CONCORD -- A new majority on the Mt. Diablo school board is making its weight felt fast.

At their first meeting earlier this month, newly elected trustees Brian Lawrence and Barbara Oaks joined new Board President Cheryl Hansen in voting 3-2 to deny Superintendent Steven Lawrence the authority to enter into substantial construction contracts before the board met again in January.

Instead, trustees agreed to hold a special meeting Friday so they could review a $17.6 million contract with Taber Construction Inc. and decide whether or not to approve it.

Brian Lawrence said he wasn't comfortable giving the superintendent the authority to approve millions of dollars in contracts without seeing them first.

"I don't want to have to go back and redo those," Lawrence said in a Wednesday phone interview. "I'd rather take the time up front to do it right the first time, going forward."

Trustees Linda Mayo and Lynne Dennler voted against the majority, with Mayo saying the decision would force the district's maintenance and operations department to do a lot of extra work to prepare for the special meeting.

The contract covers 29 projects on 13 campuses, including 24 new classrooms and five middle school science buildings. The arrangement is a controversial "lease-leaseback" agreement. Under the contract, the district leases the sites to the builder for $1. The district makes so-called tenant improvement payments to the builder during construction and lease payments to the builder after the project is completed, even though the district owns the land and buildings.

A lease-leaseback arrangement allows the district to forgo open bidding to select a contractor. In this case, the district hand-picked five vendors for consideration, and the staff has recommended Taber.

The board on Dec. 10 questioned Pete Pedersen, who is overseeing $348 million in voter-approved Measure C bond construction projects, about the merits of lease-leaseback arrangements.

"We get value and predictability," Pedersen told the board.

But Hansen said some other school district's have gotten into legal trouble for cutting deals using this method of doing business, which allows them to circumvent the law that normally requires public agencies to contract with the lowest responsible bidder. Mayo asked if Hansen wanted trustees to disclose whether they had been approached for such deals, but Hansen said she wasn't asking for that.

Also on Friday, the board expects to hold two closed-session meetings: one to discuss its response to a recent Brown Act violation allegation and one to conduct a performance evaluation for the superintendent.

IF YOU GO:

The Mt. Diablo school board will hold a closed-session meeting regarding an alleged Brown Act violation at 4 p.m., followed by a public meeting regarding a construction contract at 5 p.m., then another closed session regarding the superintendent's performance evaluation. The meetings are in the district office at 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord. More information is available by calling 925-682-8000 ext. 4000 or by goig to http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us. Click on Dec. 21.
Additional details are in the On Assignment blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.