More Challengers

In Area 5, currently represented by Trustee Judy Franco, who has declared she is not running re-election, there is another candidate for her seat.

Paul Hillson has filed the paperwork required to run. Hillson lists his status as “Small Businessman and Parent.”

In Area 7, currently represented by Trustee Walt Davenport, who is not running again, Diane “Dee Dee” Ruorock has filed. Ruorock is listed as “Real Estate Agent.”

More on the candidates after tomorrow’s filing deadline.

Steve Smith


Taking One for the Team

Yesterday’s secret special meeting had one person in attendance – a 32-year resident of Costa Mesa who for a long time has been disturbed by the school board’s astounding lack of accountability, transparency, and fiscal responsibility.

How is it that in 2018, when government agencies across the country are tripping over themselves trying out out-transparency one another, that the N-MUSD is still spending precious tax dollars in legal fights to prevent residents from seeing what they have a right to know?

How is that despite never having won a decision in any of John Caldecott’s CPRA requests, that the district keeps spending education money trying to prevent him from shining a light on their activities?

And how is that despite the longest and deepest – by far – string of blunders in the district’s history, that not one person in the administration or on the board has ever taken ownership of anything and said, “I’m sorry.”

Saying “I’m sorry” is not hard. On Tuesday, after she reported incorrect job figures for U.S. African-Americans, presidential press secretary Sarah Sanders said it, clearly and directly: “I’m sorry for the mistake…”

That’s what strong, secure people do.

So there I was, in the empty audience section, save for one fellow in the back row who appeared to be there on district business and was clearly not going to give the board the what for.

So, I did it. Prior to speaking, I was asked by board president Vicki Snell whether I came to speak on the agenda item. In my head, I’m thinking, “Um, yeah, why else would I be here?” and “I’m the only person speaking. Even if I take the full three minutes, so what if I want to get up and talk about hummingbird feeders?”

After some mutual chuckling over the required introduction to the public comments section, I said to the trustees, “Thank you. Good morning. I don’t want to assume that you are aware of this, so I want you to know that notice of this meeting was posted at 2:41 p.m. on Monday.”

Then  I left.

I was not there to change minds; to have a trustee suddenly jump up and say, “2:41 p.m. on Monday? That is an outrage! We need to have a roundtable discussion on how to provide more notice so that we can get more members of the public to attend these secret special meetings!”

I’ve been down the “do the right thing” on this issue with the board multiple times. Called ’em on it and even got into what I thought was a productive exchange earlier this year.

Silly me. Nothing has changed and nothing will change unless and until we get new trustees who understand why the word “trust” is in their title.

Steve Smith

Math Plan Doesn’t Add Up

In the current online edition of the Daily Pilot, there is an excellent column by Patrice Apocaca that provides an overview of the district’s failed attempt to restructure its math program.

Here’s the link:

I found the key paragraph to be:

“Rather than evolving, slowly but surely, toward a more effective, equitable and reliable system, we too often find that education is a jumbled, incoherent mix of competing philosophies, dubious attempts at progress and unshakable dogma.”

There is an education establishment in the U.S. whose interests are not always aligned with academic success. These people and these enterprises are more concerned with making money through book sales, software sales and implementation, consulting, and much more.

And after all this time, what do we have to show for it? From the Pew Research Center last year:

“One of the biggest cross-national tests is the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which every three years measures reading ability, math and science literacy and other key skills among 15-year-olds in dozens of developed and developing countries. The most recent PISA results, from 2015, placed the U.S. an unimpressive 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science. Among the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which sponsors the PISA initiative, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 19th in science.”

It is unlikely that we will see any significant change in these rankings anytime soon. But we can make a local difference. We can improve academic performance, increase teacher satisfaction (a key to academic success, BTW), and provide a safe and enriching school environment and we can do that with ease.

It starts by borrowing and following a simple rule from the business world. I have written that I do not believe that a school district can be run just like a business, but I also believe there are business principles that can be applied here to help improve things.

One of them relates to performance: When a corporation is failing, you replace all of the decision-makers.

I have no hope that the U.S. rankings will change dramatically anytime soon. But we can make a difference locally by electing new trustees to the Newport-Mesa Unified School District school board.

The current crew has had their chance and they have failed in the key areas of accountability, transparency, and fiscal responsibility.

It’s time for someone else to try. More on the candidates after the official filing deadline expires on Friday.

Steve Smith

More Proof

There is something to be said about consistency. In most areas of our lives, we appreciate consistency.

If nothing else, the school board club has exhibited tremendous consistency in their rubber-stamping approval of whatever is presented to them by the staff, by their failure to be held accountable for anything, their fiscal irresponsibility, their poor communication, and more.

Today’s example is the announcement of yet another secret special meeting. This one is being held tomorrow at 9 a.m. at the Bear St. HQ. It was announced yesterday at 2:41 p.m.

I will donate $100 to the Costa Mesa Boys and Girls Club if I am provided with easy evidence that the administration did not have plans last week to schedule this meeting tomorrow.

How easy? All it would take for the donation to take effect is for anyone in the administration or on the school board to contact me and tell me that this meeting was not planned or scheduled until yesterday.

That won’t happen. How do I know? Because if nothing else, there is great consistency in scheduling these secret special meetings.

Why do they do this, you ask? Why do they wait until close to the deadline to announce these secret special meetings? Because they don’t want you or anyone else to attend, that’s why. Despite their statements to the contrary, they really don’t want your input, your concerns are not a priority and they’re doing just fine without you, thank you very much.

And here’s this from the California School Board Association about reaching out to the community. They recommend “…engagement strategies that enhance community understanding and increase their focus on student needs.”

Not here, not today, and not for a long time.

Steve Smith


Candidate Update

As of today, eight people are officially candidates for seats on the N-MUSD school board. One person has pulled the papers but has not filed. The deadline is Friday.

Here are the choices at this time.

In Area 2, incumbent Charlene Metoyer is running, as is Michelle Murphy.

In Area 4, incumbent Karen Yelsey will be running against Gina Nick.

Trustee Judy Franco declared several weeks ago that she would not be running for re-election in Area 5. There, Michelle Barto will square off against Kate Malouf.

In Area 7, Trustee Walt Davenport has not pulled the papers required to run and his deadline has passed. Consistent with his school board club meetings over the past few years, Davenport said nothing about this. Here, there are two official candidates and one pending. The two declared candidates are Ashley Anderson and Bertha Rodriguez.

No candidate commentary or opinion at this time.

What we know so far is this: Come November, there will be at least two newcomers on the school board, one from Area 5 (Franco) and one from Area 7 (Davenport).

Steve Smith

Oversight Committee Needs Oversight

In 1992, the N-MUSD discovered that Stephen Wagner, its chief financial officer for 21 years, had stolen approximately $3.5 million in school funds, including money for children’s lunches. Wagner put the money in a secret account, then used it to buy a Rolls-Royce, a mink tuxedo and a lot of other stuff that was way out of his $78,000 pay grade.

After the theft was discovered and Wagner went to prison, the N-MUSD established the “Citizens’ Budget Oversight Committee.” I was a founding member.

The committee is still in effect under the name “Citizens’ Oversight Committee,” but it has been relegated to a meaningless status. Today, it is more for show than substance. And there isn’t that much show.

Need proof? Here are a couple of things to start:

1) Over the past 12 years, the committee has met a measly 26 times. That’s an average of about twice a year, or once every 5.5 months.

Here is the number of meetings they have held each year since 2007:

2007 – 2
2008 – 2
2009 – 3
2010 – 3
2011 – 3
2012 – 2
2013 – 3
2014 – 2
2015 – 2
2016 – 1
2017 – 1
2018 – 2

That’s a ridiculously low number of meetings to try to get the arms of a group of outsiders around the most complex component of district business, but that’s not the worst part.

This repackaged committee was officially formed by the unanimous approval of a resolution on October 11, 2005. Section 12.i of that resolution states:

“In accordance with section 4 above, the Oversight Committee shall meet at least quarterly to provide an Annual Report to the Board of Education.”

As you can see, that has not happened.

2) The 2005 resolution was reconfirmed with several key changes by unanimous vote on November 15, 2016. The signor at that time was Trustee Dana Black, then the school board’s President.

The 2005 original committee was mandated to include 25 members, including “One representative from the Board of Realtors” and “One member from the Latino Business Council.”

In a Pilot column at the time, I wrote about the ridiculousness of such a large committee and questioned the inclusion of members from certain specific groups. The Board of Realtors???

Turns out, I was right, though no one on Bear St. will ever admit it. The updated resolution in 2016 has substantially different membership requirements. The language has been changed, and the required representatives – only five this time around – do not include anyone from the Board of Realtors or the Latino Business Council.

They should have kept the Latino Business Council rep.

This committee has a lot on its plate. According to the 2016 version of the resolution, the committee is supposed to:

Oversight 1

Wow. See? I told you they had a lot on their plate. Amazing, isn’t it, how they have managed to do all this while meeting an average of only twice a year.

Oh, and did I miss it, or has the committee failed to perform per section (ii) which is to “advise the public as to whether the school district is in compliance with [etc.]”

I don’t recall ever seeing any such advisement.

What to do, what to do…

The district must have an oversight committee. It’s a promise they have to keep. But it is clear that the intent of the committee and the execution of its duties are oceans apart.

Any fiscally-responsible, accountability-minded, transparency-minded school board would elevate the responsibility and visibility of a financial oversight committee to let taxpayers know that their money is being spent the way it was intended.

They would strictly enforce the quarterly meeting rule and demand updates in regular school board meetings.

But we do not have people of that thinking on the current board. Instead, the committee is almost a secret: I have attended most meetings for many years and I cannot recall a single discussion on the work of this committee.

So, what to do? It’s simple: Elect trustees who embrace increased accountability, transparency, and fiscal responsibility.

See? I told you it was easy!

Here’s the link to the district’s web page on the Citizens’ Oversight Committee:

OBTW, that apostrophe in “Citizens’?” That’s mine. Just sayin…
Steve Smith

When the Cat’s Away…

Each summer, before the long break in school board club meetings, the trustees hand over control of district business to the superintendent. The super’s power is not carte blanche – in many important circumstances, he is forced to get club member approval for decisions.

Such is the case with the musical chairs that has become a hallmark of this administration. Yesterday, however, the staff shuffling hit a new high, or low, depending on one’s perspective.

In one fell swoop, the super announced five key moves, which are:

  • Sara Coley is now the “Coordinator, Student Services. Coley served as a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) as a “restorative practices trainer” for staff districtwide.(I know what you’re wondering: What the $&@# is a “restorative practices trainer?” According to my research, “Restorative practices focus on repairing the harm to relationships rather than piling on more punishment for violations.” – John Bouton and Laura Mirsky, “Restorative Practices as a Tool for Organizational Change.”)

  • Megan Brown is now the Director, Certificated Personnel. “She will be responsible for certificated employee recruitment, staffing, professional development, and facilitating appropriate resolution to complaints through the district’s complaint policies and procedures.” 

    “… facilitating appropriate resolution to complaints”… that’s gobbledygook for “handling complaints.”

  • Gabriel Del Real is the new Coordinator of Curriculum and Instruction.  No description of his duties is provided in the announcement.
  • Stacy de Boom-Howard is the new principal of Adams Elementary, replacing Del Real.
  • Carrie Gammel is the new principal of Pomona Elementary. Gammel is moving to Pomona from Lincoln.

All of these changes must be approved by the club at their meeting on August 28. And make no mistake, they will all be approved by a 7-0 vote. It’s in the vault….

The whole charade would pass without any notice in these dog days of summer when no one is paying attention, however, there are at least a couple of questions…

  1. Costa Mesa gets two new principals without holding the usual fake community meetings during which the district pretends to want local input but doesn’t really care what you think.
  2. Who is new principal at Lincoln? The news report doesn’t state the replacement so does that mean that Lincoln-area residents will have the joy of a fake meeting? If so, why are there no fake meetings for the two Costa Mesa schools?

My guess is that this is not the end of staff shuffling. It’s an election year and time now to get all of the ducks in line to try to help preserve the status quo. You can also count on fluffy announcements, fake meetings with a lot of chin-stroking and concerned looks, and – finally – some attention being paid to a program to identify troubled teens.

All of this is meant to provide incumbents with talking points during their campaigns, but it won’t help. I compiled The List as news to some voters and a reminder to others that things in the once-proud N-MUSD are far from good. Here’s the link:

Steve Smith

Proof Mounts

Perhaps you heard the news: In New Mexico, five adults each face 11 charges of child abuse related to the neglect and abuse of the children discovered in squalid conditions in the desert.

A fresh news report from states that “All five of the defendants in the New Mexico child abuse case were under investigation based upon “the training of children with weapons in furtherance of a conspiracy to commit school shootings,’ according to criminal complaints filed in district court on Wednesday.”

They were training kids/students to shoot up a school. Not adults – students. Not crazed strangers – kids who looked like they had a perfect right to be on the campus.

No fence, clear backpack, or badge would have stopped these kids. OBTW, there’s a workaround for campus metal detectors, too.

Just another reminder of the massive lapse in judgment of the well-paid bureaucrats in the N-MUSD and of why we need new trustees starting this year.

Steve Smith

We All Get It. All Except the N-MUSD.

Here’s the link to a new column in the Daily Pilot regarding school safety and the N-MUSD’s plans, which are missing a crucial element:

In the column and in a past post on this blog, I pointed out the importance of increased identification and counseling of troubled teens. They are the most likely “shooters,” not some deranged, detached adult climbing a fence armed with multiple assault rifles.

But you’d never know it from looking at the district’s website and safety proposals.

In this morning’s reports on, there is coverage of the interrogation of Nikolas Cruz, a suspect in the Parkland school massacre. Here’s the first paragraph:

“Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz told a detective that a demon in his head — “the evil side” — told him to burn, kill and destroy, and that he thought about going to a park to kill people about a week before 17 people were gunned down at the school, according to a transcript of his interrogation released Monday.”

Here are some relevant facts from the transcripts:

  • He had a “penchant” for killing animals.
  • He attempted suicide multiple times.
  • He heard a voice in his head constantly, telling him to “Burn. Kill. Destroy.”
  • He told his brother about the voice.
  • When asked by a detective if he had a lot of friends, Cruz replied, “No.”

School safety is not rocket surgery but the N-MUSD falls woefully short of the comprehensive plan needed to prevent a similar attack on our campuses.

You’re probably asking yourself why… Why, with all of the easily available, obvious evidence pointing to the need for huge increases in identifying and counseling troubled teens, doesn’t the N-MUSD make this the focus of their program?

There are a few key reasons and many lesser ones.

First among the key reasons is the district’s disdain for anything that smacks of failure or a fault in any program We saw this with the monstrous foot-dragging over Swun Math, which took years to unravel because the district was unable to admit that the program’s flaws were too great to overcome.

And we saw it earlier this year in the handling of the suicide of Patrick Turner, an event that the district would rather sweep under the rug – and has – instead of honoring Patrick’s admonition to take action to help save his peers from the same fate.

Can’t talk about Turner’s suicide – oh, no, we don’t do that here.

Those are just two examples of how the district broom works to sweep events under the rug. There are many more.

The second reason is that the district’s leaders – the superintendent and the trustees – do not inspire the ranks to take bold steps. Everything is done in a plodding fashion to keep from ruffling any feathers and to help preserve the status quo. Keep off the radar, come to work with a smile, and collect your salary every month. And don’t ever – ever – point out that something is wrong. The N-MUSD never makes mistakes and therefore has no need to apologize for anything.

The third and final key reason is that they simply don’t know how to create an effective safety program. Everything I’ve mentioned in the article and in the past blog post was easily available online. With a few clicks of my mouse I learned, for example, that attacks are planned, that shooters leave hints, and that identification and counseling helps prevent violence. The typical shooter profile is easy to find, too.

I didn’t do anything that one of the assistant deputy associate superintendents couldn’t have done.

Just as they had to come kicking and screaming to so many changes, the district will eventually come to their senses and realize that the lead protocol in a comprehensive school safety program is identification and counseling. As usual, they’ll put some distance between these blog posts, the column, and other recent attention and demands, and make it an idea of their own creation.

In this case, no one should care because troubled teens will finally be getting the attention they should have been receiving years ago.

Steve Smith