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.
After the Mt. Diablo school board voted 3-2 for early termination of Superintendent Steven Lawrence's contract, and voted 4-1 to let General Counsel Greg Rolen go before his contract expired, I asked all five trustees to explain their votes. Board President Cheryl Hansen, Vice President Barbara Oaks and Trustee Brian Lawrence voted to oust the two high-ranking district employees, saying the district needed new leadership to overcome low morale and regain the community's trust.
Trustee Linda Mayo voted against terminating Lawrence but sided with the majority in the vote against Rolen. Trustee Lynne Dennler voted no to terminating the contracts, both of which were set to expire in June 2014.
Mayo told me Monday she did not want to comment on her votes because she had previously made comments during board meetings that would explain them. When I said I did not recall those comments, she did not elaborate on what they were or when she made them.
Dennler, on the other hand, sent me an e-mail explaining her votes, which she asked me to quote "with fidelity." Here is her complete statement:
"I ran for the MDUSD Board of Education, because as a teacher in Mt. Diablo, I felt disrespected and undervalued. I didn't trust 'the administration.' I ran to be a 'voice' the classroom and the teacher.
These two years have been eye opening. I gained an understanding of the incredible challenges facing our district by being observant, listening to many differing opinions, and asking questions. I've been careful to not be 'managed,' avoided blogs, as I appreciate and prefer direct input from the public.
The superintendent answers to and advises the Board of Education. The board has the final direction, which this superintendent has always followed. For the most part, I've experienced administrators who would listen. They didn't necessarily 'change their thinking.' It did, however, give me hope, that with multiple like voices on the board, change was possible.
The superintendent's character and trustworthiness is of greater value to me than policy agreement. I have discovered the reality of the District operation is vastly different from (the way) it is perceived through the outside lens. Half-truths and distorted views are often disseminated as fact. Had the present Board chosen to work with Dr. Lawrence, I believe MDUSD would have moved forward.
I met Greg Rolen after my election. He 'seemed' to be cocky and supremely confident. After months of working with and observing his work, I realized he was a competent, effective attorney. I grew to appreciate his legal skills, the fairness with which he negotiated settlements, and the money he saved MDUSD.
The facts and timelines of Mr. Rolen's activities haven't been presented accurately. A combination of an individual's interpretation, perspective, and understanding of facts have been blended into actions deemed 'illegal' in print. In hindsight some of Mr. Rolen's actions may have been ill advised but were well meaning, not illegal as have been reported. He has provided the district excellent legal direction.
Historically, newspapers have been bastions that disseminated truth. Today, blogs and newspaper have begun to intermingle in ways that give a perception of fact, to a combination of half-truth and opinion. This 'blend' then morphs into 'fact' that is shared, commented on, over and over again. Hence the reason I chose to avoid them.
I saw no reason to incur the costs for this change of leadership. Extensive legal expenses, and buyout costs for MDUSD seemed unnecessary. I think first working with these two men, then perhaps acting in a year would have been more prudent.
This superintendent would have changed policy, followed negotiation objectives, or made changes as directed by this board. MDUSD wouldn't have been static. This board chose instead to make this move. That will appease a small, vocal minority with special interests. Our system allows for that.
I look forward to working together with my fellow board members to bring the important changes we feel are necessary to MDUSD. We will now move ahead to continue to work to provide a quality 21st century education to the students in MDUSD, staffed by employees who are respected and valued."
Do think the board should have allowed the superintendent and general counsel to finish out their contracts?
* Editor's note: Stories about Greg Rolen in the Contra Costa Times never stated his actions were "illegal."