Today’s quiz: What do John Caldecott and Kathy Esfahani have in common?

Esfahani is the driver behind the Mesa Verde neighborhood’s attempt to get the school board to consider “Option 2” for the fence that will be constructed at Adams Elementary later this year. Esfahani made her case before the school board last night.

Caldecott is the district’s ex-HR head. He was terminated on January 26, three months after he complained of unethical practices by the superintendent. Caldecott also spoke to the board last night.

So what do they have in common? Both became eyewitnesses to the astounding arrogance of the school board and the superintendent.

I have been writing about this trait for years and despite offering many examples, it never really resonated some folks until they witnessed the events of the past few days. Then, a few of them attended last night’s school board meeting and I was able to see the light bulbs going on over their heads.

The John Caldecott Lesson

In one of the boldest, bravest, and smartest moves I’ve seen in a long time, Caldecott appeared before the board during the public comments portion of the show to offer a truncated version of the event surrounding his termination on January 26. The point he most wanted to make with the board was that they had heard only one side of the story – the one from the Supt. Navarro, whom he has accused of unethical behavior. In addition, said Caldecott, the board has failed to initiate any investigation into the merits of his accusations against Navarro, in effect giving him a “get out of jail free” card.

The problem is, it’s not free. Like the politician who refuses to reveal his tax returns, leading voters to think he has something to hide, Caldecott’s accusations will hang over Navarro until he has told his side of the story. The worst development for Navarro – one that could very well occur – would be the revelation of Caldecott’s accusations before Navarro has spoken about them. This is where to apply the old PR advice of staying in front of the story.

But Navarro won’t tell his side and neither will his enablers on the board. Why? Because their decades-old tactic of circling the wagons and hunkering down has worked so many times in the past. It has worked, readers, because we let it work; because we did not care enough about the board’s actions to want to question anything they have done.

Will Caldecott’s relentless pursuit of the truth change that? Will he force them to face the music? Maybe.

In the meantime, I cannot get my arms around the answer to one nagging question. John Caldecott had a really good job. He was making about $300,000 in salary and perks and was a respected HR guy. Jobs like that are hard to find, even in the best of times. So why would a guy risk it all to expose what he believed was unconscionable behavior by the superintendent? Only Caldecott knows for sure, but my guess is that he never expected to be fired for performing an important, valuable service for the citizens of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.

If Caldecott has made any mistakes, it was his failure to properly gauge the extent to which the school board will go to bury any controversy. Whether it’s Jeff Hubbard, cheating at CdM, school fencing, John Caldecott, the CdM stadium, excessive travel expenses, or any of the other issues that have challenged the school board’s code of conduct, there is no history of transparent, forthcoming information from Bear St. And unless taxpayers start insisting on more accountability, “hide the controversy” will remain standard operating procedure.

Fencing in Esfahani

Then it was Kathy Esfahani’s turn. Esfahani has been leading the charge for the board to reconsider “option two” for the fence that is about to surround Adams Elementary. Option two would provide a nice slice of grassy land adjacent to a public park next to the school.

Esfahani was among those who spoke with one goal in mind. The speakers did not insist that the district implement option two, all they wanted was to have the discussion placed on an upcoming agenda. All they wanted was their day in court. All they wanted was for someone to listen.

Unfortunately, the super and the trustees had made their minds up weeks ago and had no intention of revisiting the Adams fence. When the “fencers” were done speaking, Navarro told them that the plans for the fence would not change – it was going up as planned and that’s that. No more discussion. “The decision has been made,” said Navarro.

Then, in one of the great ironic moments in the 15+ years I’ve been covering the school board, Navarro said, “Disagreements do not equate not listening.” This from a man who did not attend a single Adams fence meeting.

But wait, there’s more!

Just as Caldecott and Esfahani underestimated the arrogance of the super and the board, perhaps their persistence will be underestimated by the folks on Bear St. The more likely scenario is that the board will wear them both down to the point where they will give up. That has been SOP for charter schools and for any other threat to the status quo.

I have a personal belief that has guided me through times of injustice – a belief that may help Esfahani, Caldecott, and anyone else who has suffered from school board arrogance and indifference. Life has a way of balancing itself and eventually, I believe, everyone gets what is coming to them. Call it karma, call it destiny, fate, whatever. I prefer to call it a law of nature. Sometimes it takes years, but sooner or later, as the old saying goes, “What goes around, comes around.”

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