Tensions between the Contra Costa County Office of Education and the Mt. Diablo school district have intensified after the county superintendent was snubbed when a recent report was created for the district.
The latest flare-up occurred after the district superintendent and a couple of school board members secretly commissioned a financial analysis of the costs to the district from Clayton Valley High School's conversion to a charter school.
Despite a request to provide input to the report, which was prepared by the state Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, or FCMAT, County Superintendent Joseph Ovick said he was never consulted, and a previous analysis by his office of the charter costs was not included. That analysis highlighted opportunities for cost savings.
"I had requested and hoped to provide input into this latest FCMAT report because it is my opinion that the fiscal issues surrounding the charter conversion have created and fostered conflict and resentment in our communities," Ovick wrote in a letter to the district. "My request was ignored. This unnecessary tension has detracted from our efforts to provide a quality education to our students, regardless of whether they belong to the district or the newly formed charter."
Ovick sent the letter to district Superintendent Steven Lawrence on Thursday. In it he addressed ongoing distrust in the community related to competing estimates about how much Clayton Valley High School's conversion to a charter last fall is costing the district.
Ovick said he agreed with FCMAT's estimates regarding the cost of nearly $3.4 million before special education savings are deducted. With those savings, he said the estimated cost would be about $1.4 million. And there could be further cost savings, he said, by reducing overhead.
"Missing from the analysis is the savings that would be realized from the reduction of central administrative costs as a result of declining enrollment," Ovick wrote. "Specifically, the charter conversion resulted in a loss of 1,780 students or a 6 percent reduction in total enrollment."
Ovick argued that districts in such situations must avoid becoming "top heavy" by reducing centralized services costs, which he estimated could save $1.5 million and bring the total net cost close to breaking even.
Neil McChesney, a Clayton Valley Charter High teacher and president of its governing board, said FCMAT also never consulted the school about its costs, including those for special education.
"I wish that someone had included members of the Clayton Valley leadership in the discussion," he said. "It seems that general inclusiveness is part of the problem there (in the district)."
Lawrence wrote in an email to this newspaper that no request to be interviewed for the FCMAT study by anyone outside the district came through his office.
Peggy Marshburn, Ovick's spokeswoman, said the county superintendent made his request directly to FCMAT. The agency's deputy executive officer, Anthony Bridges, said Friday that he would review the agency's correspondence with Ovick and the district.
"The bottom line is the district was our client, and I know there were some issues specifically regarding the calculations and who's right and who's wrong," Bridges said, explaining that FCMAT looked at information provided by the district. "It's an independent analysis. We were asked to view their particular documents, not anyone else's, and we questioned them on a multitude of things."
Trustee Brian Lawrence said he has asked that the FCMAT report be presented to the board March 11. He said he wants to know actual special education costs and believes the board should discuss the idea of downsizing.
The Fiscal Crisis & Management and Assistance Team report is at www.mdusd.org. To see the entire letter from county Superintendent Joe Ovick to district Superintendent Steven Lawrence, go to www.contracostatimes.com.
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.