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MDUSD Trustee Lynne Dennler comments on her votes to retain the superintendent and general counsel

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, May 10th, 2013 at 9:29 am in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

After the Mt. Diablo school board voted 3-2 to terminate Superintendent Steven Lawrence’s contract early and voted 4-1 to let General Counsel Greg Rolen go before his contract expired, I asked all five trustees to explain their votes. Board President Cheryl Hansen, Vice President Barbara Oaks and Trustee Brian Lawrence voted in the majority on both decisions, saying the district needs new leadership to overcome low morale and lack of community trust.

Trustee Linda Mayo voted against terminating the superintendent’s contract, but sided with the majority in the decision to oust Rolen. Trustee Lynne Dennler voted against terminating both contracts, which were set to expire in June, 2014.

Mayo told me Monday she did not want to comment on her votes because she had previously made comments during board meetings that would explain them. When I said I did not recall those comments, she did not elaborate on what they were or when she made them.

Dennler, on the other hand, sent me an e-mail explaining her votes, which she asked me to quote “with fidelity.” Here is her complete statement:

“I ran for the MDUSD Board of Education, because as a teacher in Mt. Diablo, I felt disrespected and undervalued. I didn’t trust ‘the administration.’ I ran to be a ‘voice’ the classroom and the teacher.

These two years have been eye opening. I gained an understanding of the incredible challenges facing our district by being observant, listening to many differing opinions, and asking questions. I’ve been careful to not be ‘managed,’ avoided blogs, as I appreciate and prefer direct input from the public.

The superintendent answers to and advises the Board of Education. The board has the final direction, which this superintendent has always followed. For the most part, I’ve experienced administrators who would listen. They didn’t necessarily ‘change their thinking.’ It did, however, give me hope, that with multiple like voices on the board, change was possible.

The superintendent’s character and trustworthiness is of greater value to me than policy agreement. I have discovered the reality of the District operation is vastly different than it is perceived through the outside lens. Half-truths and distorted views are often disseminated as fact. Had the present Board chosen to work with Dr. Lawrence, I believe MDUSD would have moved forward.

I met Greg Rolen after my election. He ‘seemed’ to be cocky and supremely confident. After months of working with and observing his work, I realized he was a competent, effective attorney. I grew to appreciate his legal skills, the fairness with which he negotiated settlements, and the money he saved MDUSD.

The facts and timelines of Mr. Rolen’s activities haven’t been presented accurately. A combination of an individual’s interpretation, perspective, and understanding of facts have been blended into actions deemed ‘illegal’ in print. In hindsight some of Mr. Rolen’s actions may have been ill advised but were well meaning, not illegal as have been reported. He has provided the district excellent legal direction.

Historically, newspapers have been bastions that disseminated truth. Today, blogs and newspaper have begun to intermingle in ways that give a perception of fact, to a combination of half-truth and opinion. This ‘blend’ then morphs into ‘fact’ that is shared, commented on, over and over again. Hence the reason I chose to avoid them.

I saw no reason to incur the costs for this change of leadership. Extensive legal expenses, and buyout costs for MDUSD seemed unnecessary. I think first working with these two men, then perhaps acting in a year would have been more prudent.

This superintendent would have changed policy, followed negotiation objectives, or made changes as directed by this board. MDUSD wouldn’t have been static. This board chose instead to make this move. That will appease a small, vocal minority with special interests. Our system allows for that.

I look forward to working together with my fellow board members to bring the important changes we feel are necessary to MDUSD. We will now move ahead to continue to work to provide a quality 21st century education to the students in MDUSD, staffed by employees who are respected and valued.”

Do think the board should have allowed the superintendent and general counsel to finish out their contracts?

MAY 11 UPDATE: When I sent this blog post to my editor to be published on Sunday, she pointed out that the Times never reported that Rolen’s activities were illegal. An editor’s note to that effect will accompany Dennler’s statement in print.

Also, I question how Dennler can make judgments about news reports and blogs that she claims she does not read.

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  • Doctor J

    Can you imagine MDUSD and San Juan USD exchanging Supts ? http://www.sacbee.com/2013/05/16/5424706/san-juan-names-fill-ins-during.html

  • New Supe: Stay on Course

    The THREE MONKEY management system. See nothing, hear nothing, say nothing. I still SMELL something. These people eat at the very supports of the district by pursuing their crazy personal vendettas and ignoring their job duties. Julie is not trying to resolve. She is trying to intimidate. You can’t swing a stuffed cat without hitting an attorney. I believe I have an answer to the questions: “how do I do my job?” and “who will do my job for me?” I think employees should be able to bid against the attorneys to resolve district problems. “Yes, you should come in out of the rain” and “don’t touch that socket” and “Yes, you with your hand up?” “You may go to the ladies room but be right back and don’t touch those sockets!” Repeat after me: “employees who report problems ARE the problem.” Seriously, though, things have gotten so far from any recognizable school district that an interim super will have to be strong and get the layout fairly quickly. Everyone seems to think he or she will be a victim of the same “wrong crowd” phagocytosis that robbed us of a credible attorney and supports this pack mentality. Nobody should be afraid of an accountant. Let’s get real.

  • Theresa Harrington

    g: Good Point. I would like to speak to Guts and Morals, even off the record, just to get a clearer picture of what is allegedly going on.

    G&M: Have you contacted the Anti-Defamation League? If the district is turning a blind eye toward anti-Semitism in the workplace, the League’s lawyers could point out reasons why this should not be tolerated. Also, it might be a good idea to approach Jayne Williams, since she is supposed to be helping the board usher in a new era of enlightened leadership, which includes treating all employees with respect. Especially in public agencies, where employees are paid with taxpayer dollars, laws to protect them from harassment should be vigorously enforced.

  • Doctor J

    Theresa, can you get a report from MDEA how many tickets of the 400 capacity remain unsold for tomorrow’s Academy Awards ?

  • Doctor J

    @Guts&Morals: The employees need to file complaints with the state DFEH for a hostile work environment — just like they have done up in Sacramento. It gets action. http://www.sacbee.com/2013/05/16/5424706/san-juan-names-fill-ins-during.html

  • g

    To me it appears that the dozen or so direct complaints about Payroll, JBM and Richards and what sounds like a couple of people that have been given false authority to ‘overstep their job boundaries’ are being written by just two or three people. Even IF I am correct, that does not deminish the severity of the claims being brought forward.

    The problem is that the accusations are vague, round-about, allusions and hints. No doubt the writer(s) feel a need to make their statements in this cursory manner to cover their tracks. That is understandable.

    I hope they will feel free to contact you with facts and proof, with the understanding that you will keep their identity confidential.

    I also would hope that the temporary nature of Jayne Williams job would make her a very good contact point, and would suggest the board encourage her to set up a nice old-fashioned “anonymous” suggestion and complaint box.

    Dropping a photocopy of “proof” to the press or in the box with a complaint has worked wonders at some companies.

  • Theresa Harrington

    To those interested in digging into state budget issues, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla will hold a budget town hall meeting today at 5 p.m. at Los Medanos College: http://www.contracostatimes.com/contra-costa-times/ci_23192249/town-hall-meeting-set-may-16-pittsburg

  • Theresa Harrington

    For some good news, the new healthy cooking kitchen at MDHS is holding an open house tonight: http://www.wellnesscitychallenge.org

  • Theresa Harrington

    The WCCUSD board has restored elementary instrumental music at several schools and has decided to turn over Community Day School students to the county: http://www.contracostatimes.com/twitter/ci_23259018/music-programs-restored-at-more-west-contra-costa

  • g

    Theresa, thanks for posting news about Mount’s IHTA. Your link got my attention for their Blog hosted by Cindy Gershen. What a FUN read. http://gershenc.wordpress.com/

    I recommend reading in reverse starting at the bottom of the page. It starts in Feb. with their visit to the in-progress renovation. One very interesting thing was their list of ‘partners.’ And it says Kaiser and PG&E was helping with the renovation process.

    It would be interesting to know the details of what those partners contribute, especially how Kaiser and PG&E helped.

  • Doctor J

    I am told there are over 100 unsold tickets for tomorrow’s Academy Awards — and most of the tickets purchased were by MDEA members who got the $30 discount. It doesn’t take a math genius to say that Guy Moore is going to throw MDEA in the bathtub for a huge financial loss. Guy, are you going to come clean on the finances so the teachers know how much of their dues were lost ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    I believe they provided grant funding. I visited Gershen’s new kitchen yesterday during the open house and plan to do a story about the evolving healthy cooking and sustainable tourism program.
    Also, Kate McClatchy asked me to write about the school’s new World Academy, which will start in the fall as part of the English Learner Master Plan.
    And, I saw Bill Morones there, but didn’t get a chance to talk to him.
    The students did a great job of cooking and presenting their food!

  • http://ourmdea.org Guy Moore

    Dr. J, Why are you so negative about the Academy Awards? It is going to be a huge success and not one penny of MDEA members dues is being spent. Furthermore, we will meet our secondary goal of being able to start the process of creating an ARTS Foundation for Elementary teachers in this district.

    I invite you to attend and report back about an event that has the power to begin to transform the way people think in and about our district. How about rallying people in a positive way Dr. J?

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here’s my short story today about the Academy Awards, for which Moore said there may be a few last-minute tickets still available: http://www.contracostatimes.com/concord/ci_23261027/outstanding-mt-diablo-school-district-employees-honored-at

    And, related to rallying people in a positive way, I have been very impressed by MDHS teacher Cindy Gershen’s ability to do that at that school. She told me she wants MDUSD to be seen as a district that is willing to innovate and try new things, which she said will attract others. If the infighting continues, however, it may be more difficult to begin moving forward in a positive direction.

  • Doctor J

    @GUY#113 My prior posts state its a great idea to honor exemplary teachers and administrators. My criticisms are that MDEA should not be in the catering business, $5000 should not have been donated from the district which could have ended up in the classroom, you are giving over 50% discounts to administrators that make over $80,000 when mothers who cannot afford to drive their children to school are expected to pay full fare which excludes the majority of parents in the district. Why are politicians given a discount — they have campaignfunds ? You have made this an elitist event. I previously quoted the “original” flyer that included parents — parents seem now to have been eliminiated. Aren’t parents the most important part of the MDUSD community ? I proposed a graduated scale for ticket prices and you never responded. Will you give us a full accounting of the income and expenses following the event ? P.S. And why wouldn’t you think I will be there ?

  • Goodbye Versailles

    Dear Guy Moore: I can see what you were trying to do but think about it. We cannot refocus and simply ignore the truth of the low morale and operations disasters. This has turned into a garish popularity contest and a slap in the face to all the hard-working employees at the district who already feel unappreciated and marginalized. How can this be remedied by “voting” others better? Perhaps use your time to improve the situation for all, not give trinkets to a few? I don’t care about any groans here: I want the truth about this laptop debacle. I want to see you post the documents they submitted to the insurance company. I do not believe we have not seen any security films, police reports, etc. Why hasn’t the investigating officer come to a board meeting? Something is wrong here and there is no way Greg Rolen would have been pro-district. The board should be more proactive and not fall for the same old let it get old, dodge responsibility, and everybody will get sick of it. The board needs to hold a special meeting with Bryan Richards, Steve Lawrence, the investigating officers, a rep from the insurance company, etc. I don’t believe an insurance company would pay all this money with no clear story or security footage. Nobody wants to further hurt the district so these loose cannons keep operating.
    TH, does anyone credible from Swett or WCC ever sound off on their experiences with our group? Don’t want mud- slinging, just curious if we could have seen this coming.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Regarding the Academy Awards, I videotaped most of the awards (but unfortunately missed the first batch). I am uploading the videos now at YouTube.com/tunedtotheresa.

  • Doctor J

    It was an enthusiastic event; but far from the 400 capacity to make it a “break even” event. Guy, what was the actual paid attendance ?