms. Hanson (sic) yesterday. She was agreeable to having the matter on the closed session agenda next week. I understand you are concerned but this is a review of what has already been approved. It is something I initiated to be proactive and avoid problems, not something that was requested.

  66. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s my new blog post, which lays out what could have happened Wednesday, based on the superintendent’s contract and the Brown Act: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2013/03/29/mt-diablo-school-districts-top-administrative-leadership-is-in-question/

    Obviously, this is just speculation until the board announces what actually happened (or is in the process of happening).

  67. g Says:

    Theresa @65: Your questions, and Cheryl’s responses specified Aug 22 and Dec. Looks like a perfect CYA loophole to me.

  68. Theresa Harrington Says:

    But those are the only two settlement agreements I was given.

  69. Curious Says:

    Anon,

    I am not sure about all these Superintendents who you think are available or all these Superintendents interested in working in MDUSD. It didn’t seem that way during the last Superintendent firing? and hiring?

    Intense summer search? How will that be accomplished without full transparency and community and teacher input. Last time MDEA had a MDEA only meeting to address their concerns. Also there were at least 5 or 6 community or school group meetings. I think we will be paying to get out of a contract we should just let run it’s course.

  70. g Says:

    Then the question is: “Were you made aware of any settlement agreements between the board and/or staff and Mildred Brown between Feb 2012 and Feb 2013?”

  71. Waiting Says:

    Theresa @63, I would assume the Board has a policy allowing the superintendent to enter into agreements up to a specified amount, but that it requires Board ratification. Have you checked to see if the Superintendent had authority to sign the two settlement agreements? Assuming he did, it would explain Cooksey’s comment, “this is a review of what has already been approved.” BUT, it certainly raises the issue of whether Cooksey did in fact talk to Hansen about reviewing the settlement agreements in closed session. It could also be that Cooksey talked to Hansen about needing to have A settlement agreement approved, but Hansen never knew the specifics, and then it was never put on the closed session agenda. It just looks bad all the way around.

  72. Anon Says:

    Well, Curious @69, you make a good point about the time required to find a new sup, but I think you are wrong that many other sups would not apply for the position. When Lawrence got the job he was up against several other contenders. Either way, a decision was already made on March 27 because the board announced it had taken action, so what anybody wants or doesn’t want now is moot.

  73. Theresa Harrington Says:

    As far as I know, the superintendent can only sign agreements for $25,000 or less. This exceeds that. Also, Cooksey specifically told me: “The board gave staff instructions in closed session to execute the documents.” She equated this to board approval.

  74. g Says:

    My apologies, Theresa. It is not my place to try to tell you how to ask questions. But either Hansen jumped through the loop-hole, or Cooksey lied to Browne in the Jan 23 email.

    It is quite possible that one or both of the closed sessions that Hansen walked out of because she felt they were violating the Brown Act by discussing things that were not agendized.

    Is it possible that Cooksey does not have records and dates of her participation in such important Closed sessions “at her desk?” I don’t theeenk so.

  75. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Cooksey said she didn’t remember when the board gave the superintendent permission to sign the agreements.

    The Jan. 23 email was followed up by an even more puzzling Jan. 25 email from Browne to Cooksey, in which Browne writes:

    “I thought Ms. Hansen initiated the discussion because she came down to the Wing D looking for me. Please share with the Board that I was happy to do the projects and continue to support the district but I was not asked to do so. As I shared with you I was concerned when Ms. Hansen came to the department looking for me and expressed surprise and concern when I was not present. This heightened my anxiety given that there is a new board with board members who do not know me or the issues related to the settlement agreement. I have been subjected to vicious rumors about the circumstances of my leave and I have remained silent, enduring the gossip and misinformation about my leave without making the details of my status public as agreed. My offers to assist in the transition and to continue to monitor and support mental health programs have been rebuffed by Dr. Mills and I have had to hear that the programs and structures I worked so hard to put in place go without supervision…In any event I appreciate that you will be facilitating the discussion with the Board of Education.”

  76. g Says:

    Well, that may explain the 1/28 agenda indicating there were FOUR Certificated employees on the Discipline/Dismissal/Release closed session, but when reported out, there were only THREE.

    They scheduled for a second closed session, but that was a very long meeting, and minutes do not indicate that they went back to closed session.

  77. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Yes, that could explain that. So, the question is: Did Cooksey actually present the settlement agreements to the board?

  78. g Says:

    Yes, and on a ‘revised motion’ by Brian, the Board voted 5-0 to approve the Position Control 1314_docket-backup.pdf presented on 3/11.

    Am I really the only person who reads this schtuff?

    Yesterday, the swill was ankle deep–today they all need waders.

  79. g Says:

    On that form the “The Interim Assistant Superintendent of Pupil Services/Special Ed. was created with a 6/30/13 end date, to be replaced by Assistant Superintendent of Pupil Services/Special Ed. effective 7/1/13…”
    was in bold, sat alone, and stuck out like a ….

  80. Anon Says:

    Oh my. This is getting even more difficult to follow. It really should not be this hard.

  81. MDUSD Board Watcher Says:

    Again, I ask is the new board hiding an illegal settlement?

  82. Theresa Harrington Says:

    After I emailed Board President Cheryl Hansen to ask if the board had approved the settlement agreements, she wrote back that she was aware of a verbal agreement, but not that the superintendent had signed two written settlement agreements, which she said she hadn’t seen.
    I don’t know if it’s illegal, but Cooksey’s assertion that the board approved of the settlements led me to believe that the board had actually SEEN them.

  83. g Says:

    I see mushrooms sprouting.

  84. g Says:

    So, to recap:
    Early in 2012, the old board, consisting of three current members, verbally agreed to somehow ‘deal with’ an unnamed issue with Mildred Browne. Whether it was simply a request for leave or if she had already filed a complaint against the district, we don’t know.

    April 23, 2012, Whitmarsh rushes to get 5 top Admin’s contracts renewed a year earlier than necessary. As I recall, at that meeting Dennler specifically asked “Why is Browne’s contract not included?” Then Hansen also says she would like to know why Browne’s contract isn’t included. Silence.

    This makes us wonder if there was a secret meeting of just three members, or was Hansen asking a question that she already knew the answer — And she was trying to force the board to “come clean” on a closed session item that had not been properly reported out.

    Many months elapse without any comment from the board while a TON of speculation and comments by the public take root and grow.

    During those months of silence the board verbally agreed to make a “settlement offer” on a claim Browne has made at some unknown point in time.

    Then, apparently Browne didn’t think it was a good enough offer, so another meeting was held and a “second settlement” offer was made. Would the first offer have been declined or accepted — if the board had not allowed the comments and speculation to grow? Did the board’s failure to report out cost the public an ‘extra’ $30K?

    By Dec, a minimum of three closed sessions have occured prior to the new board coming in with no public report out of money being spent for paid leave or claim settlement.

    Still the public, and internal employees continue to question what has ballooned into speculation of “just how bad a deed must Browne have committed” to get fired?

    So, in Jan 2013, nearly a year since it all began, the newly seated board is brought “in the loop” to quell, at least, their own speculations.

    Still, after at least 5 more meetings of the board, not a word to the
    public…

    until a PRA begins to bring hints of the issue out into the sunlight—but still, we wonder, and speculate…

    ~~~’Who’ did ‘what’ to ‘whom’ that was SO egregious that it has cost us approximately $184,000.00 of salary and benefits to pay for an ’empty’ chair, plus (as far as we can tell by speculation alone), an additional $78,000.00 of hush money?

  85. Theresa Harrington Says:

    g: A few tweaks to your timeline. Browne sent a letter that appears to have been erroneously dated June 11, 2103 (I assume it was actually June 11, 2012). In it, she states:

    “I have been increasingly concerned about the rumors related to my employment that have filtered down to me from a number of sources. Just yesterday at the Alternative Education graduation, a staff member approached me about plans that are in the works to terminate my contract at the end of this school year even though I have a year remaining. This comes on the heels of comments that have been shared with me from a variety of sources including comments from a State Department Administrator who has long admired my work. This administrator actually asked me why the superintendent did not like me. Also, I have had staff members in my department share concerns with me about the racial overtones of comments they have heard about me and my contract in the community.
    Certainly, there is no control of what is on the blog, however, when the comments are about a board member indicating to parents and staff in the community that I will ‘be sent packing,’ it has been increasingly disheartening and….. (confidential information redacted)”
    “…when you suggested in April that I consider leaving at the end of the year, I made it clear that it was my intention to remain THROUGH June 2013 when my contract ended…”

    So, it appears that in April, the superintendent asked her to leave at the end of the school year, but she refused. As you point out, it also appears that neither Hansen nor Dennler were aware of the plans being made to replace her.

    The first complaint was dated July 16, 2012. I don’t believe I received the November amended complaint, so I will ask for that.

    The revised settlement agreement was initiated by Cooksey due to a change in law related to how soon retirees can work as contractors. But, it also appears that Browne asked for more money in her amended claim.

    Hansen said in an email to me that she does not have anything in her notes to indicate that the board directed the superintendent to execute the August and December agreements.

    The documents do not go into detail about what the district did to warrant these secret agreements. But, as the June 11 letter indicates, the superintendent and one board member were implicated.

    And based on Hansen’s surprise about these written agreements, I am now wondering whether Cooksey fully briefed the board in January.

    However, in a Dec. 28 email to Browne, Cooksey wrote: “I have informed Ms. Hansen that I will be discussing this agreement with them for informational purposes only in closed session on 1/14/12 (sic). The item will be agendized under potential litigation.”

  86. Wendy Lack Says:

    @TH #85:

    This feels like being on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

    The District’s legal office appears to have a loose grasp on things. This is a very troubling series of events. It suggests something’s seriously wrong, be it the result of incompetence or a conspiracy to conceal public information.

    Thank you for your ongoing coverage of this developing story.

  87. Doctor J Says:

    @Wendy#86 Well said — Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride — I have been trying to formulate a description and your’s is spot on. The depth of deception is disturbing — reminds me so much of Watergate. How does Steven Lawrence even imagine getting another job in education ? No wonder his wife is so worried.

  88. Theresa Harrington Says:

    On another note, I received an emailed response to my PRA requesting the Form 700s from Cooksey. Note: This is an improvement over Rolen’s responses, which are always sent via US mail and routinely reach me three days later. Cooksey said she has gathered most of the Form 700s, but they can’t find Rolen’s from 2005 and a few others. As g previously suggested, it is pretty surprising that the district’s general counsel would not have kept copies of his own Form 700s. I may have to approach the county to see if they have it in their files.

  89. Doctor J Says:

    @TH#88 The Ollie North shredder is working. :-)

  90. Doctor J Says:

    I am sure its outdated by now but Ollie used the Datatech Intimus, a popular model within Washington’s intelligence community. So popular, in fact, that its manufacturer calls it the 007.

  91. C.S. Says:

    District’s responsibility to look out for the Superintendents family? It is the responsibility of Steven Lawrence to do his job fully, capably, fairly, build rapport and a safe environment conducive to employee excellence. This District gave him a wonderful, lucrative opportunity so if the environment is “toxic” he can’t or won’t identify and resolve problems. If he is a victim, not a leader, what about our families?

  92. g Says:

    Theresa, back to the timeline @ 85: Someone is withholding “something” from your PRA request. We know “something” went down well before the 4/23/12 contract renewal item.

    —–

    On the blog of MDUSD 8/27/12, Item 14.1 gave Mills a contract, and in the Tuesday Update, Theresa posted the email she received from Braun-Martin:
    “The district has granted Dr. Browne’s request for an extended leave of absence to address some personal concerns. Notwithstanding her need for a leave, Dr. Browne has continued to work in her role as Assistant Superintendent until the Interim Assistant Superintendent is approved and reports for duty. Dr. Browne will remain available to the District to ensure a smooth transition of the Interim Superintendent. As her leave is a personnel matter, the district will have no further comment on it.”

    Same thread:
    #117, Aug 30, 2012, g: “…Then there is the fact that [Mills] says [during her acceptance speech] that she “was recruited” by MDUSD—- there’s the real story! Recruited? Did someone from FCMAT maybe put a bug in the MDUSD ear suggesting that there was a person in Santa Barbara who, in just a couple of years, had proven she could do exactly what they were recommending this district do–and she was a Bay Area resident to boot? There’s the question.”

    #121, Dr. J: “When did the Board authorize Lawrence to recruit for an “interim” and then permanent Asst Supt ? Its not on the agendas.”

    ——–

    Could Dr. J have been ‘right on the money’ in post#30 on this 3/23/13 thread when he directly related the FCMAT timeline to the Browne timeline? Dr.J’s timeline begins at 4/19/12. Although the Study agreement was signed on 4/19/12, within the study FCMAT states in “Study Guidelines” that it had begun its interviews on 4/8/12. We also know the SpEd study and Transportation study were requested at the same time, and while the SpEd study was held up much longer, interviews in fact began less than two weeks after the transportation study team interviews in March.

    FCMAT Emails that Theresa has published indicate that there was already back/forth correspondence regarding scope of study revisions to the original request as early as 3/29/12

    Had Mildred Browne already been bumping heads with Lawrence and Rolen regarding SpEd issues, such as plans to look at busing cuts, clustering, ongoing disproportionality studies with racial overtones…long list.

    I’m beginning to think so. She didn’t want to go with the flow. Lawrence/Rolen knew that with a FCMAT report(s) they could maybe justify several cuts they already wanted to do.

    ——–

    So, still we can only speculate whether:

    1) Browne did in fact “request” a personal leave after the FCMAT study was ordered, and BEFORE the 4/23 extensions (or lack thereof) were announced, or else–
    2) This year-long cock-and-bull has been twisted, as PART of the “agreement” to blur the lines of what was indeed set to be a firing?

    If (1) is correct, I’m pretty sure Browne would have had to use ‘banked’ time off, and would not have been given leave with full pay.

    If (2) is correct, then Brown’s full year of pay, plus the ‘extra’ settlement are, in fact, BOTH parts of the settlement.

    —–

    It is in 1 and 2 above that “something” is being held back on the PRA requests.

    If the board had simply come out and stated that Browne needed a personal leave – way back whenever – we wouldn’t be here today still questioning it.

    I think my speculation scenario number 2 is correct.

  93. Theresa Harrington Says:

    g: You are correct about FCMAT recommending Mills. There is an email from Gillaspie recommending her.

  94. g Says:

    I suspected as much. In April 2012 FCMAT did a study to see if Santa Barbara could handle being its own Single Selpa, and in their letter, following up on their Exit interview of April 25, FCMAT referred to the fact (in APRIL) that SBUSD SpEd was managed by One Asst. Supt and two directors, but also said: “The district is experiencing some turnover in staff at that level, which will create a short-term challenge; however….”

    I believe (but have not called to confirm) the two Director positions are still in-tact held by the same two people at that district, meaning they knew in APRIL that Mills was leaving for greener pastures.

  95. g Says:

    I forgot to ask; are you able to publish that letter from Gillaspie? Or at least use it to confirm or deny the probability of my April/date time-line?

  96. Anon Says:

    When we all found out that Dr. mills was coming here I called Santa Barbara and they had no idea she was leaving.

  97. Doctor J Says:

    Gillaspie right in the middle of the conspiracy – wow. No wonder he is covering his fat arse. I don’t know if “caught red handed” is the right term of art. :-)

  98. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Actually, it was JoAnn Murphy who gave Superintendent Lawrence Kerri Mills’ name, according to a July 11 email from Lawrence to Murphy. He wrote:

    “JoAnn, Thank you for giving me Kerri’s name. Kerri and I have spoken on the phone and it would be appropriate and helpful if you could give her insights from your visit to our district. Rightly so, Kerri wants to ensure that she has an understanding of the steps forward that we need to take to provide special education services in an appropriate and budget conscious way.”

    Then, on July 16, Lawrence wrote to Gillaspie, asking for his thoughts on Mills. Gillaspie responded:

    “Good worker, you will need to meet with weekly to assure communicate (sic) is clear and she is moving in the direction who (sic) wish. As long as she is (sic) knows the direction, she is a good worker and professional, will do a good job for you.”

    Lawrence followed up with: “Is there a time you would be available for a call tomorrow morning?”

    Regarding Mills’ notice to Santa Barbara, there is an undated email to Lawrence that states: “I talked with Dave at 11:30. I told him about the district and the position. He said he know you. In any case, he wants to talk to our board before I tell anyone else, and he wants to think about our timing. We have another meeting tomorrow at noon (by phone) to continue the discussion. He wants me to handle a hearing we filed that is on the 13th and 14th of Sept….”

  99. Hell Freezing Over Says:

    Guessing this Browne / Mills crap was Whitmarsh’s “milestone” …

  100. g Says:

    That would be the JoAnn Murphy from Santee that was on our FCMAT SpEd study Team in April. So, it looks like the final decision of who Lawrence would hire was not finalized until late July.

  101. Anon Says:

    G@92, the answer is #2. From what I have been told, the GC, with the approval of the Superintendent, was the force behind Browne being essentially “fired” and replaced by Mills. Since she had a year left in her contract, tracks had to be covered. We can only speculate as to why the GC had it out for Browne. This whole “scandal” seems to be just what Hansen spoke about at the 3/27 board meeting that she said she is tired of dealing with, and the reason she believed it is time for a new GC.

  102. Theresa Harrington Says:

    g: Yes, it looks like it was not finalized until July, when Browne still had about a year left on her contract. The question is: why was Lawrence looking for a replacement for Browne when she still had a year left on her contract?

  103. g Says:

    Not finalized until July, but well underway prior to April when Lawrence ‘suggested’ to Browne that she should just ‘quit’ in June.

    Was it all Lawrence, or did the board majority prod him a bit? When Dennler and Hansen asked about the contracts—Mayo didn’t. There’s no question in my mind that at least three members had already come to a ‘consensus’ regarding Browne.

    A lot of stuff hit the fan in Fall/Winter of 2011 and early Spring 2012 that neither the board, Lawrence or Rolen liked taking the heat.

    Clayton Valley Charter—Did she not stand and fight shoulder to shoulder with Lawrence and 3 board members as they requested of staff?

    Busing hit an all-time low point, especially for displaced and special ed—Did she buck up against Rolen for his un-management of McDaniel and the whole dept?

    Even though we were not informed of it yet, the Equity team had been formulating how to deal with disproportionality for over a year already—Did he pass the buck to her for the Big Blow of the district being charged with slipping from Disproportionate to Significantly Disproportionate?

    And then, as I’ve speculated, perhaps she was in position to know the district was hoarding ‘reserve’ funds, so—Did she buck up against the idea of a FCMAT study that she knew was geared directly at cutting funds for ‘her’ program?

    Those are the major things that come to mind, but I’m sure there has been a lot of passing the buck—’cause It always rolls downhill.

  104. g Says:

    “Elected officials everywhere would do well to model themselves after [Jack] Weir: Tell the whole truth early and often. Shoulder all the blame but generously share the credit. Adopt a “give respect, get respect” approach both inside and outside the office.”

    Quote lifted from Lisa Vorderbrueggen, CCTimes 3/30—Thank you Lisa!

    I would add People on the Public Payroll to that noble idea.

  105. Doctor J Says:

    @G#104 I would second that. Also, although he is not one of me heroes, Willie Brown used to tell his fellow politicians: Get out in front of the story. He was not afraid to tell the public about his defects.

  106. Doctor J Says:

    A couple of new “action items” on tonights agenda in the open part of the meeting that I don’t remember seeing on Friday, but since its a special meeting, no Brown Act problem.

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