There has been a perception shared by many Costa Mesans that the school board heavily favors the Newport Beach schools over theirs. This sentiment is not only mine – it has been expressed countless times to me over the past 15 years.

The disparity was evident in the details of the first school bond that was passed almost fifteen years ago. Voters were told repeatedly that the money was for “brick and mortar” issues, which we perceived as infrastructure improvements due to years of deferred maintenance. But a closer examination revealed that large sums of money were earmarked for improvements to the theater at Newport Harbor High, as well as improvements to the athletic field, including new ticket booths there.

The most recent case in point is the pending construction of fences around three district elementary schools: Adams and Victoria in Costa Mesa, and Andersen in Newport Beach. I attended all three presentations at the schools and left the last one, at Andersen, shaking my head.

The approach to the Costa Mesa school fences versus those at Andersen was so different, an outsider would never believe that these three schools were in the same district. Consider:

1) The new fencing around the CM schools is going around the entire campuses, including the grass fields. In Newport Beach, the fence will not enclose the field.

2) Adams area residents protested enclosing the field and presented a petition with over 300 names demanding their way. The board voted to leave the field open, then, without notice, reversed course and decided to fence the field. When asked to explain the change at the hostile meeting at Adams, district representative Susan Astarita said, “Yes, we changed our minds.” Or, in other words, “Too bad, Costa Mesa.”

3) At the hostile Adams meeting, residents were upset and voices were rising and people started talking over each other. But instead of trying to reduce the hostility and attempt some damage control by doing a better job of listening to residents, Trustee Martha Fluor threatened to stop the meeting. Why did she use the sledge hammer approach? Because she could – after all, she was in Costa Mesa.

4) At the Adams and Victoria meetings, the slide presentation was about “fencing.” At Andersen, the title slide read “School Improvement.” Why? Because at Andersen, they are getting more than fencing, they are getting a new interior reception area and “landscape enhancements.” There are no such enhancements attached to the fencing proposals at either Costa Mesa school.

5) At the Victoria and Adams, the proposal was presented by the same district representative. At Andersen, there was a different representative, who was higher up the food chain, as well as the architect who was assigned to the project.

6) Fencing will encircle the two Costa Mesa campuses. In Newport Beach, the fence will not encircle the grass field. I’ve been to all three campuses and despite what Costa Mesa residents are being told, that is that the situation at Andersen is different, I could determine no significant reason why the Newport field is being left open while Costa Mesa’s are closed.

7) Access to athletic facilities (grass fields and sports courts) is a major issue at all three schools and there is some healthy skepticism over just how accessible the fields and courts will be. At the Costa Mesa presentations, there was barely a mention of how the field access would be handled. In Newport Beach, however, the presenters went into great detail about the “rovers” who would be responsible for opening and closing the gates. “Rovers,” and their hours of operation and methods were never mentioned in Costa Mesa.

8) The Andersen slide presentation included far better graphics than those shown in Costa Mesa, and included photographs of the campus perimeter to give residents a better idea of where the fences would be placed.

I am on record as stating that any money raised privately by the residents in Newport Beach should remain in Newport Beach if they wish. I do not support forced sharing of privately raised money. But public money is a different story. At the very least, the two Costa Mesa schools should receive the same enhancements as Andersen. Both Costa Mesa schools could benefit from new reception areas and improved landscaping.

The other part, the perception, is trickier. But perception is reality and as long as the school board continues to pay inadequate attention to the four Costa Mesa schools that need far more turnaround support, and as long as they continue to treat Costa Mesa residents with the disdain they showed at Adams, the perception and the reality are one and the same.