Do As I Say, Not as I Say

One of the hallmarks of the current mismanagement of the N-MUSD is the extremely poor communication, both internally and to the community. The low staff morale is due, in part, to the poor communication coming from the top.

Communication is not just a memo or a speech, it is action, too.

Where the superintendent should be maintaining a high profile, he has chosen instead to let others speak. For at least a couple of trustees, that means active Facebook posts.

Nothing wrong with that. I’d rather have trustees communicating on Facebook than not at all. But when it becomes a substitute for the superintendent’s voice, it is detrimental to morale and progress. Taxpayers need to hear from the superintendent in addition to the trustees, not instead of them.

There is very little taxpayer communication coming from Bear St. these days. Staff gets a weekly “DOTS” memo from the superintendent that does not often contain any topic of substance and when it does, there is few if any opportunities for meaningful follow-up. Some readers may recall the absurd call for an “amazing breakthrough” to help get students to read at grade level in four months. No added resources, no additional training, just a wish.

Then there was the ruminating about a theory that intrigued the superintendent. Last October, I wrote, “The theory was presented by an attorney and Navarro wrote, ‘Ms. Papillon posits that the students who live in poor neighborhoods, where crime and violence are regular occurrences, may in fact suffer changes to their DNA that alters the working of their brains. Furthermore, she stressed that addressing these changes to a person’s DNA can take up to three generations to correct, and then, only if you can successfully remove families from the oppressive conditions under which they live.’

“About the theory, he also wrote that he has ‘much more to learn about this theory’ and that the theory is ‘one that we need to explore more deeply.'”

Who wants to bet me a Godfather sandwich at Pandor in the Westcliff Shopping Center (Yes, a shameless plug. But an amazing sandwich.) that the theory has not been explored “more deeply?”

Words are promises. Words are powerful. When they appear in print, they have the power of permanence and the promise to be fulfilled. When the N-MFT wrote to the district almost a year ago that there were “untruths and inaccuracies” in the Mariners Gold Ribbon application, that wasn’t just a letter, it was a call to action. It stood for something substantial and was a serious, meaningful attempt to get the district to understand just how disturbing was this incident to the teachers at the school and throughout the district.

Now, however, we are in the early stages of an attempt to completely whitewash the whole Gold Ribbon affair. Witness:

  1. The announcement of the report came just before ski week, ostensibly to give everyone a chance to forget all about it.
  2. The ripples of the Gold Ribbon investigation have touched other schools and substantial taxpayer dollars were spent to create it, yet the announcement was sent only to the parents at Mariners.
  3.  Regarding any punishment for the person or people who may have committed “untruths and inaccuracies,” the memo is so vague as to be toothless: “Based on facts and evidence included in the findings, the District will take any necessary actions related to this matter.” Huh?

The most efficient, successful organizations have many common traits. Chief among them is a high level of meaningful communication. And it’s not enough to say it, you have to live it.

A case in point is from the “Mariners Final Report” that was issued by the district last June It’s a nine page document that said a lot of things but is most likely collecting dust on a credenza on Bear St. The last paragraph has a lot of bureaucratic gobbledygook but the intent is there:

“It is imperative that a transparent, open, and sequential process for change of program and procedures that are inclusive and systematic including ongoing, open communication, training as necessary, and incremental and purposeful implementation that is analyzed and accessed regularly and appropriate adjustments are made to ensure success.”

Gee, ya think?

Here’s a final perspective: Over the past 32 months, this blogger has produced almost 450 written communications to taxpayers on school district affairs. I’ll bet another sandwich that’s at least 10 times more than they’ve heard from the superintendent.

Steve Smith
N-MUSD Taxpayer

This is a “Bleet”

I don’t have a Twitter account and have no plans to get one. But sometimes, there is value in just issuing a short message like the ones for which Twitter is famous.

I’m issuing one now. It’s a blog tweet and I am calling it a “Bleet.”

“District has not announced plans to return the Mariners Gold Ribbon report achieved under false pretenses. Irresponsible!”

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

Thanks for Nothing

So. The Daily Pilot has just run a story on the area representation update given to the school board club meeting last Tuesday. I was not there: It was Valentine’s Day and I chose dinner with my wife over attending the meeting.

At the update, it was revealed that four of the seven trustee areas have less than half the population of the remaining three, ranging from a low of 16,369 in area 5 to 46,171 in area 4. The board wants to redraw area lines to even out the population levels.

The district is going through all this because they have been threatened with a lawsuit that claims violations of the Voting Rights Act.

According to the Pilot, “A complaint filed in Orange County Superior Court in August alleges the district’s at-large system for electing board members violates the California Voting Rights Act, saying it ‘suffers from racially polarized voting that prevents Latinos from electing candidates of their choice.'”

“The complaint alleges that the trustee areas, as apportioned, ‘exacerbate the vote dilution of NMUSD’s at-large election system.'”

In the Pilot story, school board club president Karen Yelsey is quoted as saying, “It [will] give a representation that each area is uniform across the district. They’re [currently] very out of balance.”

Yeah, well, there’s just one problem with the tack the district is taking: It won’t answer the complaints in the court filing.

Here’s the deal… The members of the school board club are elected not by the people in the areas they represent, but by all voters in all areas. That, according to the complaint is the chief reason why there hasn’t been, for example, a Latino member of the school board club in its entire history.

Making each area composed of about 30,000 people won’t change a thing. Members will still be elected by all voters and that will still favor incumbents and restrict true demographic representation. Put another way, think of the school board club as the U.S. Senate, which has two members from each of the 50 states. The vote of each state has equal weight so, for example, the votes of the two senators from Wyoming, the least populated state with about 583,000 residents, have as much power as those of the senators from California, which is the most populated state in the union with 38,332,521 residents.

Similarly, each of the votes on the school board club have equal weight. It is the local equivalent of a unicameral legislature and there are no checks and balances, save for the rotating elections every two years.

You could make one area 5,000 voters, one area 80,000 voters and distribute the rest evenly and the status quo would remain. Without election by area, nothing changes and that is just fine with the school board club – they like things just the way they are, thank you very much.

The short story on the issue is this: There needs to be a Latino school board club member for area 7, which is Costa Mesa’s heavily populated Latino area. That’s really what this is all about.

Unfortunately, the school board’s approach won’t do a thing to stop a lawsuit.

Also in the Pilot story, “The possibility of trustees being elected by the residents in their specific areas will be part of the discussions, Yelsey said.” 

Notice the language: “Part of the discussions.” That is code for “We know we have to mention it in order to make it look like we’re interested in it, but we’re not really interested in changing anything.”

Also from the Pilot story: “But trustee Martha Fluor of Area 3 noted that lawyers have sued several school districts and cities over their at-large voting systems in what she called a developing ‘cottage industry.'”

“‘While we are all about democracy and empowering individuals to vote, this is blackmail,’ she said. ‘And I find that shameful.'”

Here, Fluor is right. These at-large vs. area representation lawsuit threats are a cottage industry, similar to many of the ADA lawsuits that were popular a few years ago. But even if it is a cottage industry, so what? Does that change the fact that there is a long history of uneven ethnic and demographic representation for Costa Mesa’s Westside? Nope. And does complaining about the cottage industry add anything meaningful to the solution? Nope.

And just so you know that it’s not just me who is frequently bringing up the stifle, stall, and stymie tactics of the district, the Pilot story goes on to report that, “According to the August complaint, the plaintiff, Costa Mesa resident Eloisa Rangel, tried to resolve the matter without judicial intervention but was met with “foot-dragging and bald, unilateral determinations by [Newport-Mesa].”

So, you see, the board had their chance. In fact, they’ve had decades to right this wrong. But when faced with a formidable challenge, they reverted to form and tried to stall and in this case, they played right into the hands of waiting attorneys.  Once again, past behavior is the best predictor of future performance.

So, thanks for nothing, N-MUSD. Thanks for wasting more tax dollars and district resources on what should have been a simple and quick decision that you could have and should have made years ago.

Oh, BTW, note to the district: In case the plan is to split the Westside in an attempt to dilute the Latino influence prior to the switch to area elections, don’t bother – it won’t prevent the lawsuit. It’s really simple… Just keep the same areas and switch to election by area. Problem solved.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

In or Out

If you’re in, you are the parent of a student at Mariners El and you recently received a message from the “Newport-Mesa Unified School District” regarding the “Gold Ribbon Application Investigation.” If you’re out, you’re just a taxpayer and the district doesn’t care about keeping you informed. All they ask is that you keep paying your property taxes so they have money to spend.

The memo reads:

Dear Mariners parents,

As you may know, in the spring of 2016 the District received a complaint from the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers (NMFT) on behalf of teachers at Mariners Elementary School. The complaint alleged that an application for the California Gold Ribbon Award, submitted by previous Mariners administration, contained inaccurate information. The District takes allegations seriously and in this circumstance retained an independent investigation firm to provide a thorough and impartial review of the allegations. The review process is complete and the complainants and administration have been notified. Based on facts and evidence included in the findings, the District will take any necessary actions related to this matter.

We are held to a high standard of confidentiality, and ensuring the privacy rights of employees. Therefore in order to ensure confidentiality we are not at liberty to discuss or disclose information related to personnel matters.

We act in the best interests of our students, parents, staff and community when making decisions. We ensure privacy rights and will continue to do so. What is important now is that we maintain focus on providing high quality education and ensuring that we have the best people and programs for the success of our students.

So here’s what…

This memo was sent just before ski week in the hope that you will just go away for awhile and when you get back you will have forgotten this whole mess.

Unfortunately, the mess will be here when they return because there is unfinished business. More on that in a moment.

First… I copied and pasted the entire memo, save for the subject line and if you re-read it or look closely, you’ll find that two important elements are missing:

1) There is no name attached to the memo. It’s from the district, not from anyone in particular and certainly not from anyone who chooses to take a leadership position on this important issue.

2) Customary in this type of messaging is some contact information in case readers have comments or questions. Typically, it reads, “If you have any questions or comments concerning this matter, please contact yada, yada, yada.” But there is no contact information because the district doesn’t want you to contact them because they don’t care what you have to say. This matter is closed, that’s it, and they’re moving on.

gold-ribbon-comments

Eh, not so fast. In all likelihood, there will be a request for the report under the California Public Records Act (CPRA). Perhaps multiple requests. The district will spend more money to fight it/them, only to lose. So in the end, the memo will look foolish.

About that unfinished business… The memo reads, “… the District will take any necessary actions related to this matter.”

Hmmm, I’m afraid that’s not quite vague enough. I mean, it actually could have read “may or may not” take any necessary actions. There is no mention of “discipline,” just “necessary actions” which leads me to believe that this whole thing is about to be swept under the rug with very little disciplinary action, if any.

Eh, not so fast. If the investigation found that they Gold Ribbon application contained “untruths and inaccuracies” (Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers) or “lies” (OC Register), someone or some people should be disciplined. But perhaps the district plans to borrow a page from the handling of the mortgage crisis of nine years ago, you know, the one where people did bad things but no one was punished.

Oh, and the Gold Ribbon award should be returned. That’s the right thing to do, but it won’t happen.

Those in power are trying hard to minimize the damage resulting from a long list of mistakes and bad decisions from the current administration. They range from the small – the handling of the “Dump Trump” T-shirts – to the large, which is the management of the Swun Math program.

Admitting the truth about the Gold Ribbon application would be admitting failure and I think that the school board club has had enough of that for awhile, thank you very much.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

Here We Go Again. Again…

The long-awaited report on the application by Mariners El for state Gold Ribbon status has been completed. The district’s review is also complete and the “complainants and school administration have been notified.”

That is according to an e-mail from Trustee Vicki Snell, who followed up to a much earlier request and gave me a courtesy update, which I appreciate and for which I thanked her. It was nice not having to ask.

Snell also wrote that the district has no plans to release the report.

That’s not a shock, but it’s good news for the district’s lawyers, who will ring up even more legal fees trying to defend the report’s release from a California Public Records Act (CPRA) request which, since they began being filed by John Caldecott, the district has never won.

(Here’s an idea: How about paying the attorneys only if they succeed? Here’s another idea: Since these particular attorneys have been unsuccessful in defending the district against Caldecott’s CPRA requests, how about finding a new legal team? Nah – too logical.)

Win or lose on the CPRA request, the district still loses. There are many parents at Mariners who want to know whether there is any substance to claims of “untruths and inaccuracies” (the OC Register called them “lies”) alleged in a March 28 letter to the district from the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers. They will not be satisfied with the district hiding behind the “personnel matter” shield.

They will be asking the following questions, among others:

  • Are teachers responsible for the  “untruths and inaccuracies?” If so, should he/she be teaching my kid?
  • Is the administration responsible for the  “untruths and inaccuracies?” If so, what disciplinary action will be taken?
  • And if there is any truth to even one of the union’s claims, shouldn’t the Gold Ribbon award be returned? I’ll answer that one: Yes, it should, because it was acquired under false pretenses. Isn’t that the lesson we teach our children? I’ll answer this one, too: Yes, it is.
  • Where is the greater lesson for our children? Shouldn’t they learn that if you do something seriously wrong you face serious consequences? Me, yet again: Of course. But perhaps the district will teach them that covering up is better. Reminds me of that excellent line of narration from the classic movie “A Christmas Story” about telling the truth… “Adults loved to say things like that but kids knew better. We knew darn well it was always better not to get caught.”

I am not, and never have been interested in the fine details of the report. To me, they are secondary to what is being done as a result. It’s really simple… If the Gold Ribbon application was filed with even one “untruth or inaccuracy,” the person or people who is/are responsible should face the appropriate consequences. The sudden absence or demotion of a person or people will be impossible for the district to hide, though you can expect that the reason given will have nothing to do with the report results.

There will be a lot of people keeping their eyes out for anyone in the district who is packing their bags for Siberia.

Oh, and the award should be returned.

Of course, there is always the distinct possibility that nothing will be done. The absurd length of time it took to generate the report was the first indication that the district was attempting the usual stifle, stall, and stymie in the hope that we’d all forget about the whole thing.

And now, here we are, just two days before everyone breaks for ski week and enough time for everyone to forget the whole thing.

How convenient.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

A Big Thing. A Really Big Thing.

One of the most important agenda items in a very long time will be considered tonight. Here’s the wording from the agenda:

“16.b. Readjust Trustee Area Boundaries So That The Population Of Each Area Is, As Nearly As May Be Possible, The Same Proportion Of The Total Population Of The District As Each Of The Other Trustee Areas And Commence The Process To Move From At Large To By Trustee Area Elections By November 2018”

The background section of each agenda item contains, well, it contains background. In this case, here’s the third paragraph:

In addition, there is pending litigation in the Superior Court that challenges the method of election as not complying with the California Voting Rights Act.  The Superintended retained a demographer familiar with the requirements of the Act and convened a committee.  Based on work done by the demographer, the committee made a  recommendation on readjustment of boundaries which will ultimately need approval by the Board of Education and County Committee on School District Organization.   Members of the committee and the demographer will be introduced at the Board meeting and information will be provided regarding population areas.

What this all means is that work has been done to make sure that each of the seven trustee districts has the same amount of people. According to the background paragraph two, the rationale is that, “Due to the extensive population growth on the east side of the district, it is necessary to consider readjustment of trustee areas.”

The really big deal here is the “…Process To Move From At Large To By Trustee Area Elections By November 2018.”  

So, the district is trying to make population figures equal in each district while it lurches toward area representation.

Why?

If each trustee is elected by a specific area instead of the current at-large system, what difference does it make whether that area has 10,000 people or 15,000? Each of the seven board votes is equal and only those people who live in an area will be able to vote for eligible candidates to represent them. Why change area populations?

Here’s why.

The district is not doing this because they’re bored and ran out of ways to spend your tax dollars. Nor are they doing it because it’s the right thing to do. They are changing boundaries and moving to area representation to avoid a big lawsuit.

Now recall that there has never been a Latino trustee, despite the fact that Latino students make up a large percentage of the overall student population and in some Costa Mesa schools, are the hyper-dominant ethnic group.

So, being that all school board votes are equal and there has never been a Latino trustee, doesn’t make sense to draw the boundaries based on neighborhood or community demographics and interests instead of just numbers of people? Of course it does.

So it will be interesting to see tonight whether the new boundaries for Costa Mesa’s Latino-dominant Area 7 include parts of the “near east side” of the district, which has far fewer Latino residents but is experiencing “extensive population growth.”

Odd… I am an involved and informed person and I haven’t heard anything about any extensive population growth on the east side of the district.

There is no need to redraw anything. Keep things the way they are and just shift to area representation – that is all they need to do to fend off the lawsuit

I know, I know… There I go using that “logic” stuff again.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

P.S. It sure was nice of the administration to place this extremely important agenda item near the end of the meeting when there is a greater likelihood of less people in attendance.

 

 

“Disgraceful!”

That’s how the attendance of the N-MUSD’s two top administrators was described to me in a recent e-mail. Here it is:

Hi Steve,
I am not sure if you have heard the latest in what is another example of poor leadership.

On Thursday evening, the Newport Mesa Schools Foundation had their annual dinner to give out grants to desperate teachers who need to obtain supplemental materials for their students. It is also the night that the Teachers of the Year are recognized. This annual gathering has been going on for years (20?).

Anyway, Fred did not show up on Thursday. It was a slap in the face to every volunteer who worked tirelessly for the teachers in our district. It was also a slap in the face to every teacher. [Associate Superintendent and Chief Academic officer] Russell [Lee-Sung] was there but he left as soon as he ate dinner so when his name was called to present some of the grants, someone else had to step in.

Disgraceful!!

I have not been able to corroborate this account, however, it has come from a reliable source and I have no reason to doubt its veracity. Though I haven’t been able to confirm it, the unsettling part is that the recap is entirely in line with what I would expect of the top brass, particularly the part about Supt. Frederick Navarro not appearing.

For as long as I can remember, we’ve heard nothing but praise for our teachers from Bear St., right until it is time to negotiate union contracts. Then, it seems, there’s no money to give those teachers what they deserve. Funny how there always seems to be enough dough to hire more chiefs or to pay someone hundreds of thousands of tax dollars not to retire and to extend benefits far beyond what is customary.

There is always the possibility, of course, that Navarro was ill.

Or it could be that he was out conducting “district business,” which was the term that former Dept. Super Paul Reed used to describe Navarro’s time spent at a deposition for a lawsuit filed by former district spokeswoman Laura Boss and former Asst. Supt. Ann Huntington, who are “…alleging that he created a workplace culture of fear and intimidation that compelled them to leave their jobs after the board of education failed to investigate their claims.” – Daily Pilot, 1/29/16

Apparently, whatever he was doing instead of attending this important show of support for teachers, he did not send any regrets.

Perhaps he was too busy conducting more district business.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

There is More. There is Always More.

Taxpayers in the N-MUSD are facing the worst mismanagement since, well, I’ve lived here 30 years and cannot recall anything close to what we have been witnessing the past three years.

The Stephen Wagner embezzlement of about $3 million? A blip. That problem was solved immediately because the district knows that each year, taxpayer dollars will come pouring in regardless of how well the district performs on the accountability, transparency, and fiscal responsibility scales.

The Jeffrey Hubbard trial? Hah! His crimes occurred in another district so it doesn’t count here.

Today, we don’t have a blockbuster, headline-grabbing single issue with which to contend, we have an incredibly long string of smaller miscues, bad decision-making, waste, and mismanagement that highlight what happens when the N-MUSD trustees place too much faith in the people in charge and fail to challenge them when problems arise.

Until now. The issue is not one that many N-MUSD taxpayers are going to get riled up about because it concerns an academic program. If they don’t have kids, they won’t care very much, and even if they do, there is still an undeserved level of parental trust in the district that keeps parents from being upset about very much. Those parents drop their kids off at school and trust that the district knows what they’re doing.

Until now. Now, we are witnessing the details of a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars and district resources to support Swun Math, an elementary math program with which teachers had issues as long as three years ago. Unfortunately for the students, parents, and teachers who have to tough it out while the Swun replacement process grinds on, the time spent on this program is gone. The district will get their budget money as usual, but students and parents will never get back the time spent struggling with a math program that was identified by teachers early on as being riddled with errors, some of which remained even after teachers pointed them out.

The biggest losers in all this are the kids. We do not yet know how this math program has affected their ability to succeed through the typical math cycle, but they should be tracked to determine the full impact. Teaching math is a progression. Teachers start with the basics and build on that knowledge until kids – some of them, at least – have a better chance of understanding more complex math challenges. But if they don’t understand the early concepts, they will not understand the later ones.

Despite teacher outcries about the program dating back about three years ago, it took two brave and persistent parents to initiate change in the district. Erica and Jeff Roberts, Newport Beach residents who had to contend with the program at home, have spent months trying to get answers to the real problem, which is why Swun was adopted in the first place. They have appeared before countless board meetings to try to get the school board club to understand that they can’t nod their heads in agreement and wait for this one to blow over. Action was needed. Now.

Along the way, they guided and pushed an unwilling district toward a replacement program. They got the usual stifle, stall, and stymie, but as with John Caldecott, the trustees and the administration severely underestimated the Roberts’ tenacity. At the heart of this, for the Roberts, it is simply a matter of right vs. wrong.

There are so many layers to this issue, it is hard to know where to begin. They include, but are not limited to:

Wasted resources – An absurd amount of money has been spent to launch the program, fix it, and try to get it on track.

Morale – Imagine that you are part of a group of teachers who presented thoughtful, constructive criticism of the program, only to receive the equivalent of a shrug of the shoulders.

Communication – In several instances, it is clear that the left hand of the district did not seem to know what the right hand was doing.

What should have happened is textbook management. It’s on page 122 of any management book anywhere. It states that if multiple employees – in this case, teachers – are complaining about the same thing, the first thing you do is gather as much reliable information as you can in as little time as possible. In the case of this math program that process would have taken about a day had it been conducted about three years ago when the complaints first started rolling in. After that brief query among teachers, those reporting back to the superintendent would have said, “Houston, we have a problem.”

The district did try to fix the program. They threw teachers and money at the problems to try to correct mistakes, but in many cases, they kept seeing the mistakes in the materials even after they pointed them out. Frustration mounted.

Enter the Roberts. They started asking questions, ones such as, “If the N-MUSD is spending local tax dollars to fix a for-profit math program, are our corrections being used in other districts where the program is being used? If so, shouldn’t we be further compensated further for our work?” “Why should the correction process cost us even a dime?” And more.

Their efforts attracted more parents, all of whom have been asking even more questions and demanding more action.

BTW, the replacement process costs money, too.

This math program is an example of what plagues the district. It’s a symptom. The real problem is leadership.

That’s the way it all adds up.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD

 

 

 

 

 

 

They Still Don’t Get It

I chose not to attend last night’s school board club meeting because I had a client project deadline. That’s too bad, because there were several important agenda items that were rubber stamped.

But before we get to those, and before we get to the Orange County Register story on the fiscal irresponsibility at the N-MUSD, let’s take a look at the handy “Board Meeting Brief” that is issued by the Superintendent just prior to each school board club meeting.

The Brief could be useful to those who wish to receive some advanced notice of the hot topics in case they want to head down and speak up. This week’s Brief included a mention of item 12.b which is that the ” Report on Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for Corona del Mar Sports Field.” The stadium is one of the hottest topics – if not THE hottest topic in CdM, and certainly in Eastbluff.

The Brief  included this gem: Item 17.d. Receive Information from District’s Legal Counsel Pertaining to Term Limits for the Board of Education. 

This is just the staff telling the school board club to receive the information. But in the agenda comments that follow, there is a clear indication of how the wind will blow:

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 last line – the one about the comparison with other school districts – is about as obvious as it gets. The district is merely going through the motions of considering term limits when they have absolutely no intention of adopting them, now or ever. They like things just the way they are, thank you very much.

The Brief could have included item 15.a.1. which is a recommendation to “Approve Increase to Previous Board Approved Budget Authorization for the Provisions of Legal Services from Atkinson Andelson Loya Ruud & Romo Pertaining to Legal Support Services” but it didn’t. This recommendation makes up to $100,000 more available to the law firm and brings the total legal fees authorized for 2016-17 for this firm to $500,000. But it didn’t.

According to the agenda description they need more dough for legal fees “Due to the quantity and complexity of legal issues facing the District.”

Complexity, I understand. Legal matters can get complex, especially when there is no incentive to save taxpayer dollars. But quantity??? Apparently, there are more lawsuits than anticipated so more taxpayer dough has to be allocated to defending them. Paraphrasing Trustee Judy Franco many years ago, this is money that should go to the education of our children.

Perhaps we can educate them on how to avoid lawsuits.

The brief could have included item “15.c.2. Receive 2016-2017 Classified, Supervisory, and Confidential Salary Schedules” which shows the salaries of the top brass, including the five top people who, collectively, make over $1,000,000. And that’s just their salaries – no perks or add-ons such as phone allowances. But it didn’t.

So what was in the Brief? Five items, two of which are dissected here. The other three are:

10.a. Recognition of Fall Athletic Sports Champion – NHHS Girls Field Hockey. Newport Harbor High School’s Girls Field Hockey team is being recognized for their championship in the Fall Tournament of Champions.

10.b. Recognize 2016-2017 District Teacher of the Year Recipients. Jackie Wiseman from  Kaiser Elementary and Jim Blackie from Ensign Intermediate School were selected as District Teachers of the Year and will represent Newport-Mesa Unified School District in the Orange County Department of Education Teacher of the Year program.

12.a. 50th Anniversary Student Board Member Report – 1970’s. As part of the 50th anniversary Early College High School student board members will present on what it was like to be in school in the 1970’s in Newport-Mesa.

But wait, there’s more…

The Orange County Register just wrote about a deeper dive into the payout for former Deputy Super Paul Reed who retired last Dec. and is reaping major tax dollars. You can read it here: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/district-742739-reed-benefits.html

The ridiculous amount of money thrown at Reed is one issue. The other issues are the very bad precedents this creates and the exposure of a lack of consistency in the district’s rewarding of your tax dollars.

How is it – as you can read in the Register article – that the district can make major exceptions to reward Reed with hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax money, but they can’t make an exception to give $7,500 to Fulbright Award winner Brian Ristow, who has just left for New Zealand and will bring back valuable information to help improve academic performance?

The lack of adherence to a firm policy opens the door for the district to hand out your tax dollars any way they want.

And you know what? They like it that way.

But the truly disturbing part of the Reed Awards (Unlike the Fulbright Awards, the Reed Awards have no bearing on academic improvement), are the responses of district spokesperson Anette Franco and Trustee Karen Yelsey, who were singing from the same district page:

“‘The Board of Education approved Reed’s contract and contract extensions, in an open forum at Board of Education meetings,’ Franco said in a statement.”

and…

“Karen Yelsey, president of the Newport-Mesa School Board, declined to explain why the board approved Reed’s health benefit extension, only saying he was an ‘extraordinary employee’ and that ‘all of the benefits Mr. Reed received were approved in open session at our regular Board of Education meetings.’”

So Reed was an extraordinary employee. So what does that make Brian Ristow, who won a highly-coveted and respected Fulbright Award?

Trotting out the “open forum” explanation is no excuse for throwing around taxpayer dollars like they grow on a tree. It’s what bureaucrats do when they don’t have a legitimate reason to justify their actions.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD