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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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  • Doctor J

    @Anon#300 Do a public records act request.

  • Anon

    J 188: You wrote above that CTI took no action against the district when Padilla-Rolen got their contract. I learned from a very reliable source that they took action to sue but could not afford the retainer for the attorney. This may have even been disclosed to Harrington, but perhaps she could not put it in print. It seems like this isn’t just about not disclosing a relationship with a contractor, but misleading or even false information to get your girlfriend a no bid contract. I have no faith in this board that won’t take action despite public outcries for change. Last night was just a return to the status quo, despite Harrington’s solid research and the whole Browne secrecy. Most employees in this position would be put out on administrative leave, yet there is everybody, advising the board like nothing every happened. You can expect this group to be around until 6/14.

  • Doctor J

    @Anon#302 No action ? The Board hired an independent employment attorney so they now can schedule the next Closed session. I call that action. Linda Mayo had demanded the attorney be hired first and then she voted against it — hypocrisy. Will she really stand up for Rolen ? She may not read the blogs, but she reads the newspaper.

  • Doctor J

    How about Steven Lawrence’s assinine idea to wait four years before raising the graduation requirements back to where they were ? Gary Eberhart’s charge to lower the graduation requirements to avoid Program Improvement failed miserably. Graduation percentages did not go up. I agree with a majority of the Board that they need to go back immediately. Cheryl Hansen, Barbara Oaks, and even Lynne Dennler agree that Rti — immediate intervention when a student isn’t learning is the solution to the problem. But Steven Lawrence has been slow to implement it. Like Abraham Lincoln said of Gen. George McClellan during the Civil War “He’s got the slows.” So Abe replaced him with Gen. Ulysses Grant — and the tide turned. We need a new General.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Trustee Linda Mayo voted against lowering the graduation requirements in the first place. But, increasing graduation requirements could force the district to bring back summer school, if Rti doesn’t work. Rose Lock has been pushing “first, best instruction.” So, hopefully, students would get the help they need to succeed.

  • Anon

    Dr. J: you’re an optimist. I like that.

  • Doctor J

    Can one of the Board members post what the report out from the second closed session was last night since it wasn’t recorded ?

  • Doctor J

    @TH#305 Even if Rti is only partially successful, it will reduce the need for summer school and dramatically reduce those costs. As Rti becomes more successful summer school will probably disappear.

  • Doctor J

    Last night the Board was not happy that Lawrence spent all that money on the demographic study and didn’t even include socio-economics or race. One more loop in his noose.

  • Doctor J

    I guess the most insulting thing about the Bay Point boundary change recommendation is that the committee didn’t even come up with the recommendation — it was foisted upon them by Rose Lock. The district hadn’t even gone in — even though they have had months to do it — to do an address verification check that in other schools have freed up over 100 spots, enough to solve the problem at Delta View for next year. Its an arrogant superiority complex by the top administration that “they know better” and all they want to do is eliminate transportation at Delta View. They use the committee just as windown dressing — its insulting.

  • Star

    Dirty Sanitary District Gets Cleaned Up. Brett Richards from Ross Valley Sanitary District caught embezzling $350,000 dollars in housing/relocation money HE HAD TO PAY BACK. Any housing assistance should be optional: accept it and immediate incremental withdrawals start deducting from the Superintendents’ check. If he quits or the house is sold, those funds should go back to the taxpayers. Marin was smart. They followed the trail and it paid off. WHY, WHY, WHY, can’t we get a Steve Cooley from Bell CA or this man: Chief Inspector Rob Guidi of Marin County District Attorney. Someone actually cared enough and the office was trustworthy enough to do the right thing. These are the people who should run for office. Why is there not one person in CCC who will answer to his/her conscience and the taxpayers? I, too welcome the opportunity to show someone my experiences with Payroll and have them ask Bryan Richards why he would continue this way. Can we have an investigation moved to another county?

  • Anonymous

    Dr. J 303, I’m confused about your post. When was a vote taken to bring in an employment attorney regarding the discipline/dismissal action item? I know at the 3/27/13 special meeting on discipline/dismissal, Mayo made comments against bringing in an outside attorney to advise the board, and Harrington posted that Hansen told her the board still had to agree to bring in outside counsel. When was the vote taken and reported out? I don’t see that vote on any board agenda. Where does your information on the vote come from? Perhaps I missed something.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Anonymous: Hansen said she needed to bring the outside counsel to the board for a vote. The board voted 3-2 on Monday to approve the outside counsel: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=6614&mtgId=375.

    Since I wasn’t at the meeting, I don’t know if any announcement was made about a new closed session date.

    I am watching the video of the meeting now. I note that Vice President Barbara Oaks removed the translation services contract for Evangelina Villa, asking for an overview of the translation services contracts. The superintendent said he would give her a rundown the next day. Still, no one mentioned AIS.

    Also of interest, Trustee Brian Lawrence made a statement about his desire to also seek new leadership in the district after public comment, at about 21:00 into the meeting: http://www.livestream.com/mtdiablounifiedschooldistrict/video?clipId=flv_a36f2c55-06e9-4e83-b91f-928a875a40b2

  • C.s.

    #304 Dr. J: Anything that represents work can wait. You see, they will get their paychecks anyway. Investigate possible wrong-doing or harass the whistle-blower? Harass. Much easier than an investigation and fits the current climate. There is probably no way to check out someone’s character. It would be nice. However, once it is obvious they have performance, emotional issues, departments need help or become fragmented and dysfunctional etc, a smart Superintendent does not continue to force that on his staff and those they serve. They have shown their character.

  • Doctor J

    @Anon#312 See Agenda item 14.6 Hiring of Ochoa & Moore. They have speciality in public employment law.

  • Doctor J

    @TH#313 We don’ know what the second closed session announcement was, but otherwise there was no announcement about a date for the next closed session on the employee discipline/dismissal. Brian Lawrence’s announcement now signals 3 votes in favor of change of the top leadership. The top leadership has a choice — fight it and get fired, or resign and save face and career. There is more than enough evidence for termination for cause which would cut off any furher payments. I expect to see a closed session on this item in the next 10 days that will make a definitive decision. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to read the tea leaves.

  • Anonymous

    J and TH, thank you for your response. Didn’t realize they were being hired for that purpose and not layoffs given other agenda items. Based on some of these posts from apparent employees, I am wondering how they can do a reliable investigation, like looking into the #220 post, with Lawrence/Rolen still on the job and exerting influence over employees. It was refreshing to hear B. Lawrence make his public statement about seeking new leadership. I think he’s right that people need to be careful about mistatements of facts and abusive comments and make sure we stick to the facts, otherwise we are not better than those we criticize.

  • Doctor J

    MDUSD Graduation rates for 2012 DROPPED AGAIN, and Drop-out Rates INCREASED AGAIN, just the OPPOSITE of he statewide trend announced yesterday by Tom Torlakson. Brian Lawrence, Cheryl Hansen and Barbara Oaks are exactly right the district is headed in the wrong direction and needs new top leadership. Obviously SASS is failing under the leadership of Rose Lock. Here is Torlakson’s press release. http://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/ne/yr13/yr13rel42.asp

  • Doctor J

    How bad are the high school graduation rates and drop out rates ? BAD ! I compared the five standard high schools. College Park’s drop out rate nearly doubled ! Every high school except for Northgate had their dropout rate increase. Ygnacio Valley had had the highest dropout rate: a whopping 17.7% — and Bill Morones got the promotion to SASS Director of Secondary — go figure. Mount’s was 15.6% — ouch. Northgate cut their dropout rate by 1.8% to 2.5% — good job. Gradudation rates: College Park and Mt. Diablo’s graduation rates dropped, but Concord, Northgate, and Ygnacio Valley all had slight increases. Northgate’s graduation rate was 96.2% while the two lowest were Mount at 81.5% and Ygnacio Valley at 81.6%.
    I think you have to ask two questions: How long can we wait for a change in the top leadership ? Are the SASS principal coaches really doing the job ?

  • Doctor J

    Heads up ! There is an April 11 agenda posted but not yet approved for public viewing. Stayed tuned for breaking news. Also a new date on the Agenda list for April 22 — a Monday that wasn’t there before. Not sure what that is about.

  • g

    There is another closed session scheduled for Tomorrow–but agenda not posted yet. Hmmmm.

    Is it a follow-up on the “due dilligence” research into Borenstein’s PRA? (He’s being very patient)

    Is it a meeting with the Ochoa firm? If it is Ochoa, is it re Employment Contracts as we suspect, or what?

    Will the Open Session portion report out any resolution or action taken Monday regarding the Union fiasco? Have they agreed to spend education dollars to defend Cooksey’s wrong-doing?

  • Theresa Harrington

    The April 22 meeting is posted as a regular board meeting. The planned closed session tomorrow is at 6 p.m. I’ll try to find out what it’s about.

  • Theresa Harrington

    The closed session tomorrow is for action on employee discipline, dismissal, release or complaint: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/public_agendaview.aspx?mtgId=403

    Also, the district’s home page lists two special board meetings April 15 and April 16: http://www.mdusd.org/Pages/default.aspx

    And the superintendent’s El Dorado MS feeder pattern meeting is tonight: http://www.mdusd.org/Lists/UpcomingEvents/Attachments/327/Notice%20of%20Meeting%20and%20Agenda%20-%20El%20Dorado%200410131.pdf

    I wonder if they will discuss the substitute issue there.

  • Doctor J

    Tomorrow’s agenda: Public Employee Discipline/Dismissal/Release/Complaint

  • Doctor J

    No word yet on what the report on the late night second closed session was last Monday ?

  • Doctor J

    I believe the Special Board meeting for April 15 is to finalize the Strategic Plan. Not sure what the 16th is for.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I think one of those is a joint meeting with the Pleasant Hill City Council.

  • Anon

    J @324 and TH, no employee number(s) listed as done on 3/27/13 agenda. Theresa, any info on that?

  • Anon

    @ 326, isn;t April 15 the joint meeting with the Pleasant Hill City Council?

  • Anon 2

    Could be the Oak Grove teacher featured on Claycord…too soon perhaps for her day on the Board agenda.

  • Anon

    @ 326, see agenda at PH City Council site, it shows joint meeting with MDUSD for April 15 at 6 pm, so maybe 16th is Strategic Plan.

  • Doctor J

    @Anon#328 I suspect there may be more than just two employees on that list now and the board did not want to tip their hand to the Supt [loose lips Lawrence] and will notify those employees directly.

  • Anon

    J @328,that’s a problem because under the Brown Act they are supposed to identify the employee by number or title; not just “public employee.” Notifying the employees doesn’t meet public notice requirements.

  • g

    But they don’t list the employee number until that employee has been served with their notice, and had their mandated time to respond, hire representation and request a meeting with the full board.

  • Doctor J

    Maybe its just a meeting with the new attorney so he/she can draft the notice to Steven Lawrence and then the actual “action” can happen next week. Rolen doesn’t need that letter, and both he and Lawrence have already had their employee numbers publicized. Maybe resignations have been submitted and will be accepted. We will just have to wait and see.

  • Anon

    333, Before and after the 3/27 meeting, I believe the “employee” has already been provided with the sufficient notice, has responded, and has had his full meeting with the board.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here’s my news brief about tomorrow’s meeting: http://www.contracostatimes.com/twitter/ci_22998705/mt-diablo-trustees-meet-regarding-employee-discipline-or
    I don’t know why no employee numbers are listed on the agenda.

  • Anon

    #311 Bell CA, Marin County: notice anything different from us? THEIR JAILBIRDS WERE CAUGHT AND ARE EITHER IN JAIL, TRYING TO STAY OUT OF JAIL, OR M.I.A. That is the difference. Our group openly operates. Today they took taxpayer money; tomorrow they will take taxpayer money. Refusing to leave, refusing to provide services they are grossly overpaid for, mistreating everybody in one way or another, and unconcerned with consequences. For as many people and as many times as employees, parents, decent managers, taxpayer watchdogs, etc have begged for help, these managers know none is on the way. Obviously the D.A. in Marin poses a threat. Bell California dislodged their problem people. Sickening: all of the people entrusted to prevent this or address this behavior have failed us.
    Newsflash: Rolen can only cast one vote at election time. We need to make sure our memories are long when these people want more public money. A few Fiscal issues need to be reviewed by the FBI, since nobody local is interested.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Hansen confirmed that tomorrow’s meeting is a continuation of the previous personnel matter. But, she said the newly hired law firm won’t be participating.
    She also continues to maintain that she never knew about the written agreements with Browne, despite Cooksey’s insistence that the board gave the superintendent to enter into them. Brian Lawrence has also told me that the briefing about Browne was very cursory and he has since followed up with Cooksey to get additional information.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here is the agenda for Monday’s joint meeting with the Pleasant Hill City Council: http://www.ci.pleasant-hill.ca.us/archives/30/4-15-13_joint_meeting.pdf

    The discussion of AB 1575 should be interesting. I know there are parents on the PH Ed Commission who are concerned about how this will impact their annual fifth-grade outdoor education camps.

    FYI, our Pleasant Hill reporter Lisa White will cover the meeting.

  • Doctor J

    @TH#340 I would imagine there are other schools whose outdoor education camp will be impacted. Have any schools had to cancel their camps for lack of funds ? When I broke this story on this blog, I said it was a “big deal” and indeed it is “coercing parents to pay” is a lot easier than getting them to “fundraise”.

  • Really?

    Yeah. El Monte cancelled their trip.

  • Doctor J

    Any details on why El Monte cancelled their trip ?

  • Doctor J

    I think Guy Moore and MDEA are in financial trouble on their Acadamey Awards event. They have changed he pricing structure. Here is the new pricing structure: $40 for General Public $30 for Elected Officials $20 for MDUSD Employees. So Guy, explain to me why you are only charging Steven Lawrence $20, who makes $260,000 a year, and you are charging a single mother who can’t afford to drive her child to school $40 ? And why are you giving elected officials a $10 break ? Are MDUSD Board Trustees “employees” or “elected officials” ? How many people have signed up so far ? How much of your teacher member’s dues do you expect to lose on this event ? Do you plan on having Spanish translators at the event for the Spanish speakers ? I don’t have any problem with the idea — but one month away and it sounds like its in disarray.

  • Doctor J
  • Theresa Harrington

    Here’s a new blog post about tonight’s meeting, recapping how the board has come to this point and quoting Trustee Brian Lawrence’s Monday night comments about his desire to seek new district leadership: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2013/04/11/mdusd-closed-session-regarding-employee-discipline-or-release-starts-at-830-p-m/

  • Doctor J

    Guy Moore, I don’t want you to think I am attacking you without a plan. If your goal is to have a cross-section of the educational community at the awards ceremony, here is my plan. If you just want the elete and exclude the poor and minorities, follow your plan. Here is my plan.
    Any Parent whose child is on a free or reduced meal plan: $10
    All MDEA active members: $20 [they already pay dues]
    All active members of other unions affiliated with MDUSD: CSEA, Local One M&O, Local One CST, and MDSPA [does NOT include Diablo Managers Assoc -- DMA since they are not a union] $35
    General Public, including all MDUSD adminisrators, $60.

  • Doctor J

    Did you see the questions that the Pleasant Hill City Council wants answered on Monday night ?
    o What criteria has been used to identify schools for the transfer of students under NCLB?
    o What financial support and staff support does MDUSD offer Pleasant Hill schools that are receiving NCLB transfers?
    o What programs are offered that benefit NCLB transfer students?
    • Parents have raised questions about the impact AB 1575 might have on their children’s programs and activities, including concerns about the loss of enrichment programs:
    o How will MDUSD address this legislation to assist schools and provide support for collection of donations? [Wait until they hear El Monte cancelled its outdoor camp !]
    concern raised for College Park High School:
    o Foreign Language course offerings, particularly Mandarin
    o Offering 9th grade students Social Studies classes
    o Offering A period electives
    o Access to Naviance software for College and Career Planning
    o Funding for additional College and Career advisors at the high school
    Update on Measure C facilities improvement projects and general maintenance of facilities for Pleasant Hill schools
    I don’t think Steven Lawrence will be able to BS his way around these questions by the City Council.

  • g

    Bay Point has a few strong and vocal parent/student/school advocates. Walnut Creek has a good share as well. But they appear to be amateurs compared to Pleasant Hill–a city far more united in its aspirations to benefit all of its citizens.

    What other city, not only in this district or even in this county puts “Education” on their Homepage, or frequently lists it as a priorty for information and updates at regular council meetings? None.

    Will Steven Lawrence be envited to join the board at the P.Hill meeting in case questions need to be answered on subjects where the board has not been brought up to speed? Hmmmm.

  • Doctor J

    G, I think the question is whether Steven Lawrence will show, or send his entire staff — there is no single staff member that should know all the answers. I don’t think the PH City Council wants to hear generalitites — and wait for their follow up questions. Too bad the broadcast won’t be live.