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.

April 20

Mt. Diablo school board President Sherry Whitmarsh is pushing on Monday to renew contracts through June 2015 for Superintendent Steven Lawrence; Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for student achievement and school support; Julie Braun-Martin, assistant superintendent of personnel services; Bryan Richards, chief financial officer; and General Counsel Greg Rolen.

Each of their contracts is set to expire in June 2013.

Trustee Cheryl Hansen has repeatedly asked to place an item on the agenda that would delay contract extensions for the superintendent and other top officials until after the November election, so new trustees could play a role in selecting district leaders.

Whitmarsh said she did not place Hansen's item on the agenda previously because she told board members in closed session that she was waiting for a "milestone" to pass. Hansen was so frustrated by Whitmarsh's failure to place her item on the agenda that she called for a Point of Order on the matter earlier this month.


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At the same meeting, Hansen called for another Point of Order protesting Whitmarsh's decision to appoint trustees to committees via email instead of during a public board meeting, which she said violated board bylaws.

Hansen has also often butted heads with Trustee Gary Eberhart, who has accused her of failing to follow board protocol. Hansen, on the other hand, has said Eberhart and Whitmarsh aren't playing by the rules.

Since Hansen was elected along with Trustee Lynne Dennler two years ago, trustees have held two facilitated retreats to try to get along better. On Monday, a new bylaw is being introduced that would allow the board to censure trustees who fail to serve according to high ethical standards.

"In order to be able to enforce conformance to its ethical policies," the draft bylaw states, "the Board of Education must have a procedure by which it can censure its own members for violations of its policies or bylaws of the Board of Education."

In addition, the board will consider holding six "public input and informational meetings" focused on the strategic plan, Bay Point school planning and Measure C bond construction projects, planning and concerns. Originally, Hansen suggested less structured meetings where the public could give feedback to the superintendent and board about their job performance.

Hansen has also suggested reducing benefits for trustees to the employee-only rate, instead of having the district foot the bill for trustees' families. District staff is recommending against this budget-cutting measure.

Mike Langley, president of the Mt. Diablo district teachers union, said he is shocked by Whitmarsh's proposal to renew the contracts 14 months before they are set to expire. Usually, such proposals are presented for information first, before coming back at a later meeting for a vote.

In this case, however, Whitmarsh is springing the contract extensions on the public just days before seeking a final vote that could have a major impact on the direction of the district for the next three years. Langley said the November statewide election could also greatly affect district budgets and might force some to shorten the school year.

"Do we really want a locked-in remuneration for the leadership to be set at a quarter of a million dollars a year?" he said.

Three potential candidates have already stepped forward to challenge the incumbents in November: Brian Lawrence, Debra Mason and Ernesto DeTrinidad. Brian Lawrence said the new board should decide whether to extend current contracts.

Do you think the current board should extend the contracts Monday?