This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa.

Feb. 16

In response to a Public Records Act request by this newspaper's editorial department, the Mt. Diablo school district recently released a letter from the law firm Gagen McCoy that disputed the Brown Act violation allegations raised by district residents Wendy Lack and Alicia Minyen.

Here is what the (excerpted) letter, which was addressed to an outside attorney, said:

"Please be advised that this office represents Superintendent Steve Lawrence; Assistant Superintendent, Personnel Services, Julie Braun Martin; Assistant Superintendent, Student Services and School Support, Rose Lock; Chief Financial Officer, Bryan Richards; and General Counsel, Gregory Rolen ...."

"The history of the events involved in Ms. Lack's purported cure and correct letter goes back in time to a meeting of the Board of Education held on April 23, 2012. At that time the Board had on its agenda for action an item identified as #16.7, described as 'Contract Extensions for Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent Student Achievement and School Support, Assistant Superintendent Personnel Services, Chief Financial Officer, and General Counsel.


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"The backup materials for the Board agenda on April 23, 2012, included copies of the administrators' current contracts which were recommended for extension. ... The recommended action was an extension of the term of each contract. It was not a particularly difficult agenda item to understand for either the Trustees or any member of the public.

"The minutes of the Board meeting of April 23, 2012, indicate that the members of the Board of Education had no difficulty in understanding the nature of the agenda item. Trustee Hansen sought to have the action postponed until December 2012, but her motion died for the lack of a second. Trustee Whitmarsh then moved that the contracts be extended through June 2015, which motion also failed for lack of a second.

"Ultimately, Trustee Eberhart moved that the Contract extensions be approved for one year, which motion was seconded. Trustee Hansen then sought to amend the motion to have each individual position acted upon individually and independently, which motion to amend failed for lack of a second. Trustee Mayo sought to have the contract for the general counsel removed from the motion by way of a further amendment which motion was seconded by Trustee Hansen, but failed on a 2-3 vote.

"Trustee Hansen then again sought to have the contract extensions postponed, this time indefinitely, which motion failed for lack of a second. The motion to extend the five contracts presented for an additional one-year term ultimately passed on a 4-1 vote, with Trustee Hansen voting no. No mention is made in the minutes by any of the trustees that anyone didn't understand what they were discussing or voting on ..."

"The evidence from the Board Minutes of April 23, 2012, establishes that members of the Board of Education knew what they were considering, a contract extension for five designated school administrators, thoroughly discussed the action, offered various alternatives as to what should be done, and ultimately adopted in public session a resolution approving a contract extension for a period of one year for the five administrators being considered. This activity certainly constitutes 'substantial compliance' with the provisions of the Brown Act, and further by authorizing a contractual obligation, in and of itself satisfied the requirements of the Brown Act. ..."

Although the Gagen McCoy letter disputes the Brown Act violation allegations, it fails to address the fact that the revised contracts signed by four board members did not take into account the legal questions raised by Lack with regard to AB1344 or board bylaws, which were discussed by Board President Cheryl Hansen at the Jan. 18 meeting. It also fails to address substantive changes made to the contracts without board approval for Superintendent Steven Lawrence and CFO Bryan Richards.

The board agreed in a 4-1 vote that the contract extensions were valid and it was not necessary to cure or correct the April 23 board action. However, trustees also agreed to seek advice from outside legal counsel regarding possible deficiencies in the contract language.

That contract language is expected be addressed March 11 by another outside attorney.

Do you agree with the arguments made in the Gagen McCoy letter?