Clayton Valley Charter High School dismisses IT director; divisions
continue between leaders, staff, community
By Lou Fancher
At a special meeting Nov. 26, the Clayton Valley Charter High School board voted unanimously to dismiss IT coordinator of technology Matthew Rosso.
The holiday eve timing of the meeting and the board's ultimate decision has widened an already deep divide between the school's governance, and teachers, staff and stakeholders in the community.
Although the meeting didn't come to fisticuffs, the public comment period repeatedly erupted into discord. At one point, support staff at the meeting called the Concord police.
Roughly 70 people filled the school's library for the meeting, called just 24 hours earlier while the school was on holiday break. Most came to protest the board's proposed termination of Rosso, a classified staff employee who had been on paternity leave since Nov. 17, but who was present at the meeting.
Controversy over operations, dismissals and resignations -- primarily involving Executive Director Dave Linzey, former administrator and board member Pat Middendorf, former board chairman Tom Branich and teachers -- have consumed much of the time at regular board meetings since May. Twenty-seven teachers recently issued "no confidence" in Linzey's leadership.
Before moving to closed session, Linzey read the charges leading to his intent to dismiss Rosso. Among them, "insubordination, unprofessional conduct, dishonesty and unfitness for service." He said a directive he had issued in May -- ordering Rosso to archive the work emails of Middendorf in anticipation of litigation, and to not inform anyone of that task -- had been breached when Rosso shared the information with Middendorf and Branich.
Linzey further stated that Rosso had admitted the breach of confidence when confronted, and that Rosso's disclosure of the directive potentially allowed Middendorf to "destroy email or other electronic communication" and to "inform other employees at CVCHS that emails were being archived."
Linzey offered no evidence that this had occurred, but said the action had caused the school not to trust the completeness of its records.
"The aforementioned misconduct violates the sacred and essential trust necessary between CVCHS and Mr. Rosso," Linzey said. "For this reason, I believe that Mr. Rosso can no longer serve in his present position ..."
Rosso rebutted the charges against him during closed session with nonrecused board members. Board chairman Ted Meriam and board member Diane Bailey dialed-in from remote locations, and board member Christine Reimer, a teacher who would have been recused from closed session, was absent.
In an interview, Rosso said he told the board that after Linzey asked him to archive emails in May, he was uncertain whether that request came from the board. Under the terms of his employment, he was allowed to ask the board for written confirmation. Receiving none, he became worried that Linzey would ask him for the emails. He archived the data, knowing -- and telling Linzey -- that any deleted information would go on a Microsoft server for 14 days and a legal hold could keep the data from being permanently emptied.
Rosso told this newspaper he heard nothing more about the matter until last week, when Linzey asked him to resign and accept a small severance package and submit to a gag order. With his main concern his 3-month-old daughter, Rosso said he knew that losing his job would have an enormous impact on his family.
"But seeing what was going on with the teachers? I felt there was something wrong," he said. "I was hoping it would help (to go public) instead of it being another case that was just quiet and closed. Since everyone is talking about transparency, I'll give my side of the story and hope it will help."
Ten-year CVCHS teacher Paula Dillon said Rosso was "hardworking" and had "integrity and courage." She suggested Rosso's dismissal "has a stench" because his running in the upcoming election for a seat on the board could oust classified staff board member Diane Bailey.
Offering a protest repeated by subsequent speakers, she said, "Firing someone while on paternity leave sounds illegal, if not just wrong."
California Teachers Association representative Kipp Penovich questioned the timing of the meeting.
"Having a board meeting on this day (Thanksgiving eve) leads to the question: What's the motive for doing this? Through this termination, the classified position would become an unopposed place (for Bailey)."
During public comments, no one spoke in support of Linzey, although Clayton City Councilman Dave Shuey, separately, said he had received multiple emails in support of Linzey and that "everyone is entitled to their dissent, but ultimately you have to support the board you elected."
Linzey, reached by email the next day and asked about the timing and other matters relating to the action to fire Rosso, said that confidentiality regarding personnel matters allowed only the following reply from the CVCHS board:
"CVCHS has no real interest in publicly discussing personnel decisions, except to say that the charges (requested by the employee to be read aloud in public) speak for themselves. When an employee in a position requiring a high level of trust admittedly engages in behavior that shatters that trust, that employee can no longer continue to be employed to manage and oversee confidential data.
"It should also be underscored that CVCHS did attempt to avoid a termination and did offer a very generous severance package which included standard language that any School or school district would offer in such situations. Ultimately, our actions must be guided not by popular opinion or rumor mills, but what is best for this School and its students, and that often requires difficult decisions to be made to hold individuals accountable for their actions when they are harmful to the School."