Barnidge: Discontent turns to investigations at Clayton Valley Charter High

http://www.contracostatimes.com/barnidge/ci_27507638/barnidge-discontent-turns-investigations-at-clayton-valley-charter

If you subscribe to the notion that smoke is a telltale sign of fire, things must be getting uncomfortably warm for the leadership at Clayton Valley Charter High School, where cinders are floating in the air.

The Contra Costa District Attorney is investigating the school’s governing body for possible Brown Act violations — secret meetings and backroom deals. The county Office of Education has launched a 13-point investigation spanning governance, personnel, financial and conflict-of-interest issues.

This comes on the heels of an online petition, supported by more than 500 signatures, calling for the removal of Executive Director David Linzey. The only way this looks any worse is if the state attorney general shows up alongside FBI agents.

If third-party scrutiny comes as a mild surprise, the accusations of wrongdoing do not. A group calling itself Stakeholders for Transparency — made up of Clayton Valley teachers, parents and community members — has questioned the school’s leadership, decision-making and direction for nearly a year.

They say Linzey routinely berates and disrespects teachers, which may explain why three of them quit in the middle of this school year. They say he’s played fast and loose with finances, which beg to be reviewed by an independent auditor. They say the school board, led by President Ted Meriam, has been molded to do the executive director’s bidding, any dissidents weeded out. Among those was former administrator Pat Middendorf, who was fired last year.

One especially curious coincidence: At the same time 27 of 40 full-time, permanent teachers signed a vote of no-confidence in the administration, the board awarded Linzey a three-year contract at an annual salary of $204,000. So teachers’ opinions don’t matter?

Through it all, Linzey has defended himself, denying any malfeasance. He and Meriam cite the findings of a third-party investigator exonerating him of all accusations.

To this point, Linzey and the board also have received support from Clayton city leaders. That may be wavering after Monday night’s Council meeting — an informal session with trustees of the Mount Diablo Unified School District — during which Clayton Valley stakeholders vented their displeasure.

One parent said flatly that the charter is “imploding,” explaining that the collaborative effort so reliant on teacher buy-in has been “hijacked” by people in power. Another parent asserted that teachers who initially made the charter effort successful are being forced out for cheaper hires. A mother said that when her son turns high-school age, he will not attend Clayton Valley unless the board and executive director are changed. And a Clayton Valley student, who thanked council members for listening to her worries about teachers fleeing, said, “You guys have shown more compassion in paying attention to me in one night that I’ve seen from the entire Clayton Valley Charter board.”

But the strongest words came from MDUSD board President Cheryl Hansen, after listening quietly to parents’ and students’ concerns.

“This charter is suffering from exactly what Mt. Diablo Unified suffered from several years ago,” she said, “and that was malicious, ineffective, bad, divisive leadership. As a decades-long educator and former high school principal, I am devastated by this. It cannot continue. It’s dysfunctional.”

Though she said she doesn’t necessarily support blowing everything up, Clayton Councilwoman Julie Pierce said of Hansen’s words, “I couldn’t agree with you more. There are big problems.”

The smoke keeps billowing.

By Tom Barnidge Contra Costa Times Columnist

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgoup.com.

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