Friday, August 20, 2010

MDUSD News Update

Two communications today (in addition to the voice message) from Superintendent Lawrence. This one, I've uploaded HERE is the longest message I think I've ever seen from MDUSD yet.

The highlighted passage on the snippet says "To that point we will utilize this data as part of the process for developing district-wide goals and objectives." Perhaps this is district speak for their version of a "strategic plan?"

It starts with a welcome back message, then goes on to cover the following:

  1. Star Scores
  2. School Closure Advisory Committee - info also online here.
  3. Board Highlights
  4. District Goals (!)
  5. Performance Targets
  6. Strategies to meet Educational Performance Targets
  7. Communications Plan and Community Relations
  8. Personnel Services
  9. Fiscal Services
  10. Facilities
Phew! A lot of information in this mailing tonight. Check it out.. and then come back to discuss.


  1. Tell us Steve,when did the teachers have input into these goals ? They are not district wide -- they are Supt dictator driven, down from the top. This is a far cry from a Strategic Plan where all stakeholders have input. Just another MDUSD smoke and mirrors. When are you going to learn that voters are smarter than this ?
    Doctor J

  2. It's clear to everyone on here that Dr. J is nothing more than a disgruntled employee or the spouse of one. No one puts any stock in the venom that you spew.

    I was not happy with the lack of communication from the district. I'm not sure what changed, but I appreciate it. Points still need to be argued, but the superintendent is putting a "draft" plan out there and he is inviting input as the plan moves from draft to final. Anyone that wants to provide feedback can, unless of course they are hiding behind a fake name.

    Thanks to the district. I appreciate the clear change of direction, and thanks to MDUSD parents for keeping us informed.

  3. Dr. J

    You seem to have a lot to say. But because of the way you choose to deliver your message, it is easy for many of us to only hear the accusatory and angry tone and to not understand the message.

    Do you want to influence change and do you want to influence leadership at MDUSD? Call or meet with any of the Trustees or Steve Lawrence. Come to the meeting with concrete positive, but do-able and affordable ideas on how to make things better. Come with accurate information that has been thought through (some of your assumptions & assertions don't hold up as well as they could if there was more info to support).

    I am a little disappointed that with all the passion you have that it is not focused more towards a problem solving path and collaborating with the Trustees or school community leaders.

  4. JennyM, I am sorry you didn't read my posts recently about the Strategic Plan. I would suggest you go back and read about them, and especially the plan and MDUSDvoice has a nice link to a strategic plan in NC. But Lawrence's "top down" goals that he wants all district administrators to "buy into" and then each site to "buy into" are polar opposites of a Strategic Plan.
    ALL STAKEHOLDERS are involved in development of a Strategic Plan
    Doctor J

  5. Wow, the Chico lawyers charge over $1000 per trip to drive from Chico to Concord. Local lawfirms do not. One law firm says they don't charge travel from their out of town office. Why didn't the legal services go out to competitive bid to save money ? And to avoid the appearance of repayment for campiagn contributions. Lawrenece's figures did not include the costs of the two lawyers hired for the district -- typical hide the ball.
    Were these contracts approved last year ?
    Doctor J

  6. Dr. J

    I actually have read your recent posts about Seattles's strategic plan. And I have gone to the website links and read some of Seattle's plan. But whether or not MDUSD adopts a plan similar to Seattle's was not the point of my post.

    The point of my post was that I was hoping that you would consider a more thoughtful approach to getting your message across.

    Your response to me, in fact, is an example of how people can be turned off by your style of communication (maybe you are not meaning to be accusatory, but it sometimes comes off that way) and sometimes you assume facts that are not true - which does not help add to your credibility.

    It's hard for me to understand how you can make a statement as if it were true ("I am sorry you didn't read my posts") without knowing the details (the fact is that I actually have ready your posts). If you are communicating with others in the same way, it will be hard to get your message heard, and it will be harder for others to want to collaborate with you, no matter how good your ideas for change are.

    You seem to have so much passion and have a lot you want to say. It is hard to understand why you choose to direct your passion to grumbling on a blog instead of taking substantive action - such calling & meeting & collaborating with leaders in the school community.

  7. JennyM thank you for your thoughts and observations. It is interesting that while you point out that I did jump to a conclusion about you not reading the Seattle plan, likewise you also jumped to the conclusion that I don't "calling & meeting & collaborating with leaders in the school community". I do. However, on this blog and CCT I am able to communciate my true feelings without fear of retribution. Its about TRUTH. Its about kids succeeding. I have read Lawrence's "memo" several times now. I have yet to see a "vision".
    Doctor J

  8. Very well said Jenny. Dr. J only seems to want things his way. Clearly yes he is an angry district employee who probably needs to work elsewhere-maybe Seattle??? The amount of time he spends on blogs and mostly his negative attitude towards every move the district makes has got to be effecting the quality of his work. It's really quite a shame he is unable to work with the trustees and superintendent.

  9. People may not like Dr. J due to his or her anonymity but .... I will go out on a limb and say.... the things he /she says are not off the mark. I think those who attack Dr Jj are the same who protect the board at any costs....

    I say bravo Dr. J.

    I do thank Gary Eberhart as I feel certain he has a lot to do with the changes we are seeing.

    Jenny, who cares if the doc stays anon, what the doc is saying is true. This is a draft developed by the Sup and possibly his 'team' not the stakeholders. Teachers weren't asked to contribute, neither were parents- how about community? Nope. He created the draft that he wants others to augment instead of coming together and creating a plan together and collabratively working together.

    Sure it is a start. But what I see , as usual, is the district being reactionary instead of visionary. If it were not for this blog and others and I think especially this blog, would the board members have been pressured to put pressure on the Sup? No they would not! I know that as a fact. I know the board and they thought the sup was doing a fine job and even sherry said here we need to give him more time, he's doing the best he can... Blah.

  10. Annon 12:39
    Lawrence did NOT invite parents or the community to have any INPUT into development of the district goals -- Lawrence is only inviting parents/community involvment into the "future evaluation" of whether the Supt's "top down" goals are being met. Lawrence will have HIS goals to the Board in a month. If he really wanted a "Stretegic Plan" as has been pointed out by Board members on this blog and others, including Linda, such a Strategic Plan takes months and properly noticed "Community Workshops" so there can be interaction with ALL stakeholders in open public forums.
    Doctor J

  11. Dr. J

    I was under the impression that you did not want to call Trustees or post under your real name or post on Gary/Paul's blog (you've mentioned that on several posts in the pasts) so I did incorrectly assume that you had not met, discussed and collaborated with school community leaders. So thank you for pointing out that I made an incorrect assumption myself (mea culpa) and thank you for clarifying that you are already active in helping the district.

    If/since you are already collaborating effectively with the school community leadership, good for you. It just seems from reading your posts that you appear to be frustrated and that are not able to influence change so I wanted to share some observations on how to get your message heard.

    Again, I apologize if I misunderstood that you were not already effectively working with leadership.

  12. Jenny, between you and me , I'm starting to think Dr J is a board member.

  13. Lawrence puts 'lipstick' on the STAR test results saying "strong improvement" and "solid scores". Theresa's stellar analysis would say otherwise -- yes, I previously acknowledged a few bright spots. I don't understand why MDUSDparents did not link her article to this blog -- it really speaks to what is happening in MDUSD. When MDUSD has 6 of the 18 schools in all of Alameda and Contra Costa counties [yes, all of the districts and we have 1/3]as the "persistently underachieving schools" with a real danger of another 4 or 5 being added to the list this year, its going to take more than "top down" goals to solve those issues. Another issue will be whether MDUSD will become a "Program Improvement" district ? I think we are on the cusp of falling into that distinction and then will be under a whole host of state and federal requirements. Personally I think we might barely escape this year again, but perhaps that is why the Supt has suddenly begun the push for his "goals" anticipating the negativity of both more "persistently underachieving schools" and being on the verge of being named a "Program Improvement" district. How would that look for incumbents running for school board in the next two elections ? But I am more worried about the kids.
    Doctor J

  14. Can you tell us how much the Seattle plan cost to implement Dr. J. and where would we get the money to make a plan like that, if you say that is the plan we should be making?

  15. JennyM, using your phrase, "collaborating with leaders in the school community". I hesitate to be more specific only to protect my true identity. Already, at least three of the Board members are asking people, "Who do you think Doctor J is ?" The Supt has used explitives about Doctor J. People on this blog are making wild accuasations about who I am and I have been called names, even by Board members. Even Theresa Harrington of the CC Times asked Jeff Adams if he was Doctor J. How many Cosmos do I have to drink to prove that I am not Jeff Adams ?
    Doctor J

  16. I have a suggestion for Doctor J and others. Email all the current Board Members asking they not approve this "draft" until all stakeholders have a say. Also, if you have suggestions, put them in writing and submit to the Superintendent and all our BOE members.

    This is a good start for the MDUSD and so is the communication. Parents, anyone can attend the PAC meetings, they are on the first Wed. of each month at 7 PM in the Dent Center Board Room. I bet this draft will be there for your review, suggestions and comments.

  17. Anon 10:04
    Thinking, disucssing, having community meetings, and developing a Strategic Plan really cost very little compared to the results. Linda on MDUSDvoice blog discusses an "entry plan" put into place by the NC Superintendent when he came on board, how quickly he implemented the strategic planning process, the way the SP is incorporated into the budget presentation each year, and how he communicates and inspires.
    I think the fair question would be -- how did NC and Seattle fund the development of their plans. We do have some major corporations within our District and area. I am sure they all have Strategic Plans. Once you have your Strategic Plan all decisions, including budget, are guided by the SP.
    Doctor J
    Doctor J

  18. Doctor J,

    You are forgetting something important. This board and the superintendent run the district like their own little banana republic. Having an open strategic plan development program would take away the board's dictorial power.

    You won't see an open strategic planning process trust me. If anything they may try to humor everyone by having an "input" meeting, but much like the one hosted by Strange for the budget they will just shoot down everyone's ideas as "that idea is impossible".

    MDUSD same as always, nothing to see here.

  19. Anon 10:45 am
    You are right the Board has to give up dictatorial power over the development of the Strategic Plan, although they retain the approval of the SP, and should be inolved shoulder to shoulder in its development. The beauty of the collaborative process in forming a Strategic Plan is the initial formation by ALL stakeholders of the vision, which necessarily includes the Board. These publically noticed workshops are unlike Board meetings where there is no 'give and take'.
    What the Board is really missing here, is that the collaborative process is really unifying of all stakeholders, and ultimately that would be very positive for Board members and re-election. Some of them seem destined to cut off their noses to spite their face. More importantly, can you imagine the synergy of ALL stakeholders actually working together for a common VISION ?
    Doctor J

  20. Anon 10:04
    You asked a great question about where do we get the money for a strategic plan. Four immediate sources I see: 1. Reduce the Supt base salary to Dick Nicholl's prior salary of $209,000 but offer a bonus of $50,000 for each year that MDUSD doesn't have a "persistently underachieving school" plus an additional $25,000 bonus for each year that no schools are listed as "Program Improvement". 2. Revoke the Gang of Five raises. 3. Eliminate health benefits for Board members. 4. Not pay travel time for outside lawyers to travel to Contra Costa county. I think that would save about $125,000 to 150,000 per year. The Board could give us more exact numbers based on current budget and last year's actuals.
    Doctor J

  21. Did you see that there are Legal Services contracts for approval on Tuesday's board agenda?

    Attached are contracts for legal services to be provided by Matt Juhl-Darlington & Associates, Law Offices of Peter H. Bonis, Crosby & Rowell LLP, Attorneys at Law, Edrington Schirmer & Murphy LLP, Attorneys at Law, Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost LLP, and Haight, Brown & Bonesteel, LLP. Each of the aforementioned firms has served the District with distinction at an extremely competitive billable hourly rate. In recognition of their highly competent service, the billable hourly rate is being maintained or lowered at $185-$240 per hour, which remains significantly below billable hourly rates in the Bay Area legal community.

    Funding: General Fund.

    Fiscal Impact: The contracts are not to exceed the total legal services budget of $865,960.00.

  22. And that Pete Pedersen is staying on following retirement for another 65k related to Measure C?

  23. Anon 1:12
    The Chico lawyer, Juhl-Darlington gets paid driving from Chico to Concord over $1000 at his hourly rate per trip plus mileage. Some deal, eh ? Last year the district exceeded its budget in outside legal. : Theresa reported on 8/5/10 that: "The board also approved a contract with Juhl-Darlington on Aug. 11, 2009, along with contracts for Ruiz & Sperow LLP, the Law Offices of Peter Bonis, Crosby & Rowell LLP and Edrington Schirmer & Murphy (the latter two also contributed to the Measure C campaign, as noted above).
    The total amount of the contracts, which were for general legal services from July 1, 2009 – June 30, 2010, was not to exceed. $865,960. The board approved increasing the billable rate from $175 to $185 per hour (Item 9.7 on agenda)"
    Theresa reported on 8/11/10 that : "In response to another Public Records Act request, I have learned that Juhl-Darlington’s firm was paid $405,458 in the 2009-10 fiscal year. However, the firm hasn’t been paid anything yet in relation to the bond contract.
    The district’s total legal services costs in 2009-10 were $915,556.42.
    Edrington, Schirmer & Murphy was paid $94,335.26.
    Ruiz & Sperow were paid $43,358.51.
    Crosby & Rowell was paid $1,654.80.
    The Law Office of Peter Bonis, which didn’t contribute to the Measure C campaign, was paid $104,034.70." I haven't taken the time to compare last year's contracts with this year's to see if there is any discrepency.
    Doctor J

  24. I completely understand firsthand why Doc J would not want to disclose his/her identity.
    Like Anon 9:30 I agree that Doc J has valid questions. As a community we should appreciate that line of questioning. Our public officials should expect to answer questions about how decisions are made, why contracts are let, how money is spent, what the future plans are for the district and what is the vision. We should hold them accountable for implementing a strategic plan (especially since it was part of their election platform). We should hold them accountable for transparency and communication. We should hold them accountable for the actions/in-actions of the Superintendent. That is their job.

    Instead they are angry when this happens. Yes the job is not easy but they volunteered and as voters we entrusted them to provide this service. How is the community's questioning/oversight of the board any different than the boards questioning/oversight of the former Superintendent?

    Those who question are being prudent. Instead of attacking Doc J ask yourself if it is okay to have more schools than Oakland Unified listed as chronically under-performing when Oakland Unified is twice the size. Ask yourself if it is okay for any organization with a $250,000,000 +/- budget to operate without a strategic plan. Ask yourself if paying an attorney to drive from Chico makes sense. Then ask your board to explain. Maybe they have a good answer, maybe they don't. But the questions are fair.

  25. I have no problem with the idea of not reinventing the wheel when it comes to strategic planning but others have used that as part of the excuse not to proceed.

    I think it goes without saying that we can't just take another district's plan and adopt it or modify it to ours - we need to develop our strategic plan on the basis of our community. Paul Strange August 13, 2010

    I guess it was okay to modify a different district's Goals and Objectives.

    Maybe now we could use another district's strategic plan as an outline for MDUSD to start the planning process.

  26. I do not understand a lot of this, but why is MDUSD paying for lawyers when we have two well compensated attorneys on staff?

  27. Anon 3:53
    You caught Lawrence red-handed. Nice catch. And I love the quote from Paul Strange from a week ago. What will Paul say now ? If there was any doubt that these goals are top down Lawrence dictator goals, it has now just evaporated.
    Lawrence, maybe he could get away with it in West Sacramento, but in the East Bay ? Please.
    Doctor J

  28. Anon 4:05
    Juhl-Darlington’s firm was paid $405,458 in the 2009-10 fiscal year. How much of that was driving back and forth to Chico ?

  29. I would like to see the proof Dr. J, that the district is paying attorneys to drive from Chico.

  30. Anon 6:34
    The proof is in Greg Rolen's letters supporting each application. He lists which firms don't charge for travel time. The Juhl firm letter does not say that there is no travel time to the bay area from Chico. In a $408,000 bill there has to be substantial travel time. The Board has access to the specific invoices and can provide the exact detail.
    Doctor J

  31. Lawrence's Goals/Objectives did not result in success.
    So what about his academic success as a Supt impressed the Board ?
    Doctor J

  32. Long-time Board WatcherAugust 23, 2010 at 12:42 PM

    Comment 1: Goals and objectives

    For all the talk about the need for a strategic plan, the district and schools have had quite detailed plans and goals for many years. The state requires each school to have a "Single Plan for Student Achievement" (produced by staff and parents working together) and the district to have a comprehensive one that supports the site plans. All include measurable goals and are updated annually. All go to the Board for review and approval.

    Are the goals and objectives listed in the MDUSD News Update any different that what already exist in these plans? Is the district leadership now saying that the school and district Single Plans for Student Achievement are, in fact, the strategic plan that was promised in the 2008 Board election campaign?

    When staff presented the Single Plans to the Board for approval in 2008 as detailed, strategic goals and objectives, Paul Strange disagreed. He praised staff's efforts, but noted that the Board had not been involved in them and that the Board needed to draft its own strategic plan for the district.

    So, what has Dr. Lawrence detailed in the Update: a new Board-driven strategic plan or the newest update to the existing Single Plans? Those plans are and have been, for the most part, effective working site- and district-specific strategies and goals for student achievement. If the Board leadership is now saying they comprise district's strategic plan, it is further evidence that the focus on "the need for a strategic plan" during the 2008 Board campaign was actually nothing more than a political strategy to win an election.

  33. Long-time Board WatcherAugust 23, 2010 at 1:28 PM

    Comment 2: Legal fees

    In the update Dr. Lawrence says, "Over the past several years, we have reduced our general fund legal fees from $1.5 million to $760,000."

    1. Are any legal fees paid out of categorical (non general fund) accounts?

    2. Does the $760,000 total include the salaries for the General Counsel and Assistant G.C. and their operational expenses?

    3. If the total expense is $760,000, why does the August 24 Board agenda item say, "The contracts are not to exceed the total legal services budget of $865,960."?

    The August 24 Board agenda item also states that "the billable hourly rate is being maintained or lowered at $185-$240 per hour . . ." In late 2008 or early 2009 the Board adopted a set of Legal Standards that the General Counsel had drafted. Those standards set $175.00 as the maximum hourly rate a contracted law firm could charge for services to the district. The Board subsequently increased the maximum hourly rate to $185.00 last August. Has it increased that rate again?

    Of note, in 2009 the Board awarded two legal services contracts, each not to exceed $200,000 a year in 2009-10, one to Matt Juhl-Darlington's firm and the other to Ruiz & Sperow. Theresa Harrington reports that public records show Juhl-Darlington earning $405,458 and Ruiz & Sperow, $43,358 this past school year. Did the Board know that one law firm was receiving nearly half a million dollars a year from the district? And, I assume, will earn even more when its services as bond counsel begin.

    Finally, good for the district for reducing legal services fees. Has it also reduced the amount of money paid out for legal settlements? Is it winning those cases that do end up in court?

    When student programs and services are being slashed and/or left to parents and fundraising efforts to survive, the district community needs assurance that the Board is closely monitoring legal expenses as both Paul and Gary promised it would.

  34. Hey did anyone see that Gary and Paul are trying to subtly scare people into not posting information about them by bringing up an article about blogs being sued for defamation.

    I say Gary and Paul can suck it. I bet Greg Rolen was behind it.

    You won't take my first admendment rights away you pompous a'holes.

  35. 9:56pm Did you even read the article?

    I did, and nowhere does it say that you can't exercise your 1st amendment rights. It just says that you can't make false statements against people anonymously.

    You can post your opinion, such as someone is a jerk, but you can't say that person is stealing money from their employer and hide behind anonymity.

    So, speak your mind, but don't slander people and think you are going to get away with it. Blogs are not responsible for what you post, but they could be required to provide a poster's ip address.

    Instead of criticizing Paul and Gary, you should be thanking them for giving people a heads up.

    If you are honest and respectful, you can get your point across without slandering someone, and if you do and hide behind an anon address, it's possible you could be called into account for it.

    See, no loss of 1st amendment rights. Just an advance of civility.

  36. Anon 10:26,

    You know as well as I do that they are trying to stifle people from asking the "difficult" questions they don't want to answer.

    Give me a break with "they are trying to do a public service" crap.

  37. Who said they were trying to do a public service? I just said that it's good information to know.

    I don't know what they are trying to stifle, because I am not persuaded by the likes of them or you.

    If you have something to say and it's true, you can say it. You just have to be prepared to back it up.

    Why would you be afraid of asking difficult questions? Are they of the "When did you beat your wife and for how long?" variety or are they "Can you tell us why this money was spent on this?"

    Maybe you are one of those people who throw things up anonymously and are now afraid to have to answer for it.

    The essence of the article (again, did you even read it?) was that you bear responsibility to not post statements anonymously that defame someone and be able to get away with it.

    Paul and Gary are just people. They are parents, have jobs and have stepped up to be on the board--a job I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.

    They are not dictators, and can do nothing to stop you from posting whatever you want. However, if you post something that is not true, it is certainly in their rights to call you on it, and now you know that the courts can make a blog turn over your information.

    Grow up for Pete's sake!

  38. Could this lack of communication snafu have been avoided ?

  39. Breaking news:

    Lets see if I have this straight. Gary Eberhart never completed the "Masters in Governance" program from California School Board Association in 15 years on the Board according to Board President Paul Strange, even though Dick Allen and Linda Mayo have. Then suddenly he takes this construction management course on solar -- Board members don't manage construction projects. And he violates Board policy in getting reimbursement ? Isn't that the same thing Eberhart complained about former Supt. McHenry and the Grand Jury investigated ? Then he gets a job with a construction company that does School District construction and he becomes the VP of Solar. Did I miss something ?Another espisode of "As the World Turns" in MDUSD. I am sincerely happy though for Gary and his family that he did get a job in this tough economy.
    Doctor J

  40. Doctor J, this is all getting really old, don't you think?

    This is a witch hunt. Maybe Doctor J is Matt Krupnick?

  41. Doctor J,

    Krupnick has proven that he is out to get the district. The article is completely baseless. Krupnick is on a campaign against the district and thinks he can be cute about the facts. I intend to talk to this "expert" as her position is also baseless.

    This course was purely for benefit of the district and both the Superintendent and I approved it.

    The fact that Gary then became interested in solar and saw the benefits, is irrelevant.

    For those of you who actually care, read Gary's post from yesterday on this entire issue.

  42. Doctor J = David Molstad? A blogger on Claycord?