Mount Diablo Unified School District trustees must commission an independent investigation of the premature contract extensions for five top administrators, including the superintendent and the district's legal counsel.
Residents deserve a full explanation of the facts, ethics and legality of deals for Superintendent Steve Lawrence, General Counsel Greg Rolen, Chief Financial Officer Bryan Richards and Assistant Superintendents Julie Braun Martin and Rose Lock.
Each of their contracts was due to expire in June 2013. But school trustees, at the urging of then-board President Sherry Whitmarsh, last spring abruptly approved extensions until June 2014. The vote was 4-1 with only Trustee Cheryl Hansen dissenting.
For Lawrence, the deal meant that his salary, set in 2010 at $249,500, would once again increase annually at a rate equal to at least the Consumer Price Index plus 1 percent. The size of that automatic increase seems to violate state law that went into effect this year.
The deals also meant that new trustees elected in November would be stuck with Lawrence and Rolen for at least 1½ years. Lawrence was a driving force behind the district's costly, ill-conceived and deceptive bond measure on the June 2010 ballot. Rolen has repeatedly stonewalled requests for public information.
The contract changes were rife with irregularities. The actual documents were not made public before the vote. Although the board officially approved contract "extensions," the subsequent documents simply rewrote the original 2009 and 2010 contracts to show new expiration dates.
Those final documents were never brought back to the full board for review. They were signed by some of the board members in the fall, apparently just before the November election. Despite reporter Theresa Harrington's repeated requests for the documents, they were not made public until this month.
In other words, it was not until more than seven months after the board vote that the public got a chance to see what the new deals looked like. Exactly when trustees signed the documents remains unclear because there are no dates with the signatures. And no copies of the documents with the employees' signatures have been released; it's not clear that they've ever signed them.
It's also not clear who wrote the contracts or whether the contracts were ever subjected to standard legal review. And, if they were, did Rolen, the general counsel, review his own contract, which would seem a clear conflict of interest?
The good news is that voters booted Whitmarsh out of office in November and trustee Gary Eberhart opted not to seek re-election. The two holdover trustees who approved the extensions, Linda Mayo and Lynne Dennler, owe the public an explanation for their actions.
Meanwhile Hansen and new Trustees Barbara Oaks and Brian Lawrence have called in an outside legal firm for advice. They must not stop there. Only a full investigation that results in a clear public report on what transpired will suffice.
This district has been a cesspool of secrecy and backroom deal-making for too long. It's time for full transparency.