CONCORD -- To protect the Mt. Diablo school district's reputation, Superintendent Steven Lawrence, the former Board President and another trustee kept a financial analysis on charter costs secret, the rest of the board learned Monday.

Current Board President Cheryl Hansen said she didn't find out about the report on the financial impact to the district from the new Clayton Valley Charter High School until this month, after it was posted on the website of the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team, or FCMAT, which completed the analysis. Hansen and recently elected Trustee Brian Lawrence -- who are part of a new board majority that has pledged more openness and transparency -- expressed dismay at the decision to keep the report secret.

"Board members should tell each other what reports were commissioned," Hansen said. "I think it creates more public distrust if we don't own it."

The superintendent said previous Board President Sherry Whitmarsh and Trustee Linda Mayo commissioned a report in October to further examine the financial impact of the charter school without bringing the contract before the full board, because the issue had stirred up controversy and criticism of the district.

The report, received in January, validated the district's previous estimates that it is losing more than $3 million a year because it must provide more money to the charter per student than it receives from the state, the superintendent said. The district's estimates of the fiscal impact have varied in the past, which has led some people to question their accuracy. He intentionally decided not bring the report to the board when he received it, he said.

"This was to see if we were correct," Lawrence told the board. "There were past allegations of pitting communities against communities. Once we figured out that we budgeted appropriately, we were looking to just move forward."

Trustee Lynne Dennler said she agreed with the decision to keep the report quiet.

"I do appreciate that the superintendent realized that there was already animosity," she said. "Now, all it does is raise the issue again and make people angry again."

District resident Willie Mims, on the other hand, blasted the board for trying to keep the public in the dark.

"The public has a right to know the people's business," he said. "It's the taxpayers' money, so the taxpayers and the people have a right to see the report."

Trustee Brian Lawrence said the district shouldn't make decisions based on concerns about how they will be perceived.

"We should not govern based on what might be said about us," he said. "We should govern based on what's right."

Last spring, the Contra Costa County Office of Education released estimates that disputed the district's contention that it would lose more than $1.5 million a year due to the charter conversion. Peggy Marshburn, spokeswoman for the County Office of Education, said Tuesday that County Superintendent Joe Ovick had asked to be included if a FCMAT report was prepared.

"That did not occur," Marshburn said. "The County Office conclusions were not included as part of the study."

The County Office of Education recently received a copy of the FCMAT report from Clayton Valley Charter High, but hasn't yet had a chance to evaluate it, Marshburn said.

The board spent all day Saturday on a retreat, where it discussed its desire to build trust in the community and improve its reputation, among other issues.

District watchdog Wendy Lack, who has criticized the district's lack of transparency, said Tuesday it was reasonable for the district to seek the report to double-check its estimates.

"But it's puzzling they did so in secret," she said in an email. "Failure to communicate can create an appearance that something's wrong, which raises suspicion. Open and direct communication, of both good news and bad, is the only way to build trust."

MORE INFORMATION
The Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team report is at www.mdusd.org.
For more information about Clayton Valley Charter High School's financial impact on the district, read the On Assignment blog at www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.