Make Up Your Mind

You know that you can’t have it both ways. I know it, too. But this simple concept seems to have escaped the N-MUSD, which has just gone on record as having it both ways.

In last Tuesday’s 10-minute recap of the history of N-MUSD elections, school board club member Martha Fluor denounced those who had the audacity to speak up about the many problems in our schools, but who chose not to run for a seat on the board.

Fluor repeatedly asked, “Where were YOU?” as if running for a seat on the school board is the only way to become a change agent in the district. Tell that to Erica and Jeff Roberts, Laurie Smith, Jen Brooks, and the many other parents, teachers, and just plain ol’ taxpayers who successfully lobbied to end the math program.

They did what the administration and the school board club could not or would not do a few years ago, without campaigning.

Interesting, isn’t it, how it has taken Fluor decades to complain about the lack of opponents? She never complained about it all those years she ran unopposed, nor did any of her colleagues. They liked it, and Fluor should be honest about this and admit it. Having no opposition makes their lives much easier and give them the perception that they are doing such a good job that there is no need for anyone else to run. A nice ego boost.

So why now? Why, after all this time is Fluor suddenly so concerned about the lack of challengers?

The answer is that term limits are now a distinct possibility. Term limits are an attack on the status quo and as an entrenched bureaucracy, the school board club will go all out to fight.

But there is a major flaw in Fluor’s presentation, one that was highlighted by the superintendent, who unwittingly made the case for term limits when it was his turn to speak. Here’s the link to a video of the meeting. The super’s comment start around 3:35:00: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B970gGj7tc18OE41OE1aMzRJVE0/view

Shortly after Fluor complained that far too few people run for school board seats, the superintendent said, “The reason that many school boards choose not to do term limits is that they can’t find people to run.”

This is an attempt at cause and effect. Enact term limits and you’ll find that too few people will want to run.

But hold on here… The district does not have term limits now and according to Fluor, too few people run. So, which is it?

The answer is neither. As we know from our own district, term limits are NOT the reason too few people choose to run for school board seats.

There are two reasons that more people do not run for seats on the school board, reasons that can be applied to nearly every school district in the state. The first is that the pool of interested citizens is considerably smaller than those who would run for, say, a city council position. School board candidates are usually limited to those who are already involved in schools, often because they have kids who are students. People who do not have kids in schools don’t pay much attention to what is going on the the district unless there is a scandal.

The other, more important reason that more people do not run is because they can’t afford it. A board position pays about $450 plus health care. Most people work and earn far more than that and the “salary” for a school board seat would be a hardship. This is the reason why I have made multiple recommendations to change the compensation rules.

The low compensation is such a barrier that the school board club needn’t worry about any major change in their structure due to term limits or area representation. Future candidates will probably be clones. And they like it that way: Do you see anyone pounding their shoe on the dais demanding a living wage so that working class people can afford to run?

No, you don’t.

It may be a good idea for the superintendent and Fluor to have a short meeting and get the message straight. On second thought, it doesn’t matter: Enacting term limits won’t change who runs or how often.

And that will suit the board just fine, despite Fluor’s complaints to the contrary.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

 

 

 

Where Were YOU?

That’s what school board club member Martha Fluor wants to know. Channeling her inner Vicki Snell, Fluor wasn’t feeling the love and wondered last night where were you when she ran unopposed all those times and sacrificed birthdays, anniversaries, and other personal events to devote herself to improving education for the students in the district and how dare you bring your term limits stuff here when I’ve been working so hard for you for so long.

In an effort to combat the growing sentiment toward establishing term limits, she wondered for about 10 minutes, providing a 20-year history of each election, focusing mostly on the school board members who ran unopposed. It was as furious a commentary as I’ve ever seen on the dais.

But it fell on deaf ears. Those remaining in the audience who are not employed by the school district had little sympathy for Fluor, just as they had little sympathy for Snell when she channeled her inner Rodney Dangerfield and told us back in April how she don’t get no respect.

Three club members made it clear that they support term limits. Snell and Charlene Metoyer are OK with 12 years. Karen Yelsey would like to see term limits of 16 years, despite advocating 12 year term limits when she first ran for office 11 years ago. So, do the math: Yelsey supported term limits of 12 years, minus the eleven years she has been in office – two minus one… – and, OMG! she is up for re-election next year. Yes, 16 years would suit her just fine.

Back to Fluor. The rant was interesting from a psychological or sociological perspective, but it had little to do with the value or point of term limits. The school board club’s inability to connect the dots is astounding. Seven otherwise intelligent people who simply cannot understand or appreciate why all of this is happening at this time.

And after all of that, Fluor said, “I’m OK with term limits, but somebody has to show up.” [somebody has to run for office]

So, in the end, that rant was just a way for her to let off some steam.

“Why now” is the question they should be asking, individually or collectively. They will be unable to answer it themselves – the forest for the trees thing – so they need to ask some of the people who pushing hard for term limits. They should seek out these people and have an honest discussion not about whether term limits are good or bad, which was the focus last night, but “why now?” Why not ten years ago, or even five? Why now? I’m happy to have that thoughtful discussion with any club member or anyone else in the administration.

Term limits are not about Martha Fluor, or Vicki Snell or any of the other club members. OK, you’re a nice person who devotes a lot of time and whatever. Great. Thank you. Despite all that, we still want term limits.

Why now?

She’s Ba-ack

One of the highlights for me was the return of former Trustee Wendy Leece, who last served over ten years ago. Under the new “Roberts Rules” of speaking at the club meetings, Leece offered her thoughts on three separate occasions, eclipsed, I believe, only by N-MFT president Britt Dowdy, who strode to the podium four times.

Here’s another history lesson. Leece served for eight years, which is what she now advocates for term limits. During that time, her trustee colleagues treated her with disdain and disrespect, going as far as to pass over her for board president when it would have been the traditional time for her to serve.

They didn’t like Leece because she held views that were not in sync with the rest of the board. They did not like Leece because she did her homework and came prepared to meetings and had the audacity to question staff presentations. I distinctly recall one of her colleagues rolling her eyes at the start of yet another Leece question.

When Leece was on the board, 6-1 votes were common.

Leece made the meetings run longer that 90 or so minutes and they didn’t like that, either. (Note to Yelsey: Your new speaking format? It’s making your meetings run longer, not shorter. But that’s what you get when you enact rules to punish one person instead of thinking about the greater good.)

When Leece speaks, there is credibility, regardless of whether you agree with her, and I did not agree with her on a few key issues, notably the tax generated by the first bond floated in 2000.

I respect Leece because she worked hard, communicated well, and was not looking for anyone to pin a medal on her.

Butt out

In an apparent effort to deep-six the whole term limits idea, the superintendent spoke on the subject, offering that term limits would not do anything to promote diversity on the board.

Another one who doesn’t get it.

Connect the dots, again. Let’s see, the board has just responded to a threatened lawsuit by switching to area representation. Now, the public is overwhelmingly supporting term limits.

Why now?

Connect the dots.

Unsolicited advice to the superintendent: Stay quiet on the issue.

Bits and pieces

  • Due to the number of people wanting to speak on term limits, the allotted time per person was cut to two minutes. During one of the club member ramblings, more than one person in the audience yelled, “Two minutes!”
  • Charlene Metoyer and Vicki Snell committed to serving no more than 12 years. Don’t take that to the bank – Yelsey wanted 12 years, too.
  • Snell downplayed the recent survey in which 95% of the respondents supported term limits. Snell said, “I don’t like surveys.” A short time later, the district’s attorney recommended a survey.
  • The attorney was there for hours. If he is a partner, he makes $265 an hour. If he’s an associate, he makes $225 an hour. When he got up to speak on term limits, he read some background information that anyone could have downloaded from the Internet. Later on, he provided some important clarity, but that took less than five minutes. But you paid big bucks for those few moments.
  • Why did he need to be there? Didn’t anyone think about saving hundreds of tax dollars by patching him in remotely when he was needed for those few minutes instead of paying him to sit and wait? That technology is ancient and it could have and should have been used last night. But then, save for money man Jeff Trader, all of the cabinet is still taking notes by hand.
  • When speakers were limited to two minutes a surprising number used far less. A few went over a bit and club president Yelsey allowed them a few more seconds to finish, as she should have. Well, except for one speaker. The moment that time was up – at 121 seconds – Yelsey asked speaker Erica Roberts to stop. That’s what Roberts gets for having the audacity to force the district to change its elementary math program.

Petty is as petty does.

Dollars and Sense

Speaking of money and Mr. Trader… Last night, the 2017-18 budget was presented. It’s a thick book that details where the money comes from (you) and where it goes. In his executive summary, Trader wrote, “With all of it considered, I’m pleased to reiterate Mr. Paul Reed’s mantra that we are ‘solvent and moving forward.'”

Trader also got praise heaped on him for his assistance in the development of the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP).

Apparently, Trader is doing a good job. So, why, you may be asking, did the board pay former finance guy Reed a lot of your money so he wouldn’t retire? Good question. The answer is term limits.

Past performance is… you know the rest

True to form, every vote last night was 7-0. And after all that discussion, there was no decision on term limits.

That’s in keeping with what I recently wrote about making sure that the district gets credit for any new idea, innovation, or policy change.

Term limits were not on the agenda last night because the school board club woke up last week and thought, “Gosh! We should be discussing term limits!” No, the subject was on the agenda because people demanded it.

The school board club doesn’t like that. They don’t like to be told what to do and would rather put some distance between uproar and action so that the change seems like it was their idea. We just saw it with the elementary math program and we’re seeing it again with term limits.

But term limits are not a math program. Term limits would mean a fundamental change in the status quo and this bureaucracy works very hard to keep things just the way they are, thank you very much.

So don’t look for any epiphany or moment of clarity on term limits. If term limits do make the ballot, the club will take their ball and go home by making them 16 years instead of 12 or 8.

Outta here

I left the meeting at 9:45 when the club member comments began. Not only did I not want to hear about all the wonderful and exciting things the club members have seen and done in the three weeks since they told us about the last batch of wonderful and exciting things, I could not stomach the thought of listening to more than two minutes of it, which is what was allotted to term limits speakers last night.

Trustees: Walk your talk. Limit your comments to three minutes. Two would be even better.

My answer to Martha Fluor

Mrs. Fluor, here’s where I have been: For over 15 years, I have been writing about and attending school board meetings. I ran for a seat on the school board in 2014, spent about $4,000 and got 33% of the vote.

I have been writing this blog for three years and have made countless recommendations for improvement, some of which, I have been told, have been quietly implemented.

I have a full work schedule. I manage a 4-bedroom home, commit time to the city (just applied for a another committee position), and have made myself available to meet with anyone at anytime if it will help the city or the district.

I have NEVER expected anything in return – not money, praise, or even a “thank you.” I do it because it’s the example I want to set for my kids, because I want to help those less fortunate, and because it’s just the right thing to do.

When you first ran for office, all you wanted was to do the right thing, too. I truly believe that. But lately, the seat is getting hotter. Things are changing, and some of those things are not in your control. It’s frustrating – I get that.

But at the end of the day, it’s not about what we want or why we’re doing this. We serve others, and glady. And if there comes a time when we see events moving faster than we can keep up, that’s the time to step aside.

This is not a resignation request. It’s just a way, hopefully, to get you to understand that more than ever, your experience and expertise are needed to help guide the district to the next phase in its development.

We don’t need that Martha Fluor that showed up last night. We need the Martha Fluor who is the only current board member who ever asks critical questions or consistently provides worthy perspectives that are valuable to the decision-making process; the Martha Fluor who has earned a reputation as a devoted and concerned public servant.

We need the help of that Martha Fluor now, more than ever.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

And Another Thing!

There is much supporting evidence for the district’s double-talk about wanting community input, the latest being the restrictions on the amount of public comments. (They also voted to end meetings no later than 10:30 p.m. instead of 11. As if.  That new rule made me laugh so loud I think I scared the cat. I haven’t attended a meeting that lasted until even 10 in I can’t remember when.)

The oppressed administration and the overburdened trustees can’t understand why people are getting restless and are starting to demand term limits. But it’s really as simple as keeping your word. Don’t, for example, say you value community input if you don’t. (And they don’t, despite their claims to the contrary)

It occurred to me today that when a principal is removed, there is usually some phony input meeting in which the district folks want to get your input on the replacement. At these meetings, they look very interested in what you have to say and they take notes and act concerned. That’s what they do after they’ve yanked a principal out of one school – usually a place where he or she is appreciated – and placed him or her in another.

But if the district is so concerned about the feelings of the community and getting input, shouldn’t they be reaching out to us before a principal is removed? After all, what would the parents and teachers at Davis or College Park have said had they been asked, “Should we move [principal] to [school] and find someone else to take over here?”

Stacy de Boom-Howard works for the district but she is the former principal at Paularino Elementary School and by all accounts she was doing a good job.. Was there any input meeting on whether she should be allowed to leave? Nope.

They don’t ask because they don’t care. They don’t ask because they don’t want you involved in “their” business, even though you’re paying for everything.

Of course, we all know that they can’t ask before because would open up a new can of worms and they have so many cans open now that Bear St. is starting to look like a bait shop.

Steve Smith
N-MUSD Taxpayer

Going Through the Motions

Just before each meeting of the school board club – with an emphasis on “just” – the district issues a “Board Meeting Brief” which describes a few agenda items that may be of interest to the public.

Unfortunately, the Briefs serve only to underscore the disconnection between the district and the community because these public relations memos often fail to include important subjects, a failing I’ve pointed out in past posts.

Tonight, the club members will take another turn at term limits – a hot topic that has been kicked down the street for too long.

I support term limits, not just for the N-MUSD, but for all elected officials. I support it in the private sector, too. As a manager in the corporate world, I did not want anyone working for more than five years. From my experience, that was the tipping point for complacency, which is one of the worst things that can happen to any organization.

Five years is too short a time for most elected officials. But if the N-MUSD has its way, they’ll support 16 years, which is too long. A reasonable number is twelve. That’s the number that current president Karen Yelsey indicated was sufficient when she ran her first campaign almost 12 years ago.

Unfortunately, you won’t find any mention of the term limits agenda item on the Board Meeting Brief because… There is no Board Meeting Brief. As of this morning at 10 a.m., it has not been posted to the district’s website.

The absence of the Brief could be because the term limits item is too big to avoid and the district probably doesn’t want to include it on the Brief so they just don’t issue one. Or, it could be some technical glitch.

Or it could be due to complacency.

For those new to this blog, it is worth repeating the motive behind the growing support for term limits. The board can vote for 12 years or 16 or even 20. It won’t matter because they continue to fail to understand the key issue, which is that more people would not be clamoring for term limits if the district were being run properly.

But it’s not. Between the failure of the elementary math program (and the unfortunate students who had to learn math that way), the skyrocketing legal bills, the poor employee morale, and so much more, people have had enough.

So, you see, the school board club members could have avoided this entire discussion simply by doing more of what they were elected to do. Instead, they trusted people who made bad decisions and then rubber-stamped their approval of just about everything that was presented to them.

And what did the district do in response to the current messes? They assembled a time capsule, developed a 50-year celebration, and commissioned a new logo.

If they district had paid as much attention to the outgoing math program as they have to being around for 50 years, we would not be discussing term limits.

But they got complacent.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

Kid Stuff

When my daughter was about eight years old, I was driving her and her friend “Pat,” to school. They were in the back seat of the car, talking, and Pat asked my daughter how she managed to get another kid to perform a particular task, to which my daughter replied, “Reverse physiology.”

The members of the school board club and the administration don’t like outsiders influencing their decisions. In some cases, outsiders make them look bad by pointing out something that needs fixing, as Erica Roberts, Laurie Smith (No relation. Well, maybe a few centuries ago, but that’s another post), and many others have done with Swun Math.

(And when the district finally got around to switching math programs, they made sure that the change was because they wanted to make it, not because some motivated residents caused them to: There hasn’t been a single word of acknowledgement of Roberts, Smith, or any of the many teachers and citizens who pointed out the math program’s shortcomings starting years ago.)

Making changes based on community input gives the impression that we’re wasting a lot of money on cushy compensation packages for experts with a lot of experience who should know what to do and who should know how to prevent problems before they begin.

They don’t want you telling them whom to hire as principals, despite the just-for-show community input meetings they like to host.

They don’t want your input, plain and simple. If they did, they would not have recently changed the rules to limit public speakers at their meetings.

Ultimately, nearly everything has to be – and will be – their idea.

So here’s what I’m thinking… Tomorrow night the school board club may start the wheels in motion to put term limits of 16 years on the ballot. So… You show up at the school board club meeting tomorrow night and loudly proclaim that you want term limits of 16 years. If the public makes it their idea – if they own the concept – the club members and the administration will tell us that they are the experts and they know best and that 12 years is the way to go.

It’s gotta work. After all, it’s reverse physiology.

Steve Smith
N-MUSD Taxpayer

We Want Your Input! (No, we don’t.)

Several reputable sources, including the Center for Public Education and the American School Board Journal, state that one of the common traits of successful school boards is their genuine (my word) desire to seek and act on the desires of the community.

The N-MUSD claims to want that, too, but in many cases – too many – they have either ignored community input or failed to seek it. We have seen it recently in the selection of the new principal at Estancia, and the merry-go-round selections of principals for Mariners and Newport Coast, the latter being yet another case in which a beloved principal was transferred – this one from College Park – without notice or full explanation.

Now, the district is seeking input on the characteristics of the principal who should lead at College Park.

In each of these cases, poor leadership has led to the turmoil. Seeking community input is only a way to quiet the outrage and give parents and others the impression that their insight is welcome. It is not. In the end, the district will put in place whomever they want. I know this because I rely on the adage I’ve written many times before: Past behavior is the best predictor of future performance.

Now there is an attempt to stifle input at another level. In a reaction to recent extensive, justified criticism of the district’s elementary math program, the school board club is enacting adopt the “Roberts Rule,” which limits the number of speakers on any one agenda item at six and forbids speakers to cede time to another speaker.

Your input is not welcome, despite attempts to convince you otherwise.

What is good for the goose should be good for the gander. I’d like to see club members limit their own comments at the end of each meeting to three minutes, too, just as they ask the public to do. Nearly all of the club member comments are insignificant and unimportant – usually just a recap of community events and the the schools they visited and the shows in the classrooms that were put on while they were there. It’s boring and unproductive and is nothing more than a way for each school board member to let his or her colleagues know that they actually did something, even if that something didn’t contribute a whit to improving education.

I haven’t heard anything worthwhile from any of the club members since Karen Yelsey raised the issue of “rampant drug use” by kids in Newport Beach. That was over two years ago.

And who gets to determine who speaks during the public comments section? Apparently the current club president has that power.

Speaking of power, the new rule is an abuse of it.

You should have gone to law school

This Tuesday, the school board club will rubber stamp the approval of another $500,000 of your tax dollars in legal fees. Here’s what they make:

Rates for 7/1/2017 to 6/30/2018
Partners:  $265 per hour
Associates:  $225 per hour
Jr. Associates:  $210 per hour
Law Clerks/Paralegals:  $140.00 per hour

Rates for 7/1/2018 to 6/30/2019
Partners:  $275 per hour
Associates:  $235 per hour
Jr. Associates:  $210 per hour
Law Clerks/Paralegals:  $140 per hour

Yes, you should have gone to law school. Or even Law Clerks/Paralegals school.

All this and term limits, too.

Karen Yelsey advocated them. She supported 12 years as the limit. But now, buried at the very end of the agenda Tuesday night, when nearly all the people in attendance have either gone home or fallen asleep, the school board club will “Receive Information from District’s Legal Counsel and Provide Direction to Staff on Term Limits”

The recommended motion states, “It is recommended that the Board of Education receive information from District’s legal counsel pertaining to Board of Education term limits and give direction to staff on a proposed four term limit (16 years) service on the Board of Education.” More lawyers telling them what to do. Just think of all the tax money we’d save if we elected only lawyers to the school board…

But spending your money is not the news here. The news is that the board will support term limits of 16 years, not 12. I am sure Yelsey will express her outrage at this development. Not.

And there is this “tell” in the Comments section of the agenda item (bold print):

“The Education Code permits term limits to be established by an election.  The election is required to be held at a regularly scheduled Board election.  The election can be called either by the Board of Education or through the initiative process.  

Currently very few school districts have term limits for school board members. (Education Code reference section 35107)

That’s less a comment than a hint on how to vote on this.

The reason that very few school districts have term limits for board members is not because they have all conducted a thorough examination and determined that term limits would be detrimental, it is because the taxpayers in those districts have not raised the issue the way it is being raised here.

The mistake for the school board club would be to compare the N-MUSD with other districts when determining the fate of term limits. We are not funded like most other districts and we are more engaged than other districts.

But that “logic stuff” is often ignored when it comes to preserving the status quo in the N-MUSD.

We need term limits here. Twelve years, not 16.

Lipstick on a Pig

There is no good time to bury the capsule and reveal the logo: There is so much bad news coming out of the district for so long that anytime these things were done they would be called a distraction regardless of when they happened.While Swun Math takes a swan dive, save for the sixth-graders who must suffer with it for awhile longer, while legal fees skyrocket, while principal turmoil continues – and more – the superintendent and the school board club find it is a good time to bury a time capsule and talk up their new logo.

Right now, there is yet another worthless community process to gather input on the qualities the folks in the College Park area of Costa Mesa would like to see in a new principal.

What was wrong with the old principal? Nothing. But for a reason known only to a few who will never tell, she was transferred.

 

The district will do what they want, not what the community wants, as they did recently at Mariners and as they did at Estancia. Still, they have to put on the dog-and-pony shows for the sake of appearance.

And when we think about it, do we really need a discussion on the qualities or characteristics of a new principal? Why aren’t we just looking for someone with the same characteristics as the best principals in the district. Or, we could use the Boy Scouts as a model and look for someone who is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.”

Back to the distractions… Note to public speakers: If you’re going to speak outside, do not wear sunglasses unless you’ve got early stage glaucoma or have recently had eye surgery.Logo 2

That’s the new logo behind the superintendent. Not really sure what those darts are supposed to represent – birds, perhaps, or as Trustee Martha Fluor said in a recent Daily Pilot article, maybe they’re boomerangs. In the Pilot story, district spokesperson Annette Franco said that the icons “could be viewed as ‘arrows, fish or birds,’ she said, but it’s meant to symbolize individuals working together toward a common goal.”

Here’s what I know: This “common goal” theme could apply to any organization or business. It is terribly generic and fails to do what the icons in a logo are supposed to do. The icons in the new logo should have had some relationship to or representation of education.

Oh, and they should have bought a tag line, too.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

 

District Checkers

Chess is a game that requires strategic thought and planning. Good chess players start each game with a specific path to victory, many moves away.

Checkers, on the other hand, requires far less critical thinking. Checkers, known as the “lazy man’s chess,” is played on the same board as chess, but it depends far more on luck than the patience and skill required for chess.

A couple of days ago, the district announced more merry-go-round principal moves among its schools. According to the Daily Pilot story, “Supt. Fred Navarro announced Julie McCormick’s transfer to staff members at the Costa Mesa school on Friday. McCormick is scheduled to become principal of Newport Coast Elementary, and Newport Coast’s current principal, Duane Cox, is being reassigned to Rea Elementary in Costa Mesa, where he will replace interim Principal Alex Morales by next school year.”

Apparently, McCormick’s transfer is not going over very well at College Park. Parents are upset because they’re losing a good principal. Teachers are upset for that reason and also because they received no advance notice or appropriate rationale for the move. In other words, they were disrespected. That’s not unusual. I’ve been saying for years, that the district talk is cheap: Despite their repeated claims about how much they appreciate the teachers in the district, the administration and the school board have a history of  disrespect in negotiations, in transfers, and in listening.

Where was the trumpeted love and appreciation for teachers when they started to raise their hands about Swun Math? It was nowhere. The administration turned a blind eye to repeated complaints and it was only after a parent championed the cause that they scrapped the program, years later, years too late.

Back to College Park… This type of poor communication and disrespect for the “process” – a term the N-MUSD bureaucrats love to toss around – is a hallmark of the ineffective leadership with which we have been saddled. Don’t count on the school board club to do anything about this, either. The superintendent is supposed to be working for and answering to the trustees, but they abdicated that responsibility a long time ago. The tail has been wagging the dog for decades.

In the DP story, school board club president Karen Yelsey is quoted as saying, “the district will work closely with parents and staff to find a new principal for College Park that meets the needs’ of the community.”

Sure they will. Just like they did when they yanked Matt Broesamle from California Elementary and sent him over to Mariners, and just like they did when they assigned Michael Halt to Estancia.

“The needs of the community.” The trustees have no more idea of the needs of the N-MUSD community than does a resident of Riverside. If they did, they would have area representation years ago, term limits years ago, and a new math program years ago.

Maybe McCormick wanted out of College Park. Who knows? But that’s hardly the point. The point is the process, and there is a process.

Unfortunately, the administration and the school board club are playing checkers at a time when we need experts at chess.

Steve Smith
N-MUSD Taxpayer

Redacting the Truth

The internal district e-mail exchanges obtained by parent Erica Roberts after months of delays reveal chronic problems with the district’s elementary math program but no strategic plan to fix it. Instead, they used spit and Band-Aids to repair the program that would ultimately be scrapped.

Here is one teacher’s e-mail from as late as March, 2016, which reveals the frustration many of them felt:

Once again there is a mistake in the swun answer key. For Unit problem , the answer key says [redacted] when in actuality it should be [redacted] .
1 divided by 15 = .067 not .67..
Perhaps one day swun will get it right. This is getting really ridiculous.

The terrifying aspects of this years-long bungle are:

  1. Students were continued to be taught math through a flawed program long after chronic problems were revealed. This violates the most sacred goal of the district, which is to provide the best possible education for our students.
  2. No one took ownership of this mess. Not one person had the moral courage to stand up and admit any responsibility. Yet, in his last review, the school board club gave the superintendent more tax dollars and a rating of “exceptional.”
  3. It took a parent, Erica Roberts, to force the district to do what teachers knew they should have done years before.

Students, teachers, parents, and taxpayers don’t need bureaucrats who sacrifice students at the altar of responsibility. We need courageous leaders who have the personal confidence in their abilities to speak up and speak out and take responsibility for whatever part they had in whatever mess has been created.

Ultimately, this scandal belongs to the school board club, which trusted highly-paid administrators to fix everything. The club members failed to ask the right questions, failed to hold anyone accountable, and failed in their chief responsibility.

In the 31 years I have lived here, no scandal comes close to this one.

There are people who should be ashamed of themselves; people who should resign as a result of what they did and did not do.

Instead, we get business as usual.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

Slowly Grinding Wheels

One of the hallmarks of effective leadership is the ability to know when you are wrong, admit it, and work to find a solution. Unfortunately, we do not have an administration or school board that seems to understand this fundamental concept.

Owning mistakes is usually a fait accompli, too, because everyone else involved knows who is to blame and why. With each passing day without a confession, the reputation  of the culprit suffers.

In the pile of documents received by N-MUSD parent Erica Roberts – months after she requested them – there are clear indications that the decision-makers in the district were trying to salvage a controversial math program as late as last summer, long after numerous flaws had been exposed. Instead of someone, say, for example, the superintendent, raising his and saying, “Houston, we have a problem and I may have caused it,” he distanced himself from the controversy, allowing lieutenants to scramble to find solutions for a program too wrecked to salvage

In one e-mail dated August 23, 2016, an elementary school teacher expressed concern about the flow of information regarding the math program and wrote:

“Speaking of hearing feedback, I am concerned that there has been a breakdown in communication with regards to SWUN Math, as evidenced posed tonight by Honorable Board Member Snell. She asked (and I thanked her for doing so) if there were errors in the curriculum prior to its conversion to [Common Core] alignment.

“The question reveals to me that teacher feedback has not been getting to the right place (superintendent and board members) for a very long time. I am including below a portion of the e-mails I wrote – many prior to school-wide adoption of the program and prior to [Common Core] conversion – to illuminate specific and significant problems with pedagogy as well as editing errors of which you so often hear. Please note the dates of the e-mails.”

Ah, yes… the dates.

Here’s a sample e-mail from a teacher to a person employed by the math program vendor:

“I will now keep a log of my questions as they are many. I seem to find ‘errors’ on every page of the past lessons I’ve done, which my students are finding confusing and distracting to the lessons. I am starting to wonder whether they are truly errors or somehow our misreadings.”

And the reply:

“Thank you for previewing the lessons and Instructional Strategies so closely before teaching them. You found some errors that our editors and other teachers did not!”

That exchange is from January. That would be January, 2013.

I’ve asked it here before and I’ll ask it again: How many elementary school students in the district have been turned off by math or otherwise suffered because of the adoption of a flawed program?

When all is said and done, this may be the greatest school district tragedy in the 31 years I have been living here. Bigger than the Wagner embezzlement, bigger than the Hubbard trial, bigger than anything. Bigger even than the fiscal mismanagement that led to hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-supported bonds. Why? Because the district failed to perform its most important mission, which is to provide an excellent curriculum that will teach and inspire students.

How many teachers, and parents, too, suffered as a result of the foot-dragging, head-in-the-sand response to teacher complaints?

And yet, as late as last June, some were still trying to prop up the program by contemplating a dog and pony show to combat negative reactions.

So what did the board do in response to this tragedy? The recently gave the guy in charge – the superintendent – a raise and a performance rating of “exceptional.”

In the private sector, a mistake of this magnitude would be grounds for dismissal, but in the N-MUSD, you get a reward.

Steve Smith
N-MUSD taxpayer

 

“Your Three Minutes Are Up,” and Other Tales of (Dis)Respect…

Time seems to be of great importance to the school board club. The three minutes allotted to each member of the public is supposed to be applied to everyone, but there are many instances – some of which have been noted here – in which speakers have gone on far past the three-minute mark.

Allowing someone to go past the limit is at the discretion of the club president.

Last night, there was a discussion about changing the rules regarding public speakers. Should they be allowed to cede time to someone else? If they speak on an agenda item, should they be forced to wait for that item to come up on the agenda? And more.

These discussions amount to fiddling while Rome burns – hand-wringing and worry about the wrong things. Want to stop the policy of ceding time to someone else? Fine. Go ahead. In all the board meetings I’ve ever attended, it has happened so few times that it is not worth mentioning.

But the school board club thinks it’s a big deal so it got agenda time.

Meetings will also end at 10:30 p.m. instead of 11. As if that ever mattered.

$8K for Birds and Fish

There was also a lot of time spent on the district’s new logo. Here are the options presented:

Logo

 

After seeing these options, there was a lengthy discussion on the symbolism and a reading of the definition of a brand by club member Martha Fluor, who also wondered about how the logo would appear on their lapel pins.

Club member Judy Franco likes the starfish that is currently on their business cards.

Club member Dana Black tried to get her colleagues to present the new logo options to the community for input but she did not succeed. For this, we need community input. For all the other pressing matters, we do not.

And – make sure you’re seated – club member Walt Davenport spoke on the logo issue. Silent on just about everything else for as long as I can remember, Davenport chose this extremely important matter to offer his two cents.

I like the font they chose, though the tracking (space between the letters) on the non-hyphenated version is too much. The graphics, however, miss the mark. I guess one is supposed to be birds soaring up in the sky and the other is supposed to be a digital school of fish, though I can’t be sure.

In forsaking all of the traditional graphic elements of a district logo, they have come up with options that need to be explained. And that’s the rule: If you have to explain it, it’s wrong.

This is not surprising, though. This is a topic so important that a committee of concerned citizens was formed to discuss what the logo should look like to provide guidance to the agency that created it. The committee should have consisted of two people: A graphic artist and the school board club president. Instead, taxpayers got the proof of the old adage about the camel: A horse that was designed by a committee.

And get this: The debate on this super-important topic was so intense that the final vote was 4-3 in favor.

So while legal fees rise and accountability for a disastrous math program remains elusive, among other things, the school board club found this to be worthy of a public committee and division among the ranks.

Recommendation to the club: You may think this is a big deal, but it’s not. Pick one and let’s move on.

Oh, and there was a phrase on the screen around this time that I wrote down but haven’t a clue as to what it was connected to.  The phrase is “relationship-driven school communities.”

I have no clue as to what that is. Just another example of edu-speak.

Speaking Up and Speaking Out

I spoke last night. This is what I said:

“Mrs. Snell, two meetings ago, you complained about a lack of respect for some or all of the trustees.

Here’s another story about disrespect. This is the story about a parent in this district who has spent hundreds of hours and sacrificed critical family time to replace a math program none of you questioned when serious problems arose shortly after it was implemented. And she has done this without getting a six-figure salary or $450 a month and a generous health plan.

But in response to all of her hard work and persistence, she has been ignored and insulted, her records requests have been delayed for months, and she has been forced to jump through so many hoops that most people in this room would have given up a long time ago.

Instead Erica Roberts kept pushing, and finally, there is progress. Without her persistence, there is a very good chance that our students and teachers would be suffering under the old math program this fall.

“You may not like Mrs. Roberts. You may not like the way she works. Maybe it’s not the way you would do it or the way you’d like to have it done. You may think that she is a pest or a nuisance. But to thousands of students, teachers, and parents, she is a hero.

“Despite countless opportunities, not one of you has taken time to publicly acknowledge what she has done or thank her for all her hard work. Instead, you focused on whether she was speaking for three minutes.

“I suggest that if anyone on this board or in the administration wants to get respect, start earning it tonight by donating part of your comments time to thank her for what she has accomplished on behalf of the elementary school kids, and their teachers and parents.

 “Thank you.”

No one took me up on my recommendation to thank Erica Roberts, and I did not expect them to. School board club meetings are carefully orchestrated to avoid any dissension (the logo debate was a rare exception) or bad news. This is a group that had to come kicking and screaming to area representation (and called it a “shakedown”), they are coming kicking and screaming to term limits, and they came kicking and screaming to replacing the math program.

They don’t like outsiders interfering in their business, despite the rhetoric about wanting community input. Outsiders only mess things up. So when Erica Roberts – with a big assist from her husband, Jeff – started sticking her nose in the math issue, it was met with the usual stall, stifle, and stymie.

Roberts was the catalyst for replacing the current math program, but her work has been scrubbed clean from all presentations and comments. In the end, as with so many other events, the new math program will be the brainstorm of a forward-thinking administration.

The rest of us know the truth.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD