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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?

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  • Anon

    @250, Lawrence and Rolen will sign in a heartbeat. Their actions show they are shameless.

  • Anon

    @250, forgot arrogant and think they’re untouchable, ala Lance.

  • g

    Anon: I’m not so sure. Rolen could not survive the divorce/Padilla facts Theresa has given us, with the addition of Govt. Code sections 53243 through 53243.4 and, if pursued by this board, it could hit ALL of them right in tail end of their Browne deal.

  • Anon

    G 253: I don’t think the board even needs the addendum to let Rolen go for cause and not pay benefits or salary. His original contract allows for termination for cause for any ground that would allow dismissal of a permanent or certificated employee (that’s in Education Code section 449320. ) So, if there’s an immoral act, unprofessional conduct, evident unfitness for service, or incompetence, they could let him go for cause under the for cause clause. That’s a much lower standard than the conduct required in the addendum.

  • Anon

    253, meant 44932.

  • g

    I agree–but two clauses are always better than one.

    Can you elaborate a little bit on “Lance”

  • Anon

    256, yes. This scandal has similarity to the Lance Armstrong fall from greatness. What came out was that Armstrong was really sociopathic, would hurt anyone, destroy careers, cheat, etc., to foster his self-image as the greatest cyclist ever. My impression is that these two men think they are above everyone, can do what they want, conceal what they want, and not pay any consequences. Rolen had to be told to disclose he was married to a contractor? Clearly he has no boundaries. Lawrence lies for him and makes a crack about not keeping up with his co-workers lives? He’s just as defiant as Rolen. Remember Oprah asked Armstrong if he thought he cheated, and he said he looked up the definition of cheating, and didn’t think his actions met the definition? That is the mind set of these two.

  • http://yahoo Annie V.P. CSEA

    I can’t imagine why anybody would use District e-mail that work there for anything, but strictly business. It’s their e- mail system. I have told my members not to use District e-mail, unless it is work related. I know I got e-mails that were none of my business. People don’t always pay attention what names they punch in. So, who knows how many people read your e-mails.

  • Anon

    So wait, Is the Board expected to act on the termination of the employees from earlier closed session on Monday? Do you think they are going to say something on Rolen and Lawrence?

  • Hell Freezing Over

    It’s ironic Rolen uses the district email, postage, fax, copiers AND his staff for personal use, but can’t sent district PRA docs/responses to TH via email as scanned docs as requested, instead choosing to do so via u.s. mail costing the district postage, paper and envelopes (when he chooses to respond at all).

    I would like to know why his secretary did this for him. She had to know it’s against district policy and not in her job description. Did she do it willingly, or did she feel her job would be in jeoparty if she refused? Who else in Dent did he make do his personal bidding on the district’s dime?

    What other “managers” in the district have had their staff conduct personal business on their behalf? Time for the staff to start blowing their whistles …

  • g

    Thanks Anon–I hadn’t thought of him. You’re right.

  • Anonymous

    Anon at 259: it’s not on the board agenda for Monday, so no, they are not expected to do anything regarding dismissal. They voted to act on 3/27/13, but haven’t disclosed what the “action” was. Since Rolen and Lawrence are still working, it doesn’t appear they voted to dismiss. I guess they could have voted to do a buyout and haven’t reported it out yet.

  • Theresa Harrington

    No, Rolen has not responded. And regarding Cooksey, she sent me an email saying she did inform the board about the written agreements with Browne, but she didn’t believe she needed to actually show trustees the agreements at the time. She also said the superintendent’s secretary told her the board direction WAS reported out June 25. So, it’s unclear why the mins don’t reflect that.

  • Doctor J

    @TH#263 There is nothing unclear about why the minutes don’t reflect what was reported out — Steven Lawrence & Gang did not want the public to know about it. Remember that Lorene Joseph is one of the Gang of 5 that got a raise when others in the district were getting cuts.

  • vindex

    wow. Reading these posts I’m astonished that Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Rolen are still employed by the district. IT IS A WELL KNOWN FACT that Mr. Rolen has no conscience and should not be employed by the MDUSD. In fact, any organization that hires him, deserves what they get. I’ve never met Mr. Lawrence, but the employees that I have spoken to have all said that he is a “weird man, and politics are out of control in the DENT under his watch”. How in the world do people like this get hired by the MDUSD? Simply, they are symptoms of an incompetent board. You have a dysfunctional board, you get dysfunctional leadership. I am hopeful that under a new board we can do better than these two men. I’m not convinced yet.

  • Anonymous

    Vindex @ 265: Can you give more detail about how it is a well known fact that Rolen has no conscience? Do you have examples?

  • g

    I am in no doubt whatsoever that the current board agreed to perpetuate and cover-up the $300++K Mildred Browne hoax — believing that no one would even notice, much less question the Position Control Lists OR that Theresa would do a PRA request on the Mildred Browne issue.

    So there! I said it!

  • Anonymous

    G at 267: How does that affect your opinion of Hansen and Oaks, then? I agree it seems so odd that her contract did not come up for extension with the others, and nobody asked why? It smells bad.

  • anonymous

    #246
    Superintendent job in Oakland #246? What did Oakland ever do to you? ;-)
    To quote the Billy Flynn character from the movie Chicago:
    “…God Save Illinois”

  • g

    My opinion today is ‘marginal’. Hansen, Mayo and Dennler had from, at least, April 23, 2012 to dig into or put a stop to what was obviously beginning to stir.

    Then they had from, at least June 2012 to deny giving “authority to negotiate a settlement agreement with” Brown.

    They also had a chance to question proper Reporting Out of the minutes of every meeting where her name (employee #) came up in closed session.

    We all know that Hansen stood as a lone warrior for two whole years; but regardless, either one of the three from the old board, IF they disagreed with giving away $300+K, especially if it was being given to cover the asses of Lawrence and/or Eberhart and/or Rolen–whomever—or for WHATEVER the circumstances, they could have taken their questions and legal concerns to the County or State.

    They did not do that. They apparently chose “cover-up.”

    By Jan 2013 when brought into the loop Oaks and S. Lawrence probably just sat there, mouths agape! So they too have acquiesced.

    When will the $$$ stop bleeding out of the coffers for this mess—not for a very long time.

    Could it have been stopped in 2012 by “unbiased” legal advice and corrective board action–You Betcha!

  • g

    Sorry Brian Lawrence, not S. Lawrence–.

  • vindex

    anon @266.. I have many examples, but if I were to put them out to you, I would endanger the confidence of those people who shared them with me. He would be able to figure out who said these things and retribution would be forthcoming. So, I will not be sharing any of the examples I have.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Hansen and members of the public did ask why Browne’s contract was not extended and there was no public answer. Oaks told me she is so new to the board that she is just learning that she needs to ask more questions. She said that even after the briefing by Cooksey, she still had no idea what happened to Browne.

  • g

    Cooksey works for the Board (the people), not for Browne. If Cooksey is to adequately serve the board, she should only be dealing with a negotiator for the complainant—not directly with the complainant.

    From the bible to current ethics to fiduciary law– “A man cannot serve two masters.”

  • Theresa Harrington

    Although Browne did hire an attorney, I did not receive any communications between the district and that attorney. Also, I did not receive any internal communications regarding the establishment of the “Assistant Superintendent on Special Assignment” position.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here is a new blog post showing side-by-side comparisons of the five Contra Costa County unified districts highlighted in the recent Education Trust-West Report Cards, which graded and ranked them according to how well they are educating low-income and minority students compared to others statewide: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2013/04/07/a-closer-look-at-how-well-unified-districts-in-contra-costa-county-are-educating-low-income-and-minority-students/

    As previously mentioned, MDUSD got a D+ overall, inching up from a D last year. Of note are the following dismal stats:

    African-American and white achievement gap: F (same, rank up)
    Latino and white achievement gap: F (same, rank dropped)
    College eligibility among students of color: F (rank 128 of 142)

    The rank for the district’s achievement gap between whites and Latinos DROPPED from 2011 to 2012. This should be of particular interest to DELAC and those who are implementing the English Learner Master Plan. It also shows that the Equity Advisory Team might be well-advised to pay more attention to Latinos. And finally, the Graduation Requirements Committee should be looking at how well the district is advising students of color in the courses they are taking.

  • Doctor J

    @TH#275 Are you following up to see why your PRA was not fully responded to ?

  • Doctor J

    @TH#276 Regarding the drop in the Latino achievement gap, with all the big money we spent on that in 2011-12, what is the explanation of Jeanne Duarte-Armas and Carmen Graces, AND their superior Asst. Supt Rose Lock, who is supposed to be supervising them ? I am surprised that DELAC isn’t raising hell about it. Obviously what is being done, isn’t working.

  • Anonymous

    Vindex 272: I understand their fear if retribution. But by not coming forward they are giving him power. I think they should at least go to the board. Otherwise he’ll make everyone’s life hell for another year. Strength in numbers. I don’t mean to undermine their concerns at all, but if their union employees, I’d think their would be support to stand up to bullying behavior. Thanks for your response. I always like your posts.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Since the English Learner Master Plan is just now being implemented, much of the money spent so far has been on planning.
    Regarding the PRA, Rolen said some documents were withheld because of various “privileges.” But, Cooksey said there was nothing that really explained WHY the district agreed to this settlement. In a recent email, she wrote that the board authorized the superintendent to pay Browne a total of 18 months compensation. Because of this, Cooksey said it wasn’t necessary for the superintendent to seek approval of the revised December settlement agreement, since the dollar amount remained essentially the same — even though about $31,000 was shifted from future consulting work to payment of Browne’s claim, requiring no additional work on her part. This makes me wonder who advised Browne to increase her claim by that amount. It was Cooksey who said the agreement needed to be changed to reflect a new law that went into effect in January, which would have made the consulting portion of the contract impossible to accomplish. So, instead of forfeiting that money, Browne just increased her claim. It’s unclear whether the board was specifically informed about this switch.
    g: You make a good point that the tone of the emails between Browne and Cooksey could suggest that Browne may have believed Cooksey was advocating on her behalf with the board. And the fact that Browne specifically asked Cooksey to exclude Rolen from the agreement could suggest that she may not have wanted him to be able to argue against it.
    Anonymous: Based on the board discussion about fear of retribution at the retreat, it is clear that some employees have already gone to trustees with their complaints. The question is: what will the board do about it?

  • g

    The point on Browne as I see it is: barring contract language to the contrary, if a permanent, tenured, contracted, certificated employee is to be dismissed, there must first be some form of disciplinary proceeding.

    It seems, from what we have been able to ascertain from limited released documents, and from pure speculation, that “more than one person” did something so egregious that “someone” needed to be fired.

    In this case, it appears that, at least, two parties did something considered that egregious, and the sitting 2012 board, on advice of board’s counsel, and without the benefit of a hearing commission or and ALJ decided to take it upon themselves to “flip a coin” or otherwise make a choice between which of the offenders could stay, and which offender had to go.

    Then, still based on counsel recommendation, allowed no public input nor did they give any revelation of the financial impact of nearly a half million dollars in duplicate pay costs to the entire district when they chose to accept and pay a BRIBE offered by the loser of the coin-toss “to go quietly, and to keep their mouth shut.”

    That act by the board AND counsel is beyond reprehensible, and totally lacking in fiduciary obligation—but what that board ALSO chose to do was—”Reward” the second offender(s).

    They did not pay for their offense(s) with either their job OR their money. The People, the Students, Education paid—and as long as any member of this sitting board feels some “moral obligation” to perpetuate rewarding of either of the offenders, in any manner, the people and the students will continue to pay the price.

  • Doctor J

    @TH#280 Do all board members have this same under understanding that Cooksey says she said ?

  • Anonymous

    Theresa @ 280: yes, I agree the board likely has a lot if information., We know what Hansen and Oaks will do. Mayo is a lost cause, probably Dennler too. It seems to come down to what B. Lawrence will do. He craftily said the status quo can’t remain, but didn’t see when it needed to change. He may well want to ride out the contracts until 6/14 and change the status quo then. That gives him time to recover from the discontent that will arise by his present inaction before running again.

  • Doctor J

    @#283 Actually, I believe that we will see Brian Lawrence take a major leadership role in the next two weeks in bringing change to both the Supt and Gen Counsel positions and support termination. I also believe we will see an about face by Linda Mayo on Rolen — she may not read the blogs, but she reads the newspaper, and the front page story from Friday cannot be ignored. Linda had reservations on Rolen back in April 2012. However, its unclear what she will do on Steven Lawrence. As for Lynne Dennler, she is a willow and bends with the wind. Wise trustees will begin thinking about who they want to replace Lawrence on an interim basis — I hope they think out of the district — we need a blood transfusion. Deb Cooksey continuation is unclear, but if this Mildred Browne thing is not as she has portrayed — and the trustees know whether or not it is, she may not ride out the storm, but don’t look for them to give her a promotion. I think the Board will continue to look to outside counsel on important matters. Deb Cooksey has not proved her competence.

  • Doctor J

    Theresa, is there a reason you won’t post the entire Mildred Browne complaint on docstock ? The public has a right to know.

  • g

    When Cooksey took her Bar Exam they must have declared it “Open Book Week.”

    Running outside Dent to take sides in a Union promotion? That one comes up tomorrow.

    Needing a week to figure out who is Parliamentarian? Which motion comes first/last?

    Union negotiations that gave away many, many millions of dollars of Reserves to existing employees, instead of to reduced class size, students or needed equipment upgrades.

    Back and forth chatter bargaining with someone threatening suit against the district?

    That stumbling explanation of AB 1575–”you can ask for donations b-b-but… it could mean this or it could mean that.”

    Please!

  • Anonymous

    I, too, was told directly by Lois Peterson, Dir of Personnel, it was a misuse of the email system to report workplace incidents. I was told the exact same thing, write it down and hand it to her. Why would Personnel deliberately steer me wrong? We need actual Personnel staff who are thinking, sentient, people. The good people who left Fiscal did not just take a beating and go away. Who knows if they may have gone to law enforcement? Could it have been unproductive to use local units or the D.A.’s office? There is a complete failure of management – assuming management is not setting an adolescent tone in the unit. It has been incredible that upper mgmt. were willing to give up their jobs as opposed to management corrections. #193 is correct. Reporting unacceptable behavior or suspicious transactions is just that: A REPORT. It is not a complaint. This group does not know what to do except protect the wrong-doers. Is this incompetence, unethical or possibly illegal? At what point do we start investigating where insubordination ends and collusion begins? We need some type of special prosecutor not connected with the D.A.’s office. I also agree that JBM is mean, manipulative, unfair, and should be investigated for abuse of her position.

  • First Impressions

    Dr. J – I hope you are correct about Brian Lawrence.He came to a union meeting in a wrinkled shirt, tail out, jeans, and athletic shoes. He should have come back in at least Dockers and a freshly pressed, tucked in, shirt. His speech was full of inaccurate and somewhat pandering speech; misquoting statistics, which I corrected him on, and trying to rile people about the superintendent having a reserved parking spot. He dressed and spoke for who he thought we were. This type of thinking: US or THEM is not helpful. We want our Superintendent treated with respect BUT we want them to respect the institution, the kids, and the employees. We affectionately called him Brian “Santa Ana” Lawrence due to his long winded odd speech. My superintendent, when we finally get one that appreciates us, can have my parking space if someone is rude enough to park in his! We want to be on the same team

  • Theresa Harrington

    I still don’t understand why an employee is not allowed report to wrongdoing in the district using district email, while the general counsel used his to wage his divorce battle.
    Regarding the Browne settlement agreements, I will post them when I publish my story. However, it was telling that Hansen asked me to send her copies after I told her about them. When I said I hadn’t scanned them yet, she said she would request them from Cooksey.

  • Theresa Harrington

    The Rolen story is starting to gather steam.
    It was posted on the website Topix: http://www.topix.com/city/diablo-ca/2013/04/mt-diablo-school-districts-top-attorney-failed-to-disclose-potential-conflict.
    Also, a Twitter user called “Calif Gov’t Scumbags ‏@CaGuvScum” tweeted: “School district (#MDUSD) is client (Rule 3-600). Lawyer violated Rule 3-310 (Adverse Interests – Personal Relationship). @EvilEsq” (EvilEsq is “an involuntary bar association for attorneys and judges who have lost compassion for their subject matter– the law, and protecting the public.”) @CaGuvScum also tweeted this: “#CalBar must investigate.” This will get the attention of the CA Bar Association on Twitter.

  • Vindex

    @Theresa.. Well done. 1st amendment at its best.
    @Brian Lawrence. I can read between the lines of your post. Well-written. You gave away the information without giving away any information in violation of the closed session. Nice. I also look forward to a new start for this district and community. Please, research the CHARACTER of your new hires. Hard to do, but please take the time. MDUSD has had a character problem with its top leadership the past several years. Bad Character gathers bad character around them. Like pond scum collecting on still water. Do not be deceived by initials next to their names or an excellent sounding resume… Or even an interview where they tell you everything you want to hear.. Choose the person with the best Character. George Washington said “Good moral character is the first essential in a man” We’d be wise to put this at the front of our minds as we search for a new General counsel and Superintendent.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Grants available to encourage charters to collaborate with non-charters: http://www.ed.gov/oii-news/when-charter-schools-and-non-chartered-schools-work-together-grant-encourage-collaboration

    Would MDUSD be willing to reach out to CVCHS to try to learn from them? CVCHS’s planned partnership with CSU East Bay seems like it could be a promising model to build on.

  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    @292 Theresa — I have seen instances where charter schools and local traditional public schools have collaborated, but the outcome, all too often, is the same. When it comes to making tough choices and operating in a more disciplined, manner, the public schools often cannot follow through. And I have NEVER seen an instance of meaningful accountability when the public schools tried, and failed, to follow a charter’s better model. There simply was no accountability for traditional public schools that often operate without transparency, under near-monopoly conditions.

    Let’s be honest — much of what happens in charter schools is not “innovation”. It is about diligent execution of principles that millions of educators have known, and tried to practice, for years. Not surprisingly, doing a great job, as opposed to a “passable” job, often takes more work, more flexibility, and more diligence. (Hey, isn’t that what we tell our kids? That the best results often require the most effort?) How many adults in the system will keep at it if the kids, the funding, and the paychecks keep coming, no matter what? The answer is too few. Too few.

  • Doctor J

    Not sure how that all works, but does the California Bar really work that fast ?

  • Doctor J

    I hope tonight they ask the employees to sign the agreements first — then the Board

  • Theresa Harrington

    I would guess that someone would have to file a complaint with the CA Br before they would investigate.

  • g

    Yes. The employees should have to agree to the amendments and sign before the board signs them ratifying the 4/23/12 amended motion by Eberhart stating that he had confidence that “staff understands what’s needed in the amendments without giving them any more detailed instructions”. After all, it is the same Staff.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Please note that I am on vacation today and tomorrow, so I will not be attending tonight’s MDUSD meeting. Hopefully, it will be live streamed.

  • Doctor J

    Is closed session going overtime ?

  • Anon

    Anyone knowledgeable: At what point does poor managerial performance cross over to workplace sabotage? Managers who refuse to do their jobs, refuse to speak to employees, have screaming fits at employees, perform below par and simply do not have the skills necessary to maintain their SUPER lucrative jobs? There are literally “negative” performance standards: get with the group and don’t worry about the work. Pick what you want to do and refuse to do the rest. No problem. The really knowledgeable people have left. Can anyone get a copy of the original job description for Bryan Richards’ job? Personnel refuses to give us one. He needs to move back to HIS office and do HIS job. It has become a patronage system. Where are the attorneys? Chasing employees around intimidating them with “secret files”, refusing to allow them counsel. Due to Deb Cooksey’s behavior, we took our concerns outside of the district.
    See the recurring theme? OUTSIDE the district. Bring in from OUTSIDE….etc. No trust in current staff.