Meeting recap – April 28, 2015

The Trustees had no awards to hand out and Katrina Foley isn’t there to question anything so they sailed through last night’s agenda. They got in and they got out. Last night’s school board meeting was notable – again – not for what was said, but for what was avoided.

Yes, those of us in attendance heard the overuse of “amazing,” “fantastic,” and “wonderful,” plus a couple of other nuggets. But we did not hear:

1) Details of the plan to get the district out of the red and on track

2) Details of the district’s cybersecurity program to prevent more CdM-type grade hacking incidents

3) Details of a long-term plan to turnaround the underperforming elementary schools on Costa Mesa’s Westside

4) A list of the youth sports organizations that are using school fields, plus the hours they are in use so kids can have more places to play (Vicki Snell raised this issue months ago, but apparently she has no interest in following up.)

5) A more thorough explanation of the breakdown in the communications process for the recommendation of yet another district management person (more on this in a moment)

6) Anything substantive from the superintendent (who gets about $300K in compensation and lives in Long Beach)

7) A challenge to Asst. Super Paul Reed’s explanation of a new development in insurance coverage that will save the district approximately $110,000 a year. Any of the Trustees or the Superintendent could have asked this vital question: “Does this reduction in our insurance expense mean a reduction in coverage?” Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe coverage is better. The point is that no one asked. And someone should have asked.

We did hear taxpayer Tom Pollitt open the subject of Common Core testing. Pollitt pointed out, correctly, that the new testing process cannot adequately determine the worth of the program. What we did not hear was any response or solution from the super or the board. They all seem to be quite content with the fact that testing Common Core’s value with a new test cannot tell us whether Common Core is a better way of teaching our children. In order to determine whether Common Core works better than the old model, the old testing must be used.

We heard another taxpayer call out the Trustees on their “It’s Sacramento” excuse for implementation of Common Core. The edict may have come from Sacramento, but that doesn’t mean that an effort could not be organized to reverse the decision. It would be nice for the N-MUSD to take the lead on this, but that means a lot of work – strategizing, organizing, and executing – and it’s a lot easier just to throw up collective hands and say, “It’s Sacramento!”

And we did hear Trustees Dana Black and Walt Davenport talk about their visit to Harbor View Elementary school in Newport Beach. So here’s a message to Davenport: As a candidate last year, I attended many Westside meetings and functions and was told repeatedly that you are never there. Stop visiting Newport schools and spend more time in your zone at Costa Mesa’s Westside elementary schools talking to teachers, parents, and kids about how to improve academic performance. Those schools need a champion on the school board and if you cannot or will not be that person, you should put your ego aside and let someone else try. (That means resign)

Oh, and we also heard the continuance of the string of 7-0 votes. Those 7-0 votes include a closed session decision in January to fire 10-year HR head John Caldecott without a hearing and without receiving any information on his side of the story. Caldecott is now in court trying to get the district to release supporting documents via a request through the California Public Records Act. The judge in the case, Geoffrey T. Glass requested and received the documents on April 17 and is reviewing them prior to a decision.

We heard N-MFT President Kimberly Claytor ask why the regular screening process was not followed in the appointment of Susan Astartita as the new Senior Bureaucratic Something-or-Other. Claytor also mentioned that she does not know the duties of the new Senior Bureaucrat, which would be nice for the union to know, dontcha think? The Superintendent (Did I mention that he takes in about $300,000 in compensation and lives in Long Beach?) made a feeble explanation, then ultimately told Claytor that the reason neither she nor the union were in the loop was because – wait for it –  “our schedules haven’t matched.”

Snell asked whether any rules were broken in the process, which is an admirable but naive question. Credit her for bringing it up, but did she really expect the super to say, “Yes.”

Perhaps no rules were broken, but not following protocol is disrespectful to teachers and union management. There were multiple ways the super could have kept them in the loop but ultimately, he chose to skip all of them. My solution would have asked Astarita to meet with the union and explain:

  • The selection process and the reasons for breaking protocol
  • Her duties as new Senior Bureaucrat
  • The long range plan, i.e., how the new Senior Bureaucrat position fits into an overall strategy to improve academic performance

But, that’s me.

And finally this… When it was his turn to speak on whatever it was that was on his mind, the Superintendent of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, which has about 22,000 students enrolled, is operating in the red, and is suffering from more controversies than at any time I can remember in my 28 years as a resident, said, “Nothing big to report,” and went on only to remind everyone that the district is undertaking an “Extreme Heat Survey.”

And I all I could think of as I sat in the audience with a handful of other taxpayers was, “If you can’t take the extreme heat, get out of the kitchen.”

Steve Smith

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