I don’t usually smile or chuckle at school board meetings – there is nothing funny about watching tax dollars wasted month after month – but last night was an exception because John Caldecott was there.

To recap, Caldecott was fired last January, about four months after he had the audacity to challenge Supt. Navarro and accuse him of “potential improper governmental activities.” Caldecott is now trying to secure a release of records to show what Navarro did.

Despite the fact that Caldecott was fired and was escorted out of the district headquarters on February 2 when he tried to visit, Caldecott is still there. I saw him five times last night.

I saw him while watching a slide show in the lobby as I waited for the end of yet another round awards presentations. There, up on the big screen were five consecutive slides of people receiving commendations, and right there with them was John Caldecott.

What a hoot. If you want the same chuckle, hurry down to Bear St. because something tells me that there is a fast expiration date on those slides or that presentation.

Catching Up, Plus Last Night’s School Board Meeting

A theme during my campaign last year for a school board seat was the observation that the current board was a set of rubber stampers who rarely defied the recommendations of staff and consistently failed to ask the tough questions of proposed education programs. The exception was Katrina Foley who, from time to time, did ask questions, much to the disappointment of her colleagues who once commented on the speed of a meeting at which Foley was not present.

The rubber stamping streak of 7-0 votes continued last night with several more unanimous votes, one of which was the approval of the consent calendar. I’ll bet my beard that if I were to ask at least three board members some specifics on what it was they had just approved, they would not be able to provide the details.

This is not the stewardship of tax dollars that is required of the trustees, particularly at a time when the reserve funds are being used to prop up the budget. This is the same group that just spent almost a million dollars of your tax money to pay for lighting at the new CdM High stadium after a private group said they’d cover the cost. But that’s the type of lightweight leadership that was chosen last year so expect more.

Where’s Walt?

My campaign included a fair amount of time on Costa Mesa’s Westside where I spoke before a few neighborhood meetings and reached out to community leaders there. One goal was to get input on what needed to be done to reverse years of dismal performance at four schools. Prior and during the campaign, I called the schools “failing,” which bothered at least a few teachers who took offense at the term.

When I had a chance to explain why I used “failing,” I told them that it was certainly not because we had bad teachers and that over the years, I had gone out of my way to point that out. The schools have excellent teachers, as we do throughout the district.

And just so you know it’s not me, there is this passage from an editorial in today’s Orange County Register that described the frustration of parents in Anaheim who are trying to use California’s Parent Trigger law to take over Palm Lane Elementary School and try something different. The editorial states, “Perhaps concerned parents are especially bad at petitions; or, maybe, district boards might not be the best judges when it comes to reforming their own failing institutions.”

Gee, ya’ think?

And this: “Even if Palm Lane, a school that has been ‘Program Improvement’ [PI] classified for over a decade – bureaucratic code for ‘failing’ – “

Yeah, well, Costa Mesa’s Westside has PI schools, too, for years, and that is why a charter school is being proposed.

The other reason I used “failing” is because something was – and is – needed to get the attention of the school board. Using terms like “underperforming” or “substandard” don’t make anyone want to get out of the Barcalounger and do something. But “failing?” Now you have their attention. And perhaps it’s working. Perhaps without having beaten the “failing” drum over and over, the kids there would not have even their current faint attempt at reform.

What is lacking is the will at the school board, which is best exemplified by the constant comments I heard about the absence of Trustee Walt Davenport from any community involvement. “He’s a ghost,” was one comment.

Davenport’s absence from the Westside community is a reflection of the entire board. Despite their protestations to the contrary, they really don’t care about the performance of the four Costa Mesa schools. The bone they are throwing to the community with the feeble attempt at a dual language program is nothing more than an attempt to stave off the charge of the pending charter school. So, more tax dollars are thrown against the wall to see if this works, despite the fact that no specific goals or yardsticks have been established in any meaningful way.

It’s just more “Ready! Fire! Aim!”

If the board really cared about these schools and really wanted to turn them around, they would start by hiring turnaround experts to run each of the schools: Bilingual principals who have been through the process before, who know what works and what doesn’t, and who know the precise words and timing to use when communicating with parents.

And that Parent Trigger law… very interesting.

Common Comments About Common Core

Last night’s public comments section included remarks from a couple of taxpayers who challenged the validity of the Common Core program. It was speaker Tom Pollitt who wondered about the eventual assessment tests and who would be seeing them. As if the district would have anything to hide…

Of course, Pollitt is correct. Unfortunately, he wants transparency from a panel that has become expert at obstruction and obfuscation.

Teacher union president Kimberly Claytor mentioned that in the wake of [Caldecott’s firing], the current delays in union-district negotiations have a “compounding negative impact on our employees.” Those employees are primarily teachers. I could not agree more. Interesting that I can point out failing schools and raise a few eyebrows, but no one wants to call out a school board that professes to appreciate teachers but purposely drags its feet in negotiations. That is hypocritical.

All play, no work

In multiple Daily Pilot columns, and while on the campaign trail, I questioned the use of taxpayer dollars for the conferences that are so precious to the school board. In her remarks last night, Trustee Judy Franco talked about her recent experience at a dinner sponsored by the Orange County School Board Assn. “Absolutely fantastic!” gushed Franco about the speaker that evening. “A moving speaker,” echoed Davenport.

So, the speaker was great. And it was fun to sit with a bunch of like-minded people and swap war stories. But what taxpayers really need is not a review of the speaker, but the knowledge that whatever was learned that night would have some practical application to support improved grades and test scores. But neither Franco or Davenport can do that for taxpayers because there was nothing they saw or heard that will have any meaningful application for our kids.

Anytime taxpayer dollars are spent on conferences, outside meetings, lunches, etc. each attendee should be required to complete a form stating who was there, what was discussed, and how this event will have a direct benefit to the improvement of learning in the district.

This is not likely to happen, though, because the school board and the Supt. don’t want you to know what they are up to. They are stonewalling John Caldecott, keeping mum on the CdM cheating scandal, and won’t tell taxpayers about Common Core benchmnarks.

But at least John Caldecott is still there keeping an eye on things.