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

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, March 29th, 2013 at 2:50 pm in Contra Costa County Board of Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS BLOG POST HAS BEEN UPDATED TO REFLECT NEW INFORMATION ABOUT A PLANNED CLOSED SESSION NEXT WEEK:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The public will be able to comment before trustees go behind closed doors at their newly scheduled closed session. The agenda will be posted at http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us.

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

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

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

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

  • Theresa Harrington

    Or, I could submit my request directly to the board, which could waive its privilege.

  • Doctor J

    Theresa, on a related note, did you ever follow up on the districts December payment to Greg McCoy’s law firm and their invoice, the same one who wrote the letter in January repreenting the Big5 and arguing for the extensions ? It would be interesting to see who authorized that payment and what it was for.

  • Doctor J

    @TH#201 Or do both simultaneously.

  • Theresa Harrington

    FCMAT has already rejected the request and I have no reason to believe their attorney would suddenly reverse himself.

  • g

    Theresa, Speaking of “wait five minutes” and in-house attorneys causing stink, I noticed on the agenda that the complaint from Teamsters Union is on. Did you get a copy of the ‘revised’ complaint?

  • Doctor J

    And did you see 4 anticipated litigation cases ? Sudden increase in anticipated litigation.

  • Doctor J

    Can you imagine the “water cooler” [not that we have any but a figure of speech] discussions going on today at Dent and every school about this article on Rolen and Lawrence.

  • Doctor J

    @Anon#194 Since its unlikely that CoCo County prosecutor will take this up — and we really don’t have state prosecutors, I hope you would call Theresa and share the information. Is she a district employee ?

  • g

    Dent implosion? Rampant, even if subtle, retaliation? Employees not being represented by their union? There’s something more here to be exposed, not just hinted. Employees frequently dislike or resent their boss even if they don’t admit it.

    But this seems to go beyond dislike, to strong hints of illegal activity.

    #69 Star: “I was dragged into something I am not comfortable with. This manager gets everybody worked up but keeps her hands clean. Also, there was another “inconsistancy” issued by Mr. Richards.”

    #162 C.S.: “I was stupidly pulled into a legal mess- supposedly some small stuff but now I see I did managements dirty work and because I was told to do it on my time, they were slippery because I may need an attorney at my own expense. They shut down the payroll department to hide behind me to go after one employee.”

    #171 Anonymous: “Personnel is so compromised it is not fixable. Julie Braun Martin and Lois Peterson have acted in an abominable way towards the employees.” “I, too, would welcome the opportunity to openly discuss my experiences with this department but only a third party with enough clout to actually investigate.”

    #193 Help TGG: “Those who went to Personnel looking for honest guidance or resolution have learned the hard way.”

    #194 Anonymous: “Personnel: mean and relentless. We are a food source not a resource.” “… is there another, earlier “friendship” Greg Rolen has had to explain? I am amazed the other situation is not being discussed. I, too, am happy to discuss this with a state or federal prosecutor.”

  • Anonymous

    Dr. J 196: What facts lead you to believe that Rolen filed Padilla’s Fictitious Business Statement? Was their something in the application that made it looked like her filed it. If Padilla was happily employed by CTI in 2008 as g is promoting, why was she getting a FBS to start her own business in 2008? Which raises the issue, did CTI find out she was starting her own business, potentially using CTI clients?If you look carefully at Theresa’s article, CTI did not set out a timeline. The owner of CTI gave a vague statement that Padilla worked worked for them, and then started her own business. CTI did not give a date for when Padilla left their employment.

  • Doctor J

    @G#209 Wow, you really put the depth of corruption in perspective — and this is just the tip of the iceberg. I wonder as more things come out, if more employees will come forward with other incidents of misconduct ? Those quotes suggest implication of 4 of the BIG5: S.Lawrence, Rolen, Richards and Braun-Martin. If it wasn’t a holiday week, perhaps more would be coming forward.

  • Doctor J

    @Anon#210 I base my belief on Diane Rolen’s timeline in her book review, the date of the Ficticious Business Statement, the fact that a first time business owner probably does not know how to do it, especially an immigrant, and the fact that based on Rolen using his secretary and district resources for his divorce, he may have done this with Marisol too. However, I could change my mind if I saw the “original” FBS or saw other facts. I note on the FBS she used her home address — but by the time she got her first contract with MDUSD she switched to a PO Box in Walnut Creek. I suspect Rolen was behind that change since perhaps there was at least occassional co-habitation especially if they began dating in 2009 as one post says. If Rolen decides to sue the district, it will all come out in depositions of Rolen, Marisol, Diane Rolen and probably Rolen’s secretary, who is probably in hot water now too for having done his personal legal work and used district resources for his private affairs.

  • Doctor J

    There is an interesting provision in each of the contract extensions set to be signed on Monday night that MIGHT pertain to the possible payment of the BIG5 legal expenses to their private law firm by the district [unconfirmed as of now] AND to Rolen’s use of his secretary, district resources and property, for his personal divorce. I quote just the provision from the Supt’s contract but similar provisions are in each contract: “Notwithstanding any other provision of this Addendum or the Agreement, if the Board believes, and subsequently confirms through an independent audit, that the Superintendent has engaged in fraud, misappropriation of funds, or other illegal fiscal practices, then the Board may terminate the Superintendent and the Superintendent shall not be entitled to the cash, salary payments, health benefits
    or other non-cash settlement as set forth above. This provision is intended to implement the requirements of Government Code section 53260(b). Theprovisions of Government Code section 53260 are incorporated into this Agreement by this reference.”

  • Theresa Harrington

    Regarding HR, I see that Alameda City requires three years of successful teaching experience and/or related Human Resources experience for their Chief Human Resource Officer. They also want someone with leadership ability in working well with others, utilizing their talents in continually developing a more effective educational program. A Master’s degree or higher is required, with graduate work in education, organizational management, or psychology.

  • Anon

    I heard Rolen and Padilla were involved prior to 2008. I also heard that she may not have worked full time for CTI. This (from what I was told) left her to do other work that may have included house keeping or nanny services for the Rolens.

  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    @213 Dr. J — “Notwithstanding any other provision of this Addendum or the Agreement, if the Board believes, and subsequently confirms through an independent audit, that the Superintendent has engaged in fraud, misappropriation of funds, or other illegal fiscal practices, then the Board may terminate the Superintendent and the Superintendent shall not be entitled to the cash, salary payments, health benefits”

    That is quite sloppy legal drafting. Unless it is intentional. It is impossible to confirm what any Board “believes”. One only knows how they vote. And who is to say that an audit “confirms” any practices? Most audits are quite open to argument about what they actually “confirm” (as opposed to what they imply or reveal).

    The document you quote was written so that those payments to Lawrence won’t ever be at risk.

  • g

    “Violations of the laws prohibiting misuse of public funds may subject the violator to criminal and civil sanctions.”
    A really good read:
    http://oag.ca.gov/ethics/accessible/misuse

    No independent audit needed to know that Rolen mis-used district funds, equipment, personnel time and payroll for his personal legal skirmishes.

    Buh-Bye!

  • Hell Freezing Over

    g @ 217

    Does this apply to the “big5″ submitting the “lawyer” letter as a group for reimbursement? If yes, then all 5 of them can say “bye bye”.

    An expenditure is made for a public purpose when its purpose is to benefit the public interest rather than private individuals or private purposes

  • Doctor J

    @G#217 Don’t forget the postage !

  • Anon

    Dr J#208. Unless there is a third friend of Greg’s out there, this person still works for the district and and has recieved “perks” supposedly not allowed in that department in the way of overtime. This situation was reported.

  • g

    As even the outside mini-audits have pointed out, it is not unusual for management (or anyone else) in the district to authorize payments/purchases first, and then write up their own invoices as back-up.

    This practice has been allowed to go on for far-far too long. When they do a thorough audit, hopefully they will require “original” invoice copies and time-sheets from the interpreters and outside legal firms–not some photocopy hiding the use of copious amounts of White-out.

  • Doctor J

    I still think someone should audit Rolen’s many personal court appearances against his “timesheets” or “timeoff”. Taking your pay while on personal court business would violate that clause.

  • anon 4

    #185 She might also have been advised by her principal coach to lay low since she is not very popular at the site. Her right hand VP seems on the surface to run the show and is less disliked than her.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Rolen also used his district email account extensively to send and receive emails related to his divorce, which were included as exhibits.

  • Anonymous

    Dr. J: I do not believe he would unless he was missing all or part of a day. It would depend what MDUSD policy says about time off for management. Some policies only require requesting time off if the manager is missing a 1/2 or full day. Management does not have to abide by a particular schedule, as do non-exempt employees. As long as he works a 40 hour work week, he probably would not have to put in vacation time for taking off 2 or 3 hours for a court appearance, as would a non-exempt employee.

  • Theresa Harrington

    This section on 1090 is also interesting: http://oag.ca.gov/ethics/accessible/contract

    It says a multi-member body cannot approve a contract in which one of the members has a financial interest, even if that member has recused himself. But, since Rolen is not a school board member, I’m not sure if that would preclude the district from continuing to contract with his wife.

  • anon

    @225: if site principals are considered management, they have to take a vacation day even if they’re gone for an hour to tend to personal business. And site principals put in at least 60 hours a week.

  • anon

    Theresa: excellent article regarding Rolen’s unethical practices – the timeline really spelled it out. It’s so important that the taxpayers are made aware of any misuse of funds. I’m hoping that more taxpayers show up at Board Meetings and encourage the Board to dismiss Rolen from all duties.

  • g

    Theresa #226: Your hit on 1090 is very important to both Padilla issue AND the big 5 contracts, but not just due to the actions of the board. Basically, ANY employee, but particularly any employee who falls into that catagory of those who must file Form 700; — may not participate at ANY step of any contract that might in any way benefit themselves.
    “It [1090] provides that an officer OR employee may not make a contract in which he or she is financially interested.”

    This includes written contracts, handshake deals, Grant applications…and so on.

    Neither Rolen nor Lawrence should have had ANY involvement in the writing or editing or approval of the wording of their own contracts.

    I believe all of that should have been conducted by the board and non-involved DMA officials (if there is such a body).

  • Anonymous

    #227: I think site principals are certificated staff and are be subject to different rules regarding time off than the Sup, Asst.Sups and General Counsel. But, they do work more than 40 hours a week, as do many teachers-part of the unfairness of those underpaid jobs.

  • Anon

    #230: except to decide if there was a legal conflict of interest under 1090, you also have to do the “remote financial interest” analysis under Section 1091, which provides an exception to a conflict under Section 1090. For Rolen to use this exception, Section 1091 requires that he disclose the fact of the interest to the board. He did not disclose until he was married, so he may be stuck there. He can still argue that he did not have a financial interest before the disclosure because he was not cohabitating with/married to Padilla, not comingling funds, etc etc. Not saying the argument wins, just sayin’

  • g

    Ah, but where 1090 stops Disclosure starts. This is where the meat of Conflict of Interest comes in.

    She got multiples contract, she made money from the contracts. Did she, at any time in those two years that he was pushing her contract use any of her earnings to buy him a nice gift? Did he disclose the gift? Did he, (during hard times at home for instance) stay at her place for any length of time- free of rent; did he let her treat to a really nice dinner out, where they even mentioned her contract….

    A pre-law student could argue him to dust in a courtroom.

  • g

    That is…assuming he would feel compelled to tell the truth ‘under oath’…. Questionable, from what I’ve seen.

  • g
  • Doctor J

    @G Deb Cooksey could give him a recommendation. She is well known in the district. :-)

  • Doctor J

    Besides the CCTimes, the Rolen/Lawrence article also hit the front page of the Oakland Tribune and the San Jose Mercury News. I ran down and bought a copy from a vending machine, and the article was “above the fold” and so you could read it through the display case.

  • Doctor J

    Besides the CCTimes, the Rolen/Lawrence article also hit the front page of the Oakland Tribune and the San Jose Mercury News. I ran down and bought a copy from a vending machine, and the article was “above the fold” and so you could read it through the display case. I imagine many other papers will pick it up in their Saturday papers. It was an exceptionally researched article and well written.

  • g

    I see both Kate McClatchy and Sue Brothers are looking for new school secretaries too.

  • Doctor J

    Theresa, #236 was an error.

  • Doctor J

    I guess some elementary principals are leaving — a new pool is being advertised.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Dr. J: Thanks.

  • anonymous

    Dr. J re 220, she was also given a supervisory position that was decided prior to them posting it – if they posted it, it came and went and I would be interested to see if other applicants were tested. I feel Greg should be forthcoming but also the board should be asking these questions because this was no secret at the district.

  • C.s.

    #224 Interesting. I was told by Personnel that I was misusing the email system to report workplace incidents. I was told to write them up, put them in a folder, and hand them to someone. If we cannot use email to report work-related,and sometimes scary incidents, how can we support using it for external or personal issues? Management good, workers bad. Always.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Rolen used his email to write dozens of emails related to his divorce. Certainly, there should not be a double-standard. If he is allowed to do that, I don’t understand why an employee would be prevented from documenting work-related complaints in an email — unless your supervisors don’t want anyone else to find out and don’t want to have to turn them over if someone submits a Public Records Act request. Perhaps someone should ask Personnel if employees are allowed to use district email to express their divorce case arguments.

  • anon

    C.S.
    Easy, no electronic evidence! I insist on doing everything by email with the district. Papers get easily ‘lost’, and phone calls, well, easily forgotten.
    BTW, I am a parent, not an employee!

  • Anon

    http://blog.sfgate.com/education/2013/04/05/oakland-school-superintendent-stuns-district-with-resignation/

    For those interested, there is Superintendent opening at Oakland Unified.

  • Doctor J

    @Anon#246 Yes, G reported that in post 234. If Steven Lawrence is interested he could probably get a recommendation from Deb Cooksey — she is well known in that district, having served as the General Counsel. :-) But the Rolen/Lawrence story from yesterdays CCTimes, also appeared on the Oakland Tribune front page. :-)

  • Doctor J

    Has Rolen responded to the Times article ?

  • g

    I would imagine people a block away probably heard him responding. ;)

  • g

    The question for Monday has changed: It is no longer “Will the board sign those Contract Amendments.” It is now, “Will all of the employees sign the Amendments.”