“So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

(Bonus points to anyone who recognizes that title.)

This is my 772nd and final post on this blog. The first was posted on July 22, 2014 as a campaign communications channel.

When the election was over, I continued for two reasons. The first and least important was that I enjoyed the writing. Freed from 15 years of the shackles of a newspaper editing process, I could write whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

The more important reason was that there was a need. I did not understand how great a need until I began to get notes from district employees who were urging me to continue because there was no public voice for the many things about which they were concerned.

They did not speak to the higher-ups because they feared retaliation.

Not much has changed since I started. Oh, there has been progress in an incremental way, but the greater causes – the need for more transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility – are still not met.

That may change with the election tomorrow and it may not.

It should be noted here that one person has floated the idea of writing a school district blog in place of this one.

Soul and inspiration

One of the best benefits of the blog and of being active in school district affairs has been the people I have met. If the community and the nation had more of these people, we would all be better off. They deserve my thanks, secondarily for their information and research, and primarily for the inspiration they provided.

I have thought about quitting this blog many times and each time I started to get serious, one of these people came along with something that kept me going.

These very special people include Laurie Smith, Sandy Asper, Marti O’Meara, John Caldecott, Barry Friedland, Cynthia Blackwell, Britt Dowdy, Kimberly Claytor, and, oh gosh, if I’ve forgotten anyone, I am sorry.

Special notice is reserved for two locals, who may be the most tenacious people I’ve ever known.

Erica Roberts came out of nowhere to expose a severely flawed math program and bring it to the attention of the public.

Along the way, Roberts got the usual stall, stifle, and stymie from every corner of the administration and the trustees. But every time the district threw some roadblock in front of her, she found a way over, under, around, or through it.

Roberts’ campaign to replace the math program took over three years but ultimately she prevailed as students, parents, and teachers rejoiced.

With her Swun Math victory, Roberts accomplished more than I have in 20 years of badgering the district. Not only did she knock the math program off the pedestal, she inspired many other people to continue the fight for local school board reform.

Roberts came along at a time when I was down and discouraged. The progressive needle didn’t seem to be moving at all and I questioned the whole effort. It took Roberts’ “all-in” activism to revive my interest.

I don’t have a lot of heroes, but I count Erica Roberts among them.

The other hero is Wendy Leece, who has been the glue that has held a lot of this activism together for a very long time. Despite being shunned during her days as a trustee, including being the target of one of the most reprehensible actions ever taken by the school board, Leece shook it off and kept her focus on trying to improve the education experience for Newport-Mesa students.

Leece always comes prepared. I recall back in her trustee days when she reported on a couple of books that were due to be added to the district reading list. She could not recommend them and gave her reasons, but that was the small part. The big part is that unlike her colleagues, she actually read the books.

Leece tried to raise the trustee responsibility bar but the status quo was too powerful. Since then, she has thrived in her role as a member of the Newport-Mesa Community for Students.

To all of these people, and the many more who had the courage to challenge the district’s status quo:

“We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing as it comes up, seeing it not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have the strength to stare it down.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

There is a personal side to my thanks to all of these people, too. I started this blog two years after a great personal tragedy and despite my attempts at composure, I was a wreck. My wife, Laura, and my children helped me through, and so did these people with their intelligence, dedication, and kindness. I will always be grateful to them.

“Further on down the road

Or is it “farther?” I know it only from the song of the same name.

Regardless of who wins the elections tomorrow, a new era on the school board will begin. For the first time in the 20 years I have been covering district business, a majority of the board will have served no more than two years.

These are the younger attitudes our students need. They are closer to the rapid changes in education and will have better insight into the best way forward.

To the newest trustees, I urge you to follow the lead of Trustees Ashley Anderson and Michelle Barto, who have complemented one another and are making progress toward lasting, effective change.

I wish all the trustees well.

I wish you well, too. Thank you for the support, the encouragement, and the many exciting moments.


Steve Smith

Stop the nonsense.

“Nonsense” is a polite word for poor leadership. Let’s start with the small stuff.

A couple of weeks ago, I e-mailed this to the board:

From: Steve Smith
Sent: Monday, October 12, 2020 1:05 PM
To: Russell Lee-Sung
Cc: Martha Fluor; Dana E Black; Karen Yelsey; Charlene Metoyer; Michelle Barto; Ashley Anderson; Vicki Snell
Subject: Reporting transparency

Dear Supt. Lee-Sung:

In the interest of helping parents to make the best possible informed decisions about the health and welfare of their children, and to provide credibility to the district’s COVID-19 efforts, I am recommending that the N-MUSD use its website to post all relevant COVID-19 data, updated daily. This would include, by school:

  *  Daily no. of tests
  *  Cumulative no. of tests
  *  Daily no. of positive results
  *  Cumulative no. of positive results
  *  And more???

For an excellent example of how this might look, please visit: https://occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/coronavirus-in-oc


Steve Smith

I got a quick response from Board President Martha Fluor, which read:

Thanks Steve,
WE are working on a dashboard – patterned after Irvine’s. Please review theirs = many districts are in the process of implementing a dashboard.

WE currently do not offer tests.


The prompt reply was greatly appreciated, but I am so disappointed to see the result, which was presented at the board meeting last Tuesday. First, here is a portion of the “dashboard” offered by the Irvine Unified School District mentioned by Fluor:

Now here is the N-MUSD “dashboard” presented last Tuesday night:

N-MUSD “Dashboard”

Neither of these provides the information that parents, students, and guardians need to help them make an informed decision about their health and the health of others. These are not dashboards, these are charts; lists.

The chart is bad enough, what’s worse is what it represents, which is a lack of effort. I don’t know why the Irvine chart was chosen – maybe the N-MUSD administration figured that if Irvine created it, it must be good. Regardless, it’s not good, it’s terrible.

If you click on the link I sent to the super and the board, you’ll get this:

This is a dashboard, and while the individual categories may not be useful or relevant here, that’s not the issue. The purpose of a dashboard is to provide at-a-glance information and to provide the backup resources for anyone who wants to drill down even further. So if. for example, I want to look my individual school, I can.

Here’s a partial of theone from the school district in Jefferson County (Denver) Colorado:

But if you really want to see an awesome school district dashboard here’s a partial of the one from Rock Hill Schools in So. Carolina. This image is just a small section of the immense data they are providing in real time:

And if there were really some initiative shown here, each N-MUSD school would have its own dashboard.

Ours is missing key information such as reporting dates and the status of the positive cases. But what it’s really missing is that initiative; that desire to do more than what some other district has done.

And why, once again, are we copying another district? Just once, I’d like to have other districts copy us. That’s how it used to be. The Newport-Mesa Unified School District used to be the apple of the eye of the county and high up in the ranks of the state.

But a series of bad decisions over the years, including over a decade of failed superintendency has propelled us downward. The good people employed here have almost all of the answers we need to succeed – the classifieds, the teachers, and the executive cabinet – but they have seen what happens to anyone who rocks the boat and so they do only what they need to do to survive.

Almost no one has their backs.

Oh, and then there is this revealing information at the bottom of the N-MUSD chart: The total student population has dropped to 19,238, which is roughly 3,000 less than the 22,000 claimed by the district on its website.

So… Where have all those kids gone? We don’t know because as with so many other problems, the powers-that-be on Bear St. would rather just ignore it. I think this may be the only spot on the planet where no news is bad news.

OBTW, those excellent dashboards from JeffCo and Rock Hill? It took me less than one minute to find them online.

A not so fond farewell

Board President Fluor penned a letter that was just published in the Daily Pilot. It will be her last missive as a Trustee before Election Day this Tuesday.

So, did Fluor wish all the candidates well and offer some advice?


Did she reflect on her many years of service?


Did she write in support of a candidate?


Notice that it is “a” candidate and not three candidates, as in one from each of the three Area seats up for grabs. Fluor singled out incumbent Trustee Vicki Snell but that is really no surprise. What is surprising is – once again – not what Fluor said but what she didn’t say.

In her support of Snell, she did not mention Snell’s achievements, her standout leadership during her year as board president, or her ability to get people motivated to excel. She didn’t mention these attributes because they don’t apply.

Instead, the president of our district took the time to attempt a smear against the challenger, Dr. Leah Ersoylu.

Not only are the support for Snell and the failed attempt to drag down Ersoylu inappropriate and unbecoming a board president, it is misplaced: Fluor and I may read the Daily Pilot but he parents and others she needed to reach do not.

If anything, Fluor’s letter was more support for handing the reins of the district to people like Ersoylu.

Yet another evaluation

Seriously? Another superintendent evaluation last Thursday? If the board majority spent as much time improving test scores as they do evaluating the superintendent, I’d have nothing to write about.

There’s an old saying that is advice to business owners and managers that applies here: Hire slow, fire fast.

Here’s my evaluation: Leadership: F. Elucidation of vision: F (There is none). Communication: D. Oversight of pandemic issues: F. Inspiring others to excel: F.

There, that was easy.

Hidden assets

I want a superintendent who understand that teachers and classifieds are assets, not adversaries.

I want a superintendent who inspires.

I want a superintendent who leads by example. I like the Omar Bradley type: Eats what the troops eat, travels with the troops as they travel, etc.

I want a superintendent who understands that students can be the most valuable resource in the district.

I want a superintendent who understands that motivated teachers and classifieds can improve academic performance, save money, and propel the N-MUSD back to the ranks of respected, coveted districts instead of the district that routinely makes headlines over the latest scandal.

I want a superintendent who lives here; who is part of the community and has a stake in the growth and development of everyone involved.

I want a superintendent who is a little humbled by the position and shows some level of humility and gratitude over being hired to such a prestigious position.

This person should not be hard to find, just Google the best school districts in the country, interview those supers, and hire one of them.

And, please, no last minute raises or annuities by the board majority before the new trustees are seated.

Steve Smith

It’s this

First, a clarification on something that was brought to my attention… Back in August, the vote to appoint Russell Lee-Sung as Superintendent was 6-1. Trustee Ashley Anderson was the Trustee who voted no.

Tuesday night, I watched and/or listened to all five hours of the school board meeting. Sometimes, I watched the World Series with the volume off and listened to the meeting.

Throughout the meeting, I wrote down several points I wish to cover today, then started thinking about them in a broader context. It was then that I realized that nearly all of the challenges facing the district – including some of the financial ones – are the result of poor communication.

Let’s start with the small stuff. I expect every PowerPoint presentation to be perfect. These communications are created by a school district for others in the administration, for the trustees, and for the public. They are archived and will be accessible for as long as the district or the Internet care to store them.

Last night, I saw “on-going,” “‘in class’ instead of ‘in-class,'” and so many formatting errors (random hyphenations, breaks, etc.) that I was in pain. Though I realize that many or most people watching didn’t notice or care about these things, I did. These mistakes were not signs of people who are ignorant of the proper grammar, spelling, and syntax – these are smart people. Rather, they were signs of loose communications management.

If I’ve already told you this anecdote, I apologize, but it applies yet again: Just before the printing of a banner to be used at a conference, I made a slight change to the headline – minor! – but it still had to go through a proofreading process.

Here’s one I haven’t told… I am the former editor of a national magazine that was published by and featured a famous person. At the last minute, we were told to add a picture of the new television stage set that the star would be using.

My rule for the magazine was that every picture must have a caption. Because we had no time – those deadlines again! – I relayed the caption to the layout artist over the phone and let it go. The magazine was published with the word “gorgeuos” in the caption.

That magazine was not a school district and I’m probably the only person who recalls that mistake. But we must hold district communications in a higher regard. There is no excuse whatsoever for the sloppiness I see month after month.

All district presenters should submit their slide decks to a qualified proofreader in time to make changes. That process starts at the top.

Help is here and more is on the way

I’ve made no attempts to hide my appreciation of the district’s Student Services Dept. This department and these people are conducting the most important business in the district and are doing a good job.

There was conversation last night about the approval of $30,000 for some more support for the department and during the exchanges, I most recall the comments by Board President Martha Fluor. It was compelling, it was personal, and don’t think I could add anything to what she said.

Over the years, I have worked with a lot of doctors – many specialties, all over the country. What I learned is that the podiatrist will tell you that all your pain is due to issues with your feet. The cardiologist will tell you it’s because of your heart, and the neurologist will tell you that it all starts in the brain.

I have no doubt that the math teacher believes that math is the most important issue for students, the history teacher believes it’s history, and the music teacher will extol the many benefits of music over all other subjects. I believe, however, that the mental health of our students is the most important issue these days. It was the most important issue before the pandemic and it is even more important now.

I’m not sure whether the $30K was well spent last night, but I do know that under the direction of Dr. Sara Jocham, the department is being proactive instead of waiting around to fix things that break.

Oh, and if you want to see a good presentation, verbal and PowerPoint, watch Dr. Phil D’Agostino’s from Tuesday night. If I had a checklist for these things, his would be completely checked off, despite the fact that he spilled the beans on the World Series score…

The theater of communications

Back to communications. The board voted to move ahead with the new theater at Estancia High. Fine. Whatever.

The frustration for me is that the theater controversy that has been brewing over the past several weeks was not really about the destruction of mature trees or the location of the theater footprint.

It was all about communication. In this case, bad communication. About a month ago, the district should have had a special presentation on Facebook or via Zoom or wherever, to address the concerns that had been raised by the community. Unlike other meetings, attendees could submit real time comments and questions. At the heart of it, the district could have used Trustee Vicki Snell’s rationale for moving forward. I don’t agree with it, but she presented it well – not only just what she said but how she said it – and the conversation could have started.

This controversy and almost all of the others over the years could have been reduced or silenced through improved communication with the community.

I’m not talking about the fake community meetings to learn what people want in a new principal, or where to put a fence around a school. I am talking about (OK, yes, actually, I am writing about it) a new approach to communications, one that places informing the community at the top of the list of every initiative.

I’m talking about greatly increasing transparency and streamlining access to information so that the public has little if any digging to do when searching for something.

I’m talking about reviewing and scrapping almost all of the old ways of communication and replacing them with processes that reflect the communications habits of the new generation of parents.

Stop the messes before they begin by making everything front and center. Stop the progress of controversies already in play by addressing the with the community in an honest, straightforward manner. Sometimes, that means saying, “We made a mistake,” which is one of the most effective communications statements anyone or any entity can make.

If I had one request of the incoming board, it would be to create a task force or committee – one that is not stocked with the usual crowd, we need younger, more tech-savvy people who are parents of kids in the district – to come up with specific recommendations to improve community relations through improved communication. And implement them.

Then there’s this

It’s called G4 EA H1N1. It’s a new virus that was discovered in China last June and it is being positioned as having the capability of causing another pandemic. The findings have been reported in the Journal of the National Academy of Science but only marginally reported by the U.S. media. CNBC reported it in late June. Here’s the to the CNBC story:


We all want to return to “normal,” whatever that was for each of us. We want to be able to walk around without a mask, enjoy a meal inside a crowded restaurant, and bump into a stranger without worrying about whether we’re going to wind up in the ICU.

Predictions, however, are increasing that this coveted return may never happen; that we are moving into the virus age and that some of the habits we dislike but find necessary are going to be part of our new way of life.

That’s not me talking, that’s the conclusion of many people a lot more qualified. Go ahead, Google it.

As I write this, 40 states are reporting increases in COVID-19 cases. And if you believe that everything will be right once we get a vaccine, please contact me – I have a beautiful bridge in Brooklyn that I want to sell you, cheap.

It seems to me that one of the most irresponsible and financially reckless things that the district can do right now is proceed with the construction of a new theater.

The main reason for halting this project is that right now, we just don’t know whether we are building a theater or a very expensive storage shed for old desks, computers, and whatever else is laying around the Estancia campus because the theater was not designed for the virus age.

And if the district is going to proceed, it would be a good idea to pause for a time and re-think the design. Ask these questions, based on the strong possibility that we are entering the virus age:

  • If the virus age is real, what should this new theater look like ?
  • Does social distancing need to be incorporated?
  • Do we need space for a virus screening stop before entering the auditorium?
  • Do we need to boost the air circulation capabilities inside?
  • And more…

No one is asking these important questions. Someone should.

The problem is that the well-meaning folks in the administration who are overseeing this project are not wired or inspired to think beyond their to-do list. Oh, you want a new theater? OK, let me get my new theater checklist out – the one that was created thirty years ago – and I’ll get started.

We need new minds, new ways of thinking, not just for the theater but with everything else we are doing. If ever there were a time for a district summit meeting to discuss the future of education in the virus age, it is now.

But no one is recommending this. It’s just business as usual on Bear St.

Oh, yeah – this

So we have a student board member voting on some agenda items. This started a short time ago. The student’s vote does not count, nor should it, but it makes me wonder about yet another lost opportunity – a great one.

One of the long-term shortcomings of past school boards and administrations is their failure to tap into the vast wealth of information that our students can provide.

We sit around day after day making important decisions for these young people and only rarely ask them what they think.

That is the wasted opportunity. In the case of the student board member, the trustees should be asking him or her their thoughts on the agenda item each time it is applicable. And even when it is not. Ask all of the student board members. Stop guessing what is good for them by asking them what they think.

When the new board is seated, I hope that they will create a system to make student input a mandatory item for many of the projects, programs, and policies that are considered. It’s not a Herculean task – just ask any of the younger trustees who grew up with the technology.

A final word. Soon.

This has been a trying year for all of us. At the age of 65, I am still blessed with good health, even though I’ve had a few recent setbacks. Nothing life-threatening, just some serious reminders that I’m old.

I’m old and out of touch with the new generations of students and parents. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just the natural order. My parents were out of touch with my crowd, their parents with them, and so on.

It is time for the younger people to take the reins, not just here in the N-MUSD, but all across the country. The problem is that the old folks don’t want to let go. It’s hard, I know, but it’s their turn. It’s their time to succeed or fail.

I don’t want to write this blog anymore and I will no longer be watching or reporting or worrying about what happens in the district. In one sense, perhaps I’ve been an enabler – doing something that people much younger than me should be doing for themselves. Maybe a young parent will have a more efficient, tech-savvy way of doing this.

It’s time-consuming, too, and I’ve got things I’d rather be doing, such as trying to figure out how to rid my backyard of that one bully hummingbird that chases away all the others.

My last post will be sometime just before next Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Until then…

Steve Smith

The clock is ticking, everywhere.

The clock and the calendar drive a lot of activity in our lives. We always seem to need to be somewhere or do something by a certain time or on a certain day.

Back in my career, for example, there were deadlines. The art for an ad campaign had to be completed by, say 6:00 p.m. on a certain day. When I was promoted and put in charge, I questioned everything about the way we were doing business, including these deadlines, which I often found to be arbitrary, that is, there was nothing magical or special about many of them.

More important, they caused a lot of stress, increased errors, and hurt morale. It was the 6 p.m. deadline that was the worst. An artist or writer would come into my office at noon or so and let me know that he or she was working quickly, but could not be sure that the assignment would be completed by 6 p.m.

“So turn it in early tomorrow morning,” I would say. “You can turn it in at 6 tonight, but that’s when we go home and no one’s going to look at it until the morning, anyway. So, really, 9 a.m. tomorrow is the same as 6 p.m. today.”

The effect was immediate: The stress disappeared, mistakes were fewer, and morale improved.

A school district is not a private enterprise and cannot be run as one. But there are business principles that can and should be incorporated into district operations. One of the challenges we have is that too few people in charge have sufficient experience in private enterprise to know which best practices to adopt.

One of the best practices that would benefit everyone is a closer review of the clock and the calendar.

There’s a school board meeting tonight at 6 p.m. If you want to submit a comment, it needs to be done by 9 a.m. this morning. Why 9? Why not 9:30 or 10 or even 8 a.m.?

Why that is so has never been fully explained to us. Comments are “randomized,” to avoid any perception of bias, but that process has never been explained, either.

Then there is the time limit. The public comment section is limited to a paltry 20 minutes and all comments that are read are started with a timer. When the time limit of three or two minutes is reached, the comment is done. When all of the comments reach 20 minutes total, that’s the end.

So why, if the comments are randomized and if everything is run by the clock, do comments need to be submitted by 9 a.m.? This is one of those deadlines that needs to be explained, particularly when the comments portion of the show is routinely extended during in-person meetings when there are a lot of people waiting to speak.

Perhaps there is a good reason. Perhaps not. Either way, some sunlight on the process and the rationale would be helpful. Actually, it would have been helpful months ago when the remote meetings started but providing this sort of information has never been a hallmark of past school boards or the board majority of this one.

Here’s the link to tonight’s agenda, which also has the links to join the meeting at 6 tonight or to submit a comment. If you want to submit a comment, you need to hurry because the clock is ticking.

Tick, tick, tick…

The clock was ticking several weeks ago when the new super discussion began. For reasons I do not believe were valid, the board voted 6-1 to appoint – or anoint – Russell Lee-Sung as the new superintendent. The board should have waited until the new members were seated, but the clock was ticking and all but Trustee Ashley Anderson decided that the decision absolutely, positively had to be made on that day, at that time.

So where was the community input on that? Nowhere. It seems to me that every time a school needs a new principal, there’s a fake community meeting held to ask people what they’d like to see in the new head of the school, as if those characteristics change each time. But for the super, nothing. Just a rush to get it done before some fake deadline.

Tick, tick, tick, tick…

Today’s agenda has yet another fake deadline and this one is on a subject that seems like “deja vu all over again.”

Back in June, the great tragedy of the destruction of the trees at Ensign MS told the community that the school district is capable of anything at anytime. That day, this was the result:

It was a horrible time and the public response was so intense that one would think it would never again happen. But it is, unless you do something about it.

Tonight’s agenda includes item 17.a.2., which is “Ratify Agreement with MTGL for Geopier Foundation Design for the Theater Project at Estancia High School

It’s major step toward the construction of a new theater at Estancia that would cause the destruction of many beautiful, mature trees on the campus. Here’s an image to help give you an idea of the scope. Say goodbye to the trees in this pic:

Those trees are the only cluster of trees on the entire campus. Kids love to sit under them before and after school and during breaks. But if a board majority has its way, they’ll soon be gone.

Some questions…

1) What’s the rush? This is a major project and the new board members should be able to weigh in. (Tick, tick, tick…)

2) Why that location? The community has identified alternate locations that would provide a theater with the same footprint without destroying the beautiful, mature trees.

3) Where is the community input? There has been a woeful lack of public input on this project. And judging from the banter I have seen on the social media platforms, the community would like more opportunities to weigh in. In their defense, though, community input has been more of a chore for the district than an opportunity so at least they are consistent.

4) Where’s the need? I have seen messages, including some from theater students, indicating that the existing theater needs some improvements and enhancements but that otherwise, it’s just fine. Where are the surveys and studies showing the need? Were they even conducted?

The theater decisions can wait. It can wait until the new board is seated and the new trustees have an opportunity to provide input.

If you hurry, you can beat that fake 9 a.m. comments deadline.

Steve Smith

Bear with me…

This post is being created through a new editing version recommended by WordPress so if there are some messy areas, that may be why.

Or, it could be the wine. Hard to know…

I don’t know if anyone knows or cares about many of the things about which I write. And the truth is that it doesn’t matter to me. I write what I hope is interesting, but my desire to write greatly exceeds my desire to please an audience.

Who are the writers of tomorrow? Where are they? Will this/has this become a lost art? I think that for a high schooler, writing an essay is more difficult than when I was in school 45 or so years ago.

Back then, I knew kids who tried to avoid classes with essay tests. Nothing wrong with that – I tried to avoid the ones with objective tests. The difference today, I believe, is that there are fewer students for whom writing is easier than filling in a bubble.

And that’s OK. I spoke to the board about this awhile back and wrote about it here, that is, the student of the future will be raised in an environment that has whittled communication down to a few words or characters. Snippets.

Nothing wrong with that if that is the way things go. I will not long for those good old days when a well-written essay could actually change someone’s mind, or cause them to seek more information. If that is the evolution of our communication, so be it.

But I still wonder what’s relevant and what’s not. The case in point today is a sign that I noticed while dropping off cards supporting Dr. Leah Ersoylu as the Trustee in Area 1. Here it is:

The sign reads, “Killybrooke is College Bound!”

Let’s try this again: There are a lot of kids who either do not want to go to college or can’t go to college. A sign such as this serves only to make them feel bad because they are not going to do something that a bunch of random adults believes is important.

And what about the kids who enlist in the armed forces after high school instead of going to college? It seems to me that this and other signs around the district should be celebrating that decision, not ignoring it.

But the district can’t seem to shake the whole college thing. It’s wrong. And it’s also going against a trend: College enrollment is dropping and it’s not all pandemic-related because enrollment was dropping before the pandemic began.

Private schools are taking a greater hit but as of last month, the data shows that the biggest drop is in community colleges – about 7.5%.

So stop with the college thing already.

P.S. The district has a page honoring those who chose armed forces service after high school, which is great, but it needs to be updated.

Time on her hands

Now that all of the school district’s problems have been solved and there’s money in the bank and the future is all roses and rainbows, incumbent Trustee Vicki Snell has some extra time on her hands.

That’s the only explanation I can conjure up for someone who recently posted a lengthy social media essay on the horror of lawn signs (and did not mention that she has them spread all over Area 1), and has today posted something on the evils of the slate mailer.

Really? There is complete, total chaos in the district in every category of its existence, but Snell has chosen to focus her time on condemning campaign tactics.

This time around, she is complaining about a tactic she used in her 2016 campaign.

Unbelievable. Actually, no, it’s not.

Snell is desperate to win. There is no other way to put it. And her entire campaign strategy seems to be to follow her challenger, Dr. Leah Ersoylu, around Area 1 and try to do whatever Ersoylu is doing. And when she can’t – as in, it’s too late to get on the slate mailers – she just lobs a hand grenade in that direction.

The only tactic missing from her negative campaign strategy is a fly.

Steve Smith

Fiddling while Rome burns – again.

If you want to see a clear example of confusion, chaos, and failed leadership, click on the link below to Thursday’s special board meeting and fast forward to 2:30:00 (two hours, thirty minutes).

What you will see is the Board President Martha Fluor – a trustee for almost 30 years – become entangled in the protocol over motions and amendments and trying to wrangle her fellow trustees to get them to vote.

It’s not a confidence builder, it’s painful. A mess. And costly, too, because one of the district’s lawyers had to offer an opinion. But it’s important to watch the last 30 minutes or so because you will get a clear idea of why we need not just a new trustee in Area 1 to complete the transition, but why we need the transition in the first place.

After 10 minutes of this runaround, the voting starts. Then it ends too early because Fluor thought it was done but Trustee Charlene Metoyer had not voted on the motion.

It’s difficult to watch, but it is important to do so. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9YjU0eA9dg&list=PLIkJ1hyC4k6dQyo_XS0B1NkDMQur8Podt&index=1

The motion passed 6-0 with 1 absent trustee.

The board has voted to delay in-person schooling for grades 7-12 until Dec. 17 and no later. This just a few days before kids in these grades were set to return.

I could go into the details and discussion points, but that would cloud the bigger picture, which is something I have stated for years on this blog, and among family, friends, and co-workers: It’s easy to lead when times are good. It is only during a crisis such as the pandemic that we find out who is a true leader and who is just occupying a chair.

The case in point

Only about 24 hours after the vote to delay, Trustee Vicki Snell posted nearly 300 words on how much she dislikes the lawn signs that are allowed in public spaces in Costa Mesa.

Forget about the fact that she is taking full advantage of the lawn sign opportunity by spreading them all over Area 1 and let’s focus on priorities.

The ink had barely been dry on a motion that is certain to cause upheaval in homes throughout the district. But Snell thought that an essay on the evils of lawn signs was more important than any outreach to confused and burdened parents.

She spent her time composing a posting a lengthy (for social media) essay when she could have been, for example, organizing an Area 1 town hall on Zoom to help reassure parents and offer whatever help she could. Or she could organize groups of small, socially-distanced parents at a nearby park for Q&A sessions.

But she chose instead to spend her time fussing about something over which she has no control.

This is not leadership. And it is a clear example of why I am supporting Dr. Leah Ersoylu in Area 1 and why you should, too.

In Area 6, vote for Amy Peters. Peters is the only candidate in Area 6 who has regularly attended board meetings and knows the core issues that we face, which are a lack of transparency and accountability, and insufficient fiscal responsibility.


Financial Disclosure Statements for all candidates were due on Sept. 24. Snell did not turn hers in until Sept. 25.

And it’s not like her form is a challenge. Once again, she is using family money to support her campaign…. $22,000 to get a job that pays a bit over $400, plus health care coverage.

I find it hard to trust someone with overseeing a budget of roughly $300 million when she can’t even get a simple form in on time to the Registrar’s office.

Steve Smith

Watch these, please

As the campaigns wind down and heat up, it is important to understand the importance of the 2020 school board elections.

In Areas three and six, there is no incumbent running. In Area 6, I support Candidate Amy Peters. I have seen Peters in action at many school board meetings and she understands the key issues that faced our district long before the pandemic exposed the leadership challenges we must now overcome.

Peters has children in the district. Not too long ago, that would not have mattered to me, but a few weeks ago, I realized that going to school in the coming years may be so unlike school from even five years ago. We need parents on the board – parents who have battled the distance learning debacle and who have raised their kids with a level of technology that was unimaginable to my generation.

Peters gets it and she will make an excellent trustee.

In Area 1, Dr. Leah Ersoylu is the only candidate facing an incumbent. In some ways, that makes her messaging more difficult, and in a few ways, it makes it easier.

It is a bit easier in the sense that the incumbent has little or nothing to show for six years on the school board. The incumbent’s tenure has been littered with one mismanagement episode after another and the most recent test score results posted on the district’s website show an appalling lack of attention to the improvement of academic performance.

Leah Ersoylu has a child in the district. Like Peters, she will bring an entrepreneur’s attitude to district business which, in many cases, is just a matter of questioning the status quo.

Let’s restore vision and vitality to the school board. Vote for Amy Peters in Area 6 and Dr. Leah Eersoylu in Area 1.

Steve Smith

What to do, what to do

If you visit the N-MUSD website you will see, front and center, a link to a video titled, “Superintendent Parent Message” dated Sept. 29.

OK, so far so good. I expected that I would see and hear a reassuring message from the super:

  • Providing details of all of the safety measures that the schools have undergone preparatory to the return of students
  • Reassuring parents that the schools are safe
  • Offering the phone number – a hotline – and/or dedicated link where parents can register concerns
  • Explaining the goals for the rest of the year

Unfortunately, none of that was in the 2:30 video.

The first minute was spent thanking the staff for their hard work. The remaining minute-and-a-half was spent talking about nothing – no substance of any kind – and winding up with an anecdote about something he heard a kindergartener say.

So that is the all-important message from the super that is occupying the top spot on the website.

Oh, and I know it could easily be just old school Steve talking here, but when the super addresses the community in this manner and in most others, I want to see a dress shirt and tie. Jacket optional.

The super’s message fell short on the most important component of the message he should have delivered, which is to set expectations. He should have made sure that parents understood that things are quite fluid right now and that they and their children should not expect the school experience as they knew it.

Another lost opportunity.

Where’s the money?

Candidate financial disclosure statements (FDS) were due on Sept. 24. Some candidates – the responsible ones – filed on time so that we could follow the money to their campaign.

As of today, only three trustee candidates have an FDS posted on the website of the Orange County Registrar of Voters. Those three are:

  • Dr. Leah Ersoylu (Area 1)
  • Amy Peters (Area 6)
  • Carol Crane (Area 3)

That’s it – no others have been recorded. For the newbies, those running for the first time, maybe there’s some wiggle room we could allow, though I believe this is Crane’s first attempt and she filed.

Maybe. But there is no excuse for someone such as Vicki Snell, who is in her third campaign. Snell does not have a single FDS posted for this election. Filing these things is not hard. I did them when I ran and I am math-challenged. It’s just a matter of being responsible.

You can see for yourself here: https://public.netfile.com/pub2/?AID=coc

A candidate drops a hanger

Coincidentally, our home received a door hanger pitch from Snell’s campaign today. Or last night. I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that the campaign wasted a few cents because our lawn features a sign promoting the candidacy of Dr. Leah Ersoylu here in Area 1. So either someone didn’t see the sign, or they saw the sign and dropped the card anyway, or someone thought they could change our minds based solely on the information on the card.

The card we received does not list one single accomplishment in Snell’s six years as a Trustee. Not one. The whole thing relies on a voter making a decision based on Snell’s past experience.

The absence of any accomplishments could be some campaign strategy, it could be an oversight, or it could be a rare moment of a politician exhibiting some refreshing honesty, because the fact is that there isn’t a single substantial project or program that Snell has initiated and which has provided benefits to our students, the taxpayers, or the community.

Everything that could be classified as such originated elsewhere. She just rubber-stamped it.

I’m pointing it out to highlight the lack of input from the board majority and to promote the concept that those days – the days of trustees sitting back and waiting for the staff to propose things – are over. And if they’re not over, they should be.

I don’t know why Trustees Martha Fluor and Dana Black are not running again this year. I truly hope that the reasons are not health-related and that all is well with them and with their families. Perhaps it’s just a matter of wanting to get off the merry-go-round.

The best scenario is that they chose not to run because they see what I see and what a growing number of mature officeholders see: It’s time to turn the reigns over to the generation behind us.

The audacity

Snell’s campaign card has the URL for her website, so I went there. As with most campaign websites and many private enterprise websites, it’s is copy (text) heavy. It’s a common mistake. People these days do not like to read big blocks of text, even older folks like me.

It also makes the common mistake of going on and on about her. (A note to business owners and candidates: I have been writing copy for websites for about 20 years. Got really good at it, too. Here’s one thing I know: No one cares about you. They don’t care about your experience, your accomplishments, or your family. What they care about is what you’re going to do for them.)

I’m a temporary exception here because I read the copy on Snell’s card. What really caught my eye was the first two lines of that big block of text that reads (make sure you’re sitting down):

“Vicki Snell fights for the schools in her area. When inappropriately-sized baseball poles were built at Estancia, she met with neighbors, listened, and demanded their removal.”

That is perhaps the most outrageous and disingenuous (a polite word for something else) political statement I have ever read.

Those poles were erected in the first place because Snell voted for them and voted for them without feeling the need to inform the residents along JoAnn St. over which they towered.

Snell voted for the poles because the solar panels in the Estancia parking lot were ill-placed (Yes, I just made up a word there) and foul balls from the baseball diamond were creating costly repairs.

Had the solar panels been properly placed, there would not have been a need for the poles, capiche?

But the poles were erected, residents shouted, and they came down. For Snell to claim this as some sort of victorious advocacy is outrageous. She didn’t demand anything, she caved. And to this day, she has neither acknowledged her involvement in the fiasco or offered a sincere apology to the residents or to the taxpayers for wasting hundreds of thousands of tax dollars.

I’d like to tell you who is paying for the door hanger, her website, and the rest of her campaign, but I can’t because as of 11:15 on Thursday, Oct. 1, Snell does not have a single 2020 campaign Financial Disclosure Form posted on the website of the Orange County Registrar of Voters.

More recklessness and irresponsibility.

Or, it could be on purpose. It could be that as in her 2016 campaign, she has been forced to give or loan her campaign a lot of money ($22,000 in 2016) and she doesn’t want voters to know about it.

Whatever, it would be nice to know.

We get letters

I don’t often publish comments and when I do the writers always remain anonymous to readers. Just catching up so here are a few:

1.”Are you going to send this to Costa Mesa Public Square. Please do.” [This was  in response to the post ‘But wait, there’s more!'” https://stevesmith714.wordpress.com/2020/09/22/but-wait-theres-more-9/

2. “Wanna know another huge waste of money??? Over the summer the Woodland parking lot was re done. Re slurried, re-surfaced and re-striped. Today I drove by and it is being torn up and redone because of water flowing on it and it collecting…isn’t that what the re-surface company should look at before they redo it? I could’ve told them where the water collects based on the color of ground and pot holes. Not rocket science. Ugh! SO MUCH WASTED TAXPAYER MONEY! Not to mention the noise all day!”

3. “BTW Mariners also had a bad leak damaging the main office maybe 2 years back. i was told that putting in the AC on the old roof put this event at risk to happen.

“Same thing…significant damage. Office staff’s equipment and work disrupted etc. Board is lax, lazy, and puts false trust in the admin’s hiring. Facilities Dept. has chronic, inept leadership issues.”

4. “Curious that you make no mention of Karen Yelsey’s involvement in getting this overturned, or the fact that she was opposed to it from the beginning because she listened to her constituents. You give all the credit to Russell, but she was actually instrumental in getting this repealed. Just ask a majority of the CdM HS parents.” [In response to 4×4 post]

5. “I think this is the first time I’ve disagreed with you. Ever. And I’m aware that the change of models is not great timing. However, NMUSD also does not have a virtual learning platform for distance learning, for example, Schoology. Also, why aren’t all stakeholders being heard? It appears as if the loudest voices are coming from CDM and maybe Newport Harbor. Furthermore, is this really best for ALL students? I will not stop asking that particular question until someone can answer it. All students: English Language Learners; College Prep students; Special Education students who are included; at risk students (those who are surviving not thriving); AP students; trauma identified students (those with 4 or more ACEs); etc. In my professional opinion, these students and their parents and/or guardians have not, been considered when the 4×4 model was revoked. Because I am a professional, I did do my due diligence in research and found evidence supporting the success for this model. I am disappointed that the district and the board changed their mind. Russell originally said the district would be unified in their decision. Perhaps he should have said they would discuss each sites unique make up of students. Finally, the AP students tirade is absurd. Those students will do well regardless. Besides, the nationwide test results indicate a median score of slightly above 3 on all tests but a few. In order to earn college credit the student must pass with a 4 or 5. If the student is attending, for example, Stanford, most tests need to be passed with a 5. In fact, UCLA does not accept AP college credit. So why are AP classes important? For the students GPA. Then why are they fighting about this model? And did they ask if it was best for ALL students?”

So there.

Steve Smith

Got it on tape

Do they still call it “tape” even if there’s no film? I don’t know. Maybe. After all, our e-mail options include “cc” which is an acronym for “carbon copy.” Ten points if you remember carbon copies.

Dr. Leah Eersoylu is on tape, courtesy of Costa Mesa Brief, which has been interviewing candidates up and down the political spectrum.

From the “Brief” description…

Dr. Leah Ersoylu is running for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District Trustee, Area 1 board and has a passion and commitment to help all kids learn, explore, and thrive.  If elected, she would be one of only two Trustees who is a mother of school-aged children in our District.   She fully recognizes that incumbents win local elections 82% of the time, so she began her campaign almost one year ago working tirelessly to get her message out.  

Professionally, she is a researcher and policy analyst by training and believes data should drive decision-making, especially in education.  She has dedicated her career to supporting youth development, education, and health organizations by designing programs and measuring impact.

Former N-MUSD teacher and Costa Mesa Brief’s reporter for all things concerning education, Sandy Asper, asks the tough questions. 

Topics covered:

  • Her Biography
  • Going back to in-person school during Covid-19
  • Why she is running
  • Keeping the trees at Ensign Intermediate School
  • Board is not being transparent about Estancia High School theater project
  • The appointment of the new Superintendent Russell Lee-Sung
  • Toxic smells at Estancia High School
  • The job of being a trustee
  • Trustee’s access to a campus
  • The District’s lack of budget transparency
  • Why you should vote for Leah

Here’s the link to the video: https://youtu.be/McLSKJi5Mq8

Please watch and share.

Thank you.

Steve Smith


It’s time.

Awhile back, I posted a lengthy, fact-filled essay on why voters need to part ways with Trustee Vicki Snell this fall. All of the waste and poor academic performance should be enough, but there is one most important reason…

Early Sunday evening, right around the 6 p.m. deadline for removing campaign signage in Costa Mesa, I noticed a couple filming me yank the Leah Ersoylu signs out of the ground.

One of them asked me if I was with the campaign, I said “yes,” and explained what I was doing.

Then I introduced myself and asked their names. They told me, then admitted that they knew nothing about the school board race.

I gave them the elevator speech on Trustee Vicki Snell’s failed tenure, mentioned that Ersoylu is well-educated, an entrepreneur, and the mother of a child in the district. Then I added something new…

I told this couple – 50ish??? – that I am 65 years old and that Snell is about my age. I explained that just after Ersoylu hosted a Facebook chat with Amy Peters, another candidate in another trustee Area, I had a crystal clear moment of clarity.

My generation does not have the technology awareness required to be a decision-maker in today’s school system. Oh, I can work my way through most stuff and I was even an early-adopter at one point because I had a cell phone in 1993.

But I did not grow up with this technology and I do not have any kids at home who are growing up with it. In the years to come, that knowledge – the second nature element of embracing technology and realizing it potential and limitations – is essential in our trustees.

I told the couple that it is time to pass the torch.

At the beginning of 2020, I was asked many times whether I planned to run. My reply was usually something like, “Vicki Snell will not run unopposed. If no one runs, I will.”

Frankly, though, had I been elected I believe I would have made an impact in areas such as fiscal responsibility, but this one area – the technology awareness – is critical and it is there that I believe I would have failed miserably.

The generation just below mine – Ersoylu’s generation – deserves a chance. This is their time.

Steve Smith