Category Archives: contra Costa Times

9/14/16 CVCHS Governing Board Meeting Narrative

Clayton Valley Charter High School
September 14, 2016
Governing Board Meeting Narrative

The CVCHS board meeting started shortly after 6:00pm. The audience appeared to be made up of 150+ unhappy students, teachers, parents, and community members. There also appeared to be several happy Executive Director Linzey supporters in the front row. The meeting began with Chairperson Ted Meriam giving the audience instructions on proper behavior at a board meeting. He then called on members of the audience who had filled out a speaking card to come up and speak for their exact allotted speaking time of either 2 or 3 minutes. There were over a dozen speakers with all but one expressing their concerns about the executive director, the school board, the flight of teachers and staff, and the unexplained budget.

While memorializing the teachers that had touched their lives so profoundly, teachers who had each in turn fled the charter, the emotionally charged students begged the board members to listen to them. It appeared as though the entire leadership class of the school was in attendance. One after another they went to the speaking podium and poured out their feelings of frustration at the disappearance of their teachers, their counselors, and the staff that supported and mentored them. Some of those students were not only saddened by loss, but were also angry that nothing was being done to stop the landslide of disappearing staff. Another teacher had resigned that week, following dozens before her. Each student was loudly cheered by the audience for their heartfelt speeches, and as the room became more on edge, one very brave student stood up and with an air of confidence and resolve called on the board to wake up and solve the problem. Over and over again she pointed out that the problems at the school lead back to the executive director. She then looked at Executive Director Dave Linzey and asked him to resign. Of course the room erupted in cheers. The audience was with her.

One notable speaker pointed out the strange shifting of money in the budget from last year and the 11 million dollar surplus that could be used for students, but it appeared that it was being stockpiled for some unknown future use. Another speaker also pointed to the lack of detail in the budget and stated that she has tried numerous times to request explanations from the administration. This person is a respected, hard working elected board member of the Athletic Booster Board and was recently asked to resign by the athletic director, noting her unwelcome inquiries and negative comments about the administration. He told her if she didn’t resign the athletic booster club would be effectively shut down and kept from operating on campus.

After the students finished their impassioned speeches, but before any agenda “business” began, the executive director showed how much he cared by condescendingly giving the students “permission” to leave the meeting to go do their homework. The students looked around incredulously and stayed in their seats.

The board chair then gave a lengthy speech about how the Board has no say in, and cannot address personnel issues. He left out, however, the fact the Board does in fact have one personnel responsibility—to oversee, hire, and fire the Executive Director.

The board continued and as usual there were no comments about anything, no questions to the executive director, no promise to look into the issues, no questioning of the budget that no one in the room appeared to have a copy of. The board gave the appearance of puppets on a string bobbing their heads yes to everything the executive director proposed. There was no discussion of any item and no board business conducted at any time. A seemingly endless list of new hires was announced, some very obviously causing a controversy afterwards. Not one of the new staff, not even the new administrators were at the meeting to be introduced. Mr. Linzey stated that he would be visiting the leadership class the next day. The meeting was adjourned by 7:30pm.

Many people milled around talking after the meeting was over. A board member came down and chastised the students for their behavior. Another staff member from the school did the same. The parents also seemed incredulous that not even a single word was uttered by board members that gave them any indication that they recognized the problem and they would look into it. Parents wondered what they could do next. What can they do? This is a charter run by one person with no apparent oversight by anyone. One group already tried and where are they now? Retaliation is an often repeated word. Speaking up can have life time consequences. Good luck to the amazing students who spoke at the meeting and to all the students and parents who came to support them. Hopefully they will find the answer.

 

Lavish Spending by CVCHS Administration

Due to complications with ticket prices last year as well as the rising cost of venues in San Francisco, the CV senior class is much lower in funds than previous senior classes have been, and are asking for GoFundMe donations for their Senior Ball. All the while, CV administrators are dining out on nearly $100 per person dinners (see attached $488 receipt for five people).

Why are taxpayer funds being diverted from the students to fund expensive meals for administrators?  Could these funds be better spent on IPads, Textbooks or student field trip transportation?

http://www.contracostatimes.com/politics-government/ci_22017896/san-jose-supervisor-george-shirakawa-racks-up-lavish

http://www.kctv5.com/story/26072404/kcps-superintendent-defends-lavish-high-end-dining

The lesson from a California’s charter school: Strict transparency needed

http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_29009787/thomas-peele-watchdog-column-lesson-from-californias-charter

By Thomas Peele, tpeele@bayareanewsgroup.com © Copyright 2015, Bay Area News Group

In 2011, Lassen County’s district attorney requested a still-unanswered opinion by the state attorney general on whether California’s Public Records, Brown and Fair Political Practices acts apply to public charter schools.

It came after former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation requiring charter schools to comply with those laws in 2010. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown, who’s anti-transparency and pro-charter, killed another attempt.

Assembly member Mike Gipson, D-Los Angeles, has introduced a similar bill. But Brown remains governor.

Charter schools pull students and money from public school districts where these laws apply, spending tens of millions of dollars across California, sometimes with nebulous — or worse — results.

The state Charter School Association urges members to generally comply with the laws, but it’s also lobbied Attorney General Kamala Harris’ staff to opine that they don’t apply. Harris should finally and forcefully reject those arguments. While the opinions are nonbinding, they’re influential and cited often.

My children attended the Urban Montessori Charter School in East Oakland for a year, an Alameda County Board of Education charter. The kids, now schooling elsewhere, weren’t the only ones obtaining an education there. My year as a charter-school parent provided a vivid lesson in why they require sunlight’s constant disinfectant.

Urban struggled with the Brown and Public Records acts; its board’s inability to fully grasp transparent governance was appalling. This became apparent when it fired the head of the school by not renewing her contract.

The meeting agenda where that occurred was barren of facts, listing only a routine job review, not a critical decision on whether to retain her. I asked questions and two days later met with very nervous board members, former Oakland schools official Hae-Sin Thomas and then board co-chair Randy Weiner. They lacked good answers. They also said they knew who the new administrator would be, even though there’d been no meeting about that yet.

“We hope you were impressed with us,” Weiner said oddly as we parted. I wasn’t.

The replacement, David Castillo, had recently resigned from Urban’s board. Like Thomas, he was an active member of the charter-school movement. They considered no one else. His hiring stunk of cronyism.

Then the board tried to approve Castillo’s contract at a special meeting, an action banned under the Brown Act’s post Bell-scandal reforms. I objected; the vote was aborted.

I checked the board’s Statements of Economic Interest. Most absurdly claimed no income or assets. A few Googles and emails later, board co-chairs Weiner and Tony Emerson filed amended forms identifying jobs and holdings.

These forms aren’t hard. Read instructions. Be honest. Err toward disclosure. This doesn’t qualify one for NASA. Failing to do so raises this question: If they can’t get simple disclosure right, what else is amiss? Well …

A board member, Peter Laub, was vice president of a firm, Ed Tech, that provides financial services to charter schools, Urban included. The conflict of interest was obvious, festering for two years. Laub resigned his seat; the company remained.

The board took macro views of shaky finances. It didn’t vote on bills. Members didn’t know employee salaries, or where money went on a daily basis. Bills and credit card receipts showed fat balances, accruing interest and sometimes late charges.

I’ve spent what seems like a lifetime sifting through government financial records. I’ve never quite seen a mess like Urban’s. Fraternities with unlimited credit would keep better records.

Castillo spent generously on meals. Text messages he and Thomas exchanged didn’t focus as much on education as on paying for booze at a staff party. Thomas rejected using school money for alcohol. Urban barely paid bills, and parents bought basic supplies. Yet its chief argued for party cash. (Full disclosure, I still owe Urban a small amount of money for after-school care.)

But it was my kids’ school. I volunteered for a transparency committee. It accomplished little. In July, I found that the board held a special meeting at 7:30 a.m. at Thomas’ home to renew Castillo’s contract. I forced a public revote. Given the board’s try at the same shady move just months earlier, members clearly cared not to change. I resigned.

Urban released documents under the Public Records Act showing its faults. Texts. Emails. Bills. Receipts. But Harris’ opinion writers would be foolish to think disclosure’s the charter-school norm, and this issue has landed on the dimwit side of Brown’s brain.

The last thing Harris should do is enable public funds to pour into ratholes without accountability.

Thomas Peele is an investigative reporter for this newspaper and teaches classes on public records at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him atTwitter.com/Thomas_peele.

District Attorney’s Office finds insufficient evidence to warrant prosecution but will respond if CCCBOE discovers evidence of criminal wrongdoing

By Theresa Harrington tharrington@bayareanewsgroup.com

http://www.contracostatimes.com/concord/ci_27867528/clayton-valley-charter-high-district-attorneys-office-finds

CONCORD — In response to numerous complaints about the operation of Clayton Valley Charter High, the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office has found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

In an April 3 letter to three people who submitted complaints, Senior Deputy District Attorney Steven Moawad said he found “insufficient evidence … to warrant criminal prosecution or additional investigation.” Complaints included alleged Brown Act open meeting law violations, fiscal mismanagement, favoritism and nepotism, failure to follow policies and bylaws, failure to unite stakeholders and meet student performance standards, mishandling of sexual harassment allegations and other concerns, Moawad said.

However, Moawad noted that the Contra Costa County Office of Education, which does have jurisdiction over the school’s charter authorization, is conducting a separate investigation and that his office would respond if that agency discovers any evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The County Office could also revoke the school’s charter if it finds wrongdoing, he noted.

Terry Koehne, spokesman for the County Office of Education, said Tuesday that the law firm DWK has invoiced $17,547 for investigative work performed at $255 an hour by two attorneys from Jan. 26 through Feb. 25. He said the investigation is ongoing.

“We’re still in the thick of it,” Koehne said. “The paperwork is voluminous, so there really is no timetable. They’re going through all of the complaints and allegations and are handling all of the records requests.”

Clayton Valley Executive Director Dave Linzey and Ted Meriam, chairman of the board of directors, said in a news release that a small group of individuals had been raising complaints for more than a year.

“It’s time to stop the political attacks and social smear campaigns,” Meriam said. “Together, we must use our positive energies to continue our school’s great achievements and move forward.” But that may be easier said than done. Besides the ongoing the County Office of Education investigation, the school is also dealing with the resignation last week of community-at-large member Jim Killoran, the establishment of a crowdsource site to “save” the school through legal actions, an unfair labor practices complaint filed by an employee whose hours were reduced, and the loss of several staff members who have resigned over the past few months.

“There’s so many things that just come one after the other,” said Pat Middendorf, one of the complainants, who was terminated from her administrative position at the school. “There are many teachers who have resigned since January.”

Jennifer Ferrari, a secretary who resigned in February and is now working in the Mt. Diablo school district, said she left in large part due to the stressful work environment at the school. If things don’t improve, she predicted that many more staff members will leave at the end of the school year.

Meriam said he was surprised by Killoran’s resignation, noting that Killoran had a philosophical disagreement with employees being board members. Currently, two teachers are on the governing board and often have to recuse themselves due to real or perceived conflicts of interest, Meriam said.

“I’m always aware the charter was founded with the idea that stakeholders would have a voice,” he said. “I think we need to honor that, but I think we perhaps need to do that better than we’re doing now.”

MORE INFORMATION To see the letter from the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office to Clayton Valley Charter High, as well as community-at-large board member Jim Killoran’s letter of resignation, visit www.contracostatimes.com/education.

A “Save CVCHS Legal Fund” crowdfunding website is at www.crowdrise.com/savecvchslegaldefensefund