Last Friday, John Caldecott created a document that summarized the possible scenario for his termination. The sequence of events included the decision by CalSTRS, the state teacher retirement system, that the district had engaged in a questionable remuneration for ex-super Jeffrey Hubbard. (See my previous post for a more detailed explanation.)

The vernacular for their actions is “pension spiking.”

In the best case scenario, all of the people involved did not realize what they were doing. An innocent mistake. Could happen to any group of people with decades of experience in school district administration.

In the worst case scenario, the conversion of the payments for a “life insurance annuity” into a merit pay raise for Hubbard was a blatant attempt to increase his salary at a time in his career when it would also raise his pension payout.

Either way, the district was highly irresponsible with your tax dollars. Not a new development I know. Hey, this is the group that is adding management over on Bear St. while the budget is operating in the red. This is the group that allows its student transportation system to operate at a multimillion dollar deficit ($6 million this year) for years and has not raised fees/fares in almost 20 years.

So, I could easily make the case that these people are merely incompetent.

Details of incompetent government employees is not news. But a conspiracy to circumvent the rules to benefit a school superintendent? Now, that would be news.

Select media outlets had the news last Friday. I received it when I returned from a trip out of town and wrote about it immediately. A quick check a few minutes ago showed that the story had not yet been covered by the local press. (I do not read any of the local blogs so if the story has been reported there, I do not know about it.)

Caldecott was interviewed by at least one reporter after the news release had been distributed. Still, no coverage.

There could be one or a combination of reasons for this. It could very well be that the mainstream media looks at this incorrectly as an education story (It’s not, but that’s their perspective). And education stories are yawners. One look at the online home page of the Daily Pilot will show you where education ranks. To get to the education section, you have to scroll past Real Estate, Business, Forum, Columns, Lifestyle – every other section – before you get to Education.

It could be that the media is not running the story until they get the other side of the story from the school district. And if their response is consistent with past responses, it will take as long as possible to compose and will not contain anything of substance. But in the world of journalism, there is an obligation to get both sides of the story before running it. And since there is no time-sensitive issue here, it won’t matter whether the story runs today or next week.

Or, it could be that the media is not what it used to be. Here’s an example of what I mean… Let’s say, for the sake of my example, that a member of the Costa Mesa Planning Commission blurts out in a public meeting that there is sex trafficking in the city. Says it right out loud, clear and direct. Is that worthy of coverage? You’d think. I thought so, too, so I told a media person about it – someone who could have made a splash with the news. Instead, nothing. Me? I’d have had a headline on this story so big, you’d have to scroll down to read it.

There is at least one more scenario. This one has to do with an old journalism term called, “The Wall.” The Wall was an imaginary buffer between the advertising department (and any other non-editorial department) and the newsroom. So, for example, if a newspaper’s biggest advertiser was suspected of doing some illegal or immoral, the story would run because editorial (news) didn’t listen to or care about what the other departments had to say. The thing was news and they ran it.

It’s different now. Back in the day, I would pick up my copy of the newspaper and read news stories about which I had no prior knowledge. It took time to go through it, but it was interesting and I liked being informed. Today, most of what I read in print I’ve already read online.

Today, newspapers are a shadow of what they used to be, increasingly replaced by competition from instant news sources and bloggers who get the information and report it online in minutes. Newspapers rarely act that quickly anymore. Sometimes, they are bound by dated, useless, journalism protocols¬†that slow reporting to a crawl. Getting a “scoop” was the goal each day – the ultimate prize for a newspaper. Today, a newspaper scoop is as rare as a three-inch headline.

(Back when I was writing and reporting, I had a scoop. A big one in the county, in fact. Because I was writing for a magazine, I did not get chances for scoops the way the dailies did, so that moment was one of the proudest of my journalism career.)

The Wall is gone. Ads are on front pages – once considered sacred ground – and political sensitivity has crept into newsrooms. Of course, I cannot state for certain that this is the case with Caldecott’s latest update, but it is something about which I wonder.

The perplexing part of all of this is that Caldecott’s news is local, and if there is a hole in online news, it is in local reporting. Every mainstream media outlet reports who is running for national offices, what the Supreme Court decided, and what was on the latest Executive Order signed by the President. Few outlets – almost none, actually – report the local stuff that has a direct impact on our daily lives.

John Caldecott’s latest round of information is explosive. It could very well be that a person or people deliberately manipulated tax dollars to benefit someone’s pension. We’ll never know why the story has not yet hit, but I can tell you this: There is more to come and I will get it to you as quickly as I get it.

Steve Smith

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