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Complaints spur investigations into Clayton Valley Charter HS

Controversy at Clayton Valley Charter High has prompted dozens of complaints to the Contra Costa County Office of Education, as well as several complaints to the County District Attorney’s Office. In response, both the District Attorney and County Superintendent of Schools have sent letters to the school seeking further information.

In addition, a group calling itself Stakeholders for Transparency has posted a petition on seeking the termination of the school’s Executive Director David Linzey and several teachers have voted no confidence in his leadership.

Through a Public Records Act request, I have received copies of some of the complaints sent to the County Office of Education. Everyone who writes to a public agency should be aware that your emails and letters are public records, which must be turned over to anyone who asks for them, even if you request that they be kept confidential.

I have decided not to post most of the emails and letters I received in part because they contain allegations that I cannot substantiate, or because they have asked that their information not be shared publicly. There were also some emails in favor of the Clayton Valley Charter High School Governing Board and Executive Director David Linzey, which contained allegations about the Stakeholders for Transparency group or others that I cannot substantiate.

However, I will post an email from Crystal Larke (with her permission), followed by en email I received from parent Sharon Degener about the complaints (with her permission), and an email I received from Board Chairman Ted Meriam about outreach the school is making to the staff and community in an effort to improve communications.

Crystal Larke:

“County Board,

I am writing as a concerned present Clayton Valley Charter high school parent, community member, and taxpayer. I am requesting that in your oversight capacity pursuant to Education Code section 47607(d), you require the Clayton Valley Charter High School Board of Trustees to seat Bud Beemer as the retired teacher position, and prohibit the Clayton Valley Charter High School board from seeking any further candidate for that position.

Mr Beemer was vetted pursuant to Clayton Valley Charter High School Board bylaws and was interviewed at the board’s November meeting. Two weeks prior to the December board meeting, the other retired teacher candidate pulled out of the race, leaving Mr Beemer unopposed. Pursuant to the Clayton Valley Charter High School bylaws, the board should have seated Mr Beemer at the December board meeting.

However, on the day of the meeting, the board disseminated a letter from their attorney finding Mr. Beemer had a conflict of interest and disqualifying him from being seated on the board. Prior to the January meeting, Mr Beemer sent a letter to the board demonstrating that he, in fact, had no conflict of interest.

The failure to seat Mr. Beemer, despite his clear proof that he did not have a conflict of interest, is a material violation of the ‘standards and procedures set forth in the Charter.’ (Education Code section 47607(c)(1)(A).) It is patently obvious that the only reason Mr Beemer was disqualified from serving was because of his beliefs and statements regarding the Clayton Valley Charter High School administration. To exclude otherwise qualified candidates simply because of a dissenting viewpoint is not democracy, it is a dictatorship. And a dictatorship violates the charter’s mission ‘to unite our stakeholders, including students, teachers and staff, parents, and community members, in a common goal to diligently prepare all students for success the 21st Century.'(CVCHS Charter, p. 23)

Thank you for your time,
Crystal Larke”

Here is a link to the letter from the Law Offices of Young, Minney & Corr regarding Beemer’s candidacy, which I obtained from the County Office of Education, along with Beemer’s response:

Here is Beemer’s response:

Sharon Degener:

“The petition to remove Linzey has been signed by over 500 people and there are over 700 people who have liked the (Stakeholders For Transparency) Facebook page. That is not a ‘few’ people. It may have been a few people back in May when Pat (Middendorf) was fired because many people were not aware of what was going on at the school. But as more and more people have experienced Linzey’s poor treatment, have seen the Board squash any dissenting voices, and watched as the Board completely ignored the vote of no confidence by the very teachers who started the charter, they have come to see that the leadership at Clayton Valley does not represent the interests of the stakeholders, nor does it represent the collaborative model of the original charter.

Also, the fact that the County and the DA are investigating shows that it is more than a PR problem. The county-wide agencies are not going to bother to investigate unsubstantiated complaints from a ‘few people.’

Sharon Degener”

Ted Meriam:

“A few references to items I mentioned today:

New Communication Channels to Share the Positive Impact of CVCHS:

o Charting the Future for Our Children – this is the Facebook group the school published in December, as a proactive channel to conduct Q&A with the public on educational issues facing our kids and the community.

o Coffee with Dave – a weekly podcast with Dave Linzey, featuring the likes of Congressman George Miller, Major David Shuey, CEO of CCSA Jed Wallace, etc.

o I Support CVCHS (Facebook Page) – while not operated by the school, a group of parents banded together to share positive news of CV in light of the negative PR.

o Increased volume of parent and community newsletters highlighting an exceptional student education.

o Dave conducting regular luncheons with teachers to discuss the issues in a more intimate setting.

Enrollment Stats for Next Year’s Freshman Class:

o Within the first four hours of opening enrollment, CVCHS received 159 applicants.

o That increased to almost 1,000 total applicants for the Freshman class.

o The school will admit about 500 freshmen, sadly turning away hundreds of other kids who desired a CVCHS education.

Executive Director Contract:

o The Board recently extended Dave’s contract to June 30, 2018 citing exceptional ED performance.

o Base comp is $204k with a 3 percent increase each year.

o Benefits include health insurance, vacation and sick leave, a $350/mo transportation allowance, and all other fringe benefits awarded to other CVCHS Administrators.

Hope this helps you.


Here is the message that the County Office of Education is sending to those who have sent in messages regarding Clayton Valley Charter High:

“Thank you for your inquiry. The Contra Costa County Office of Education is aware of recent complaints and allegations from community members regarding matters related to recent governance practices at Clayton Valley Charter High School. As the chartering authority for the Clayton Valley Charter High School, the County Office takes these concerns seriously and has begun a formal investigation into recent governance practices and operating procedures at CVCHS. Results of the investigation will be available once the investigation is concluded.”

At it’s Wednesday meeting, the board plans to interview former Contra Costa County Trustee Richard Asadoorian for the position of retired teacher. His application is on pages 62-66 of the agenda packet:—2015/02_February/Board%20Packet%202_11_15.pdf

Asadoorian, who was defeated in his run for re-election to the County Board in November, spoke in favor of the countywide Performing Arts charter that was recently denied. In his application for the Clayton Valley Charter High governing board, which is partially cut off in the copy attached to the agenda, he states: “There are detractors who are trying to tear down this structure o… (portion cut off) … they must be deterred.”

How do you think Clayton Valley Charter High School should resolve complaints about its governance and operations?

Posted on Tuesday, February 10th, 2015
Under: Clayton Valley Charter High, Contra Costa County Board of Education | 26 Comments »

What is the value of performing arts in society?

Just a little over a week after newly-sworn in Contra Costa County Superintendent Karen Sakata proudly performed with a Taiko drum group at her inauguration ceremony, the president of the county board of education has questioned the value of performing arts in society.

Board President Daniel Gomes angered a crowd of arts advocates at a board meeting earlier this week by suggesting that pursuing the idea of a countywide performing arts charter school might be “wasting money and wasting time — and we might be wasting lives by supporting this.”

This prompted Rob Seitelman, a local teacher and professional actor, to yell back: “That’s how I want to waste my life — by supporting the arts!”

In a long and rambling monologue, Gomes said it would be better to pursue a countywide charter focused on robotics or environmental science than performing arts.

“These are programs that are vital to our survival as a society,” he said. “It’s well and good that arts — and performing arts especially — are part of our society, but they’re not the vital part of our society.”

When the crowd erupted with gasps of disbelief, Gomes said those who disagreed with him could vote against him in the next election.

“But until then,” he said, “you should listen to what I have to say because I listened to what you have to say.”

Many people left after the board unanimously denied the proposed Contra Costa School of Performing Arts, based on staff findings that the petition did not meet state requirements for approval.

But Gomes’ comments set off a larger debate, causing some people to question his characterization of the arts as less important than science. In education, arts have suffered severe cuts and have been considered “extras” by some, in part because of the No Child Left Behind emphasis on math and English language arts, coupled with years of budget cuts.

As the economy has recovered and studies have shown the value of the arts in education, there has been a renaissance of arts in many schools. Even the Contra Costa County Office of Education emphasizes the value of arts alongside Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — known as STEM — by hosting a STEAM Colloquium that integrates the arts into STEM.

And earlier this year, representatives from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence visited Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord to praise its integration of the arts into its curriculum. John Abodeely, deputy director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, said the arts are a vital part of a well-rounded education and are especially powerful in efforts to engage underperforming students.

“The arts are not something you provide to students when you’ve fixed all the other problems,” he said. “Just like music is not something that’s been a part of humanities after we’ve figured out all of our other problems. It’s been a part of our soul and heart forever. So, the arts are a critical element in reform strategies.”

Outside the county board meeting, performing arts teacher Jason Miller said he disagreed with Gomes.

“Arts education is essential to our society,” he said. “The sentiment expressed tonight (by Gomes) was alarming — the idea that arts education isn’t valuable or that arts students are wasting their lives.”

After my story about the meeting was published, retired arts teacher Suzanne Cerny called to express her dismay about Gomes’ comments.

“How did this guy get to be president (of the board)?” she asked. “Studies show how arts are important. This reminds me of people in power who demean the people whom they are supposed to be helping.”

I also spoke to Richard Asadoorian, a former Contra Costa County trustee who lost his seat in the November election, who said he didn’t believe the arts should be considered as secondary behind other subjects.

“So often, the arts have been cut in schools,” he said. “They’re usually the first to go, along with librarians and counselors.”

Do you think performing arts are vital to society?

Posted on Friday, January 23rd, 2015
Under: Contra Costa County Board of Education, Education | 56 Comments »

A look back at some significant state and local education stories in 2014

Here’s a sampling of some significant education stories that appeared in this newspaper in 2014.

1. New school funding, curriculum and testing

– The California Board of Education adopted regulations to help districts implement the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula, which changed the ways schools were funded and required districts to create plans showing how they would spend money, especially for English language learners, low-income students and foster youth.

– Districts implemented new Common Core standards for education, focusing less on memorization and more on critical thinking.

– Students piloted new computer-based tests aimed at gauging how well they were learning with the new standards.

2. School child abuse cases

– The Brentwood school district agreed to pay $8 million to settle a lawsuit with the families of eight special needs children over its handling of a special-education teacher who was convicted of child abuse, yet allowed to remain in the classroom.

– An Antioch district teacher charged with abusing special-education students pleaded guilty to one felony count of child abuse and two misdemeanor charges.

n The Moraga school district agreed to pay $14 million to two women who sued over sex abuse by a former teacher, in what was believed to be the nation’s largest molestation settlement per student.

n Former Woodside Elementary teacher Joseph Martin was charged with 150 counts of child molestation involving 14 students. The District Attorney later dismissed 34 charges, a jury acquitted Martin of 21 more and failed to reach consensus on 95 charges. The District Attorney is retrying the former Mt. Diablo school district teacher on 24 felony molestation counts involving nine students.

3. Charter schools

n The Contra Costa County Board of Education approved an agreement paving the way for the Summit K2 Charter School to open in El Cerrito in the fall, after the West Contra Costa school board rejected the charter petition.

n The Antioch school district reached an agreement with Dozier-Libbey High teachers to keep the site under its authority, after a months-long campaign to convert the school into an independent charter. The Antioch school board and Contra Costa County Board of Education denied the charter petition and teachers dropped their appeal to the state Board of Education.

n Although the Contra Costa County Board of Education renewed the charter for Clayton Valley Charter High for five years, tensions built throughout the year between some staff members and the school’s governing board. An original petitioner for the school was fired, the board president resigned and a teacher board member was asked to resign, but refused. Teachers voted no confidence in Executive Director Dave Linzey and the board dismissed the school’s coordinator of technology after he was accused of breaching Linzey’s confidence.

n The West Contra Costa school board approved three charter petitions in December, after initially proposing to seeking a waiver from its responsibility to vote on charters, saying the independent schools negatively impact the district.

n The Knightsen school board rejected a charter proposed by ChartHouse Public Schools, which also seeks to operate a countywide Performing Arts charter.

4. West Contra Costa bond program

n Voters rejected a $270 million bond measure in June.

n The Securities and Exchange Commission subpoenaed the district, board president, county, and district financial advisers and consultants in an inquiry into the district’s bond financing. The school board approved hundreds of thousands in contracts for legal representation related to the SEC inquiry, along with representation related to separate questions from the FBI.

What do you think were the most significant education stories in 2014?

Posted on Friday, January 2nd, 2015
Under: Antioch school district, Brentwood school district, California Department of Education, Clayton Valley Charter High, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa County Board of Education, Education, Knightsen school district, Moraga school district, Mt. Diablo school district, West Contra Costa school district | 7 Comments »

Nearly 100 candidates seek school board seats in Contra Costa County

As the election filing deadline neared in Contra Costa County on Friday, nearly 100 candidates had taken out papers for more than 20 school board races.

The filing deadline will be extended to 5 p.m. Wednesday in 11 districts where some incumbents are not seeking re-election. These include: The Acalanes, Brentwood, Byron, John Swett, Lafayette, Moraga, Mt. Diablo, Orinda, Pittsburg, Walnut Creek and West Contra Costa districts.

Just before the filing deadline, it appeared that nearly all of the races would be contested, with most incumbents facing challengers. Here is a list of the races and candidates who had qualified for the ballot by 5 p.m. Friday, followed by potential candidates who had taken out papers, but had not yet completed all the ballot requirements.

County Board of Education, Area 2: Incumbent Christine Deane and Ray Andersen.

County Board of Education, Area 4: Incumbent Richard Asadoorian and Mike Maxwell.

County Board of Education, Area 5: Incumbent Cynthia Ruehling and Jeff Belle.

Community College, Ward 1: Incumbent John Marquez and Cheryl Sudduth.

Community College, Ward 3: Tim Farley and incumbent Matthew Rinn.

Community College, Ward 4: Incumbent John Nejedly (unopposed).

Acalanes: Incumbent Susan (Susie) Epstein, incumbent Nancy Kendzierski, Kristen Correll and Robert Hockett.

Acalanes (short term): Incumbent J. Richard Whitmore (unopposed).

Antioch Unified School District: Incumbent Joy Motts, Incumbent Gary Hack and Debra Vinson and Walter Ruehlig.

Brentwood: Incumbent Emil Geddes, incumbent Heather Partida, John A. Fjeldstad, Scott S. Dudek, Susan Wallace, Johnny Rodriguez, Christina Bell and Marci Lapriore.

Byron Union: Incumbent Jill Marlene Sprenkel, Felicia Schweller and Tania Salinas. Not yet qualified: Karri Jo Murayama.

Byron (short term): Incumbent Betty Sanchez. Not yet qualified: Gina Larmar Parish.

Canyon Elementary: Incumbent David James Smith, incumbent Ian Llewellyn and incumbent Geronimo Bernard.

John Swett: Incumbent Brian Colombo, Michael Kirker and Deborah A. Brandon.

Knightsen: Incumbent Liesel Williams, Patrick Hulleman and Kristen L. Fuller, incumbent Ralph Adam McMeans and Robin Denise Pastor.

Lafayette: Incumbent Teresa Gerringer and incumbent David Gerson and Suzy Pak.

Liberty: Incumbent Roy Ghiggeri, incumbent Daron Spears, incumbent Joanne Louise Byer and Pauline Allred.

Martinez: Incumbent Deidre Siguenza, incumbent Roberta “Bobbi” Horack and Ronald Skrehot.

Moraga: Incumbent Parker Colvin, Heather O’Donnell and Jonathan Nickens.

Moraga (short term): Not yet qualified: Heather o’Donnell.

Mt. Diablo: Incumbent Linda Mayo, incumbent Cheryl Hansen, Michael Langley, Herbert Lee, Debra Mason and James Ryan Egnor-Keil.

Oakley: Incumbent Gloria Jean Lott, incumbent Mark Jordan and incumbent Arthur Fernande.

Orinda: Incumbent Juliane Rossiter, Hillary Shayne Weiner, Carol Brown and Jason Kaune. Not yet qualified: incumbent Christopher Clark Severson.

Pittsburg: Incumbent Joe Arenivar, incumbent Duane Smith and De’Shawn Woolridge. Not yet qualified: Daniel Borsuk.

San Ramon Valley: Incumbent Ken Mintz, incumbent Rachel Hurd, incumbent Denise Jennison and Jerome Pandell.

Walnut Creek: Incumbent Barbara Pennington, Stacey Schweppe, Aimee Moss, Heidi Hernandez Gatty and Sherri McGoff.

West Contra Costa: Incumbent Madeline Kronenberg, incumbent Elaine Merriweather, Elizabeth (Liz) Block, Chester Stevens, Raquel Donoso, Otheree Christian, Mister Phillips and Peter Nicholas Chau. Not yet qualified: Charlene W. Harlan-Ogbeide, Valerie Cuevas and Giorgio Cosentino.

Which candidates do you support?

Posted on Friday, August 8th, 2014
Under: Contra Costa Community College District, Contra Costa County, Contra Costa County Board of Education, Education, Election, John Swett district, Lafayette school district, Liberty district, Martinez school district, Moraga, Mt. Diablo school district, Oakley district, Orinda, Pittsburg school district, San Ramon Valley school district, Walnut Creek School District, West Contra Costa school district | 14 Comments »

County education trustees seek more power over superintendent

Some Contra Costa County trustees are attempting to flex their muscles by pushing for a ballot measure to convert the superintendent from an elected to an appointed position. But they’re being told by county’s legal counsel that they may be too weak to call for an election themselves.

The issue came to a head Wednesday, when Trustees Daniel Gomes and Pamela Mirabella challenged the legal opinion and said they want to seek advice from an outside lawyer. The pair also expressed frustration that they couldn’t move forward with that vote on Wednesday because Gomes’ proposal was listed on the agenda as an “information” item instead of an “action” item, as he had requested.

Gomes alleged that Superintendent Joseph Ovick and his staff appeared to be trying to stall the item, which could potentially prevent the board from voting on it by the March deadline to get it on the 2014 ballot. Bill Clark, associate superintendent of business services, and Mary Ann Mason, assistant county counsel, said they could not find a legal precedent giving the Board of Education the authority to call an election.

Instead, they said, it is the County board of supervisors’ role to decide whether or not to place a measure on the ballot. Or, an initiative could be created and placed on the ballot if it received enough voter signatures.

Both Gomes and Mirabella said they want to convert the position because they were dissatisfied with Ovick’s decision in 2009 to give raises to top administrators during lean budget years, when other employees made sacrifices during union negotiations. Some of those district leaders ended up retiring soon afterward, Gomes said.
“In two cases,” he said, “this resulted in a spiking of their pensions.”

Mirabella said she felt powerless because the board had no authority to reject the raises approved by Ovick. She would have preferred to have given the money to new employees who would work in the county for many years, instead of to top administrators who were about to leave, she said.

Trustee Richard Asadoorian, who was not on the board when the raises were approved, said he has previously believed that voters should have the ability to choose the county superintendent. But, after seeing Ovick run unopposed for years, he has begun to question whether voters understand the complex issues the superintendent oversees. Trustees, he said, might be able to solicit many qualified candidates if the position were appointed.

The frustration expressed by Gomes and Mirabella regarding their lack of power over the elected superintendent is similar to the recent controversy in Pleasant Hill, where council members have admitted they could not compel the elected city clerk to produce minutes. In school districts, however, elected trustees have the authority to hire and fire their appointed superintendents.

This is the kind of power Gomes, Mirabella and Asadoorian appear to want. But Board President Ellen Elster, a retired deputy superintendent who worked for Ovick, said she did not want to be associated with the ballot proposal. She scoffed at Gomes and Mirabella’s concerns, interrupting them at times.

Trustee Cynthia Ruehlig said there are other ways to communicate dissatisfaction with a superintendent’s decisions.

“It’s so drastic,” she said. “It’s like throwing a grenade at a rat.”
Ovick plans to retire in December and he was not present at the meeting. Deputy Superintendent Karen Sakata, one of the administrators who received a hefty raise from Ovick, has announced her candidacy for his position.

Gomes suggested that another unopposed election could, in effect, allow Ovick to groom Sakata for his job.

“Is this some kind of fiefdom the superintendent runs for himself,” he said, “and hand picks his successor?”

Gomes and Mirabella directed Clark to bring a list of attorneys to the board at their next meeting so they can hire one to render a second opinion about the board’s ability to place a measure on the ballot.

They plan to hold a special meeting two weeks later to hear that attorney’s opinion and vote on placing the measure on the ballot, if they get a green light.

Do you think the County Superintendent should be elected or appointed?


Please note that the raises were given in 2009, not 2010, as originally stated. I have corrected that information above.

Here is the story I wrote about the raises at the time:


Reporter: Theresa Harrington Contra Costa Times Staff Writer
Published: Friday, 3/20/2009

Section: News
Page: 1A

Dateline: Dateline: PLEASANT HILL

Calling it “AIG all over again,” a union leader for Contra Costa County education workers says administrators should not receive pay raises while other employees get none.

Teachers, instructional assistants and general classified employees laid into the Contra Costa County board of education and Superintendent Joe Ovick on Wednesday, after learning on March 1 he had raised pay for three associate superintendents by thousands of dollars.

The pay hikes – including one raise of nearly $33,000 – became effective four days after members of Public Employees Union Local 1 agreed to no salary increases because of the state budget crisis, said James Jones, a union representative. Members agreed to sacrifice pay raises to save positions, he said.

“We’re mad as hell,” Jones told the board. “We were told there was no money whatsoever for raises and increases. We were told there would be no layoffs. … This is AIG all over again.”

Ovick said the raises were based on the difficulty of recruiting an associate superintendent of business to replace Deputy Superintendent Ellen Elster, who is retiring this month.

Instead of recruiting another deputy superintendent, Ovick decided to seek an associate superintendent at a lower pay level, who would do essentially the same job, said spokeswoman Peggy Marshburn. When no qualified applicants sought the $134,000 position, Ovick advertised it at $155,000.

Although this is just slightly less than the $156,478 Elster was making and exceeds the maximum $134,530 base salary for associate superintendents, Ovick did not bump the position back up to deputy superintendent or create a new position such as chief financial officer.

Instead, he decided to raise the pay of all the other associate superintendents to put them on par with the new hire.

The associate superintendents, however, were not earning equal salaries before the decision.

Associate superintendent for student services Karen Sakata was earning $122,022. Michael Bowers, associate superintendent for human resources took home $134,530. And associate superintendent for educational services Susan Magnone earned $145,687.

Together, the three associate superintendents gained 6 to 27 percent raises at a total cost of $62,758.

Marshburn said the money came from savings due to reorganization after the retirement of two business service directors.

Ovick did not recruit a deputy superintendent because that position that is typically earned by someone promoted from within, Marshburn said. Board members did not need to approve the decisions, because Ovick is the employer, she added.

Employees and union reps were scalding in their criticism of what seemed lavish expenditures at a time when they were being told to freeze spending on vehicle use and field trips. Some said they could not buy paper or pencils and were concerned about preliminary layoff notices sent earlier this month.

Marshburn played down the layoff concern, saying most of the positions that received the notices ultimately will be retained.

She said Thursday that the county sent 15 notices to certificated managers whose salaries are paid with special funding that has not yet been renewed, seven to teachers on probation who will not be rehired and one to a classified instructional assistant because the student she worked with is no longer attending school.

The teachers will be replaced with new hires and the 15 managers may stay on if their funding comes through, she said.

Posted on Friday, February 7th, 2014
Under: Contra Costa County Board of Education, Education | 41 Comments »

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


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

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?

Posted on Friday, March 29th, 2013
Under: Contra Costa County Board of Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 363 Comments »

West County Community High charter denial leaves more than 100 students scrambling to find alternatives

The Contra Costa County Board of Education’s denial of the West County Community High School charter’s renewal petition on Wednesday leaves more than 100 students scrambling to find new schools.

Board President Cynthia Ruehlig said the decision would allow the charter students to attend “better schools,” but some teens, parents staff and community members said afterward that they disagreed.

Although the charter’s test scores were not as high as those in some other district schools, they pointed out that the charter served a high percentage of special education students and others who felt they didn’t fit in on larger campuses.

“A lot of these kids are really scared of where they’re going,” said history teacher Andy Wolverton, before hugging one student goodbye. “A lot of them have been bullied. A lot have been in gangs. They’ve done the public schools. That’s why they came to our school. I just hope they don’t go back to their old lifestyles at their old schools. And that’s the scary thing — keeping them out of gangs. Every student at our school has a story.”

Student Dante Spruit, 17, said he would try to take a high school equivalency test, then attend Contra Costa Community College, with the goal of eventually enrolling in the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. He told me last week that he still had vivid memories of a violent fight he witnessed between two teenage boys when he was in sixth grade at Hercules Middle and High School.

“One had on a white T-shirt and it turned red with blood,” Spruit said. “Everyone was looking. At West County Community High School, I haven’t seen any fights.”

Parent Suzanne Camp said she planned to meet with other parents to discuss options such as online learning.

“We’re facing a situation that’s a crisis for our kids because these students are either too small for their age or there’s some difficulty for them being able to work with these other students at these big schools,” Camp said. “I am, as a desperate parent, looking for solutions for these students who can’t adapt to these congested schools. It’s really difficult to put your kid into a school that’s not safe.”

During the renewal hearing, three parents praised the school’s “loving” environment, in which their students thrived.

“There are kids that need that school that feel welcomed, feel loved and feel safe,” said parent Carlos Casares.

Theresa Padilla echoed these sentiments, saying her son struggled in algebra as a freshman at another school.

“Thank God for West County Community High School,” she said. “With the help of loving staff, he brought his grade from a D to a B. He chose not to return to his first school. ”

Sue Britson said her family selected the charter over El Cerrito High because of the caliber and dedication of teachers, parent involvement, safe environment and staff’s commitment to helping students like her son.

“Richmond is a large community,” she said. “We need places for students who are smart, but have challenges.”

Although trustees were sympathetic to students and parents, they said they could not overlook insufficient budget and curriculum materials submitted in the charter petition. Trustee Pamela Mirabella said she brainstormed with some parents after the meeting about how to meet their children’s needs.

“It is our fear that when a charter goes under like this, you have kids that have to be sent back to the district,” she said. “It disrupts their lives. They just have bonded. You have families that feel they have a loving relationship.”

In response to some who complained about difficulties reaching agreements with the West Contra Costa school district, Mirabella suggested the county could see whether it could provide an avenue for appeals regarding disagreements.

“I let them know that this is a learning experience,” she said. “It’s very sad, but we can do it better next time.”

Camp — who took over as treasurer for the school in February and was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting — told me Thursday that she filed a police report in April regarding discrepancies in the financial reports that could indicate some money was missing. Richmond Police Lt. Bisa French said police were investigating, but no arrests have been made.

Here is a link to a downloadable version of the County’s staff report:

Video clips from the meeting are at and

What alternatives do you think parents should explore?

Posted on Friday, August 17th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County Board of Education, Education, Richmond, West Contra Costa school district | 3 Comments »

Contra Costa County Board of Education appoints CVCHS governing board representative

At its April 18 meeting, the Contra Costa County Board of Education voted 4-1 to appoint former Pittsburg trustee and retired educator Joseph Arenivar as their representative on the Clayton Valley Charter High School governing board. There were no other candidates.

Here is a description of the board’s discussion from the minutes:

“The Board interviewed Joseph Arenivar, a candidate who applied to serve as the Board’s representative to the Clayton Valley Charter High School (CVCHS) governing Board.

After interviewing and rating the candidate, the Board voted by the following roll call vote to appoint Mr. Arenivar to serve on the CVCHS governing Board: Mirabella, nay; Elster, aye; Gomes, aye; Asadoorian, aye; and Ruehlig, aye (M/S: Asadoorian/Gomes).

Mrs. Sakata then distributed a portion of the CVCHS petition that addresses the role of the Board’s representative to its governing board. Mr. Asadoorian asked where there was language thatCounty Board of Education addressed the description of the position to which the County Board has appointed Mr. Arenivar, and Mrs. Sakata pointed out the pertinent language. Mr. Asadoorian asked who would contact CVCHS to inform it of the Board’s decision with regard to appointing its representative to the CVCHS governing board, and Mrs. Sakata stated that she would do so tomorrow (April 19). Mrs. Mirabella expressed concern that the petition language speaks to Mr. Arenivar’s role in reporting to CCCOE staff rather than to the County Board, since she would like to be apprised of what is going on with regard to the charter schools approved by the Board. She stated her preference for having Mr. Arenivar make a report to the Board at least once a year and that staff should share any reports that Mr. Arenivar provides to them. Mrs. Sakata directed Mrs. Mirabella’s attention to the CVCHS petition and how there is no provision as to how the County Board’s representative is to report to the CCCOE; however, she noted that Mr. Arenivar could be invited to report out at a meeting of the County Board.

Mrs. Mirabella asked if reporting requirements and expectations of the Board could be included in the wording of the Board Policy on charter schools that the Board would be discussing later in the evening, and Mrs. Sakata pointed out that the Board has never had a reporting procedure with regard to its representatives to charter school boards. Mrs. Mirabella agreed that it is a gray area but that the Board has invited the executive director of Making Waves Academy to make annual reports to the Board. Mrs. Sakata agreed that, similarly, CVCHS representatives could be invited annually to make a presentation to the Board.

Mrs. Mirabella expressed concern that the Board has received no updates on the Flex Academy Charter School that it approved more than a year ago, and Mrs. Sakata stated that staff could include such updates in their staff reports and, additionally, the Board could also request presentations from charter schools; and she pointed out that this would be a consistent way to
address reporting requirements and that this is historically how updates have been handled in the past.

Mrs. Elster asked if a CCCOE Cabinet member currently serves as a liaison to the CVCHS, and Dr. Comfort responded that, depending on the specific topic or issue, the Cabinet member with the particular expertise would become involved. She clarified further that usually Dr. Jane Shamieh from Business Services works with the CVCHS and that she or a member of her staff handles the curriculum/educational issues.”

The board also received a copy of a letter sent to Trustee Pamela Mirabella by Walnut Creek resident Annie George, who expressed concerns about the financial impact CVCHS will have on the rest of the district and the makeup of the governing board. In addition, she supported the idea of pulling Walnut Creek schools out of MDUSD and redrawing boundaries for Ygnacio Valley Elementary, Oak Grove Middle School and Ygnacio Valley HS.

Do you support the board’s decision to appoint Arenivar as its CVCHS governing board rep?

Posted on Monday, April 30th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County Board of Education, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 16 Comments »

Eighth Annual Young Children’s Issues Forum is Saturday

Parents and other interested members of the community are invited to the free Eighth Annual Young Children’s Issues Forum on Saturday in Concord.

Here’s more information from a news release:

“The public is invited to The Eighth Annual Young Children’s Issues Forum, to be held on Saturday, March 24, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon., at the Willow Pass Community Center, 2748 East Olivera Rd., Concord. This free annual community is event sponsored and organized by the Local Planning Council for Child Care and Development (LPC), and is coordinated by the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE).

The purpose of the program is to provide a forum for discussion among legislators, local officials, and the community regarding current children’s issues. This year’s event will feature two panel presentations and discussions. Ted Lempert, Executive Director of Children Now will be the guest moderator and will lead discussions of approximately 12 state legislators and local officials who will speak about the current status of young children’s health, education, social and child care services. There will also be time for questions from the audience after each panel. Confirmed presenters include Assembly Members Joan Buchanan, Nancy Skinner and Susan Bonilla; Senators Mark DeSaulnier and Loni Hancock; and County Supervisors Karen Mitchoff and Federal Glover.

Historically, the majority of the event attendees are early childhood educators, preschool teachers, program administrators, community college faculty, and representatives from community agencies. Resources, services, and other information related to child care and education, a benefit to parents, will be available at the event. The LPC hopes to encourage and foster parent participation, as well as participation of all early care and education professionals in the county, including private and state-funded child development centers and family care providers.

For more information about the annual Young Children’s Issues Forum, please contact the Contra Costa Local Planning Council for Child Care and Development Coordinator Ruth Fernández at (925) 942-3413. This is a free event, but attendance registration is required. Please visit the LPC website to register and for more details:”

What young children’s issues do you think should be discussed?

Posted on Thursday, March 22nd, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County, Contra Costa County Board of Education, Education | No Comments »

MDUSD trustees differ on approach to county charter vote

The Contra Costa County Office of Education staff is recommending that its Board of Education approve the Clayton Valley High charter tomorrow.

But Mt. Diablo district board president Sherry Whitmarsh and Trustee Gary Eberhart — who both voted to deny the charter in November — are taking different approaches to the county vote.

Whitmarsh said she plans to oppose the charter, while Eberhart said he’s willing to concede that the county board will likely approve it.

“I am going to speak against the staff recommendation,” Whitmarsh told me.

She said there are three points she wants to make: (1) regarding the financial viability of the charter, (2) special education, and (3) the Mt. Diablo school district’s potential loss of funding.

“Even though this year the governor has not done the trigger cuts as bad as we thought they would be, next year it could be up to $350 per student,” she said.

In addition, she said the legislative analyst said today that the governor may have overstated the amount of income that could be raised through taxes, which could impact next year’s budget.

Secondly, Whitmarsh said she would like the charter to take responsibility for all special education students in the school’s attendance area, to reduce the district’s costs.

Third, Whitmarsh said the charter could cost the district more than $3 million.

“So 6 percent (of students) will be getting the money versus 94 percent (that wouldn’t),” she said.

Eberhart, on the other hand, said he does not plan to speak against the charter.

“I would be shocked it the county board didn’t approve the recommendation of staff,” he said. “I just think that they probably rely on their staff to provide them the information necessary and their staff has come to the conclusion that — based on some financial forecasts and the like — that they feel the charter should be granted. I just don’t know on what basis someone on the board would stand up and say their staff didn’t do the analysis correctly.”

Instead of fighting the charter, Eberhart said he wants to help the students affected.

“The time for me to talk about whether or not the charter should be approved or denied is kind of passed,” he said. “It’s time to talk now about how students are going to be supported.”

Do you think the county board will approve the charter?

FEB. 1 UPDATE: Here is a link to the minutes of the meeting, in which the county board unanimously approved the CVHS charter petition with conditions:

Posted on Tuesday, January 10th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County Board of Education, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 260 Comments »