Many years ago, I listened to books and lectures on tapes as I drove around town. I recall listening to a lecture by Hilary Hinton “Zig” Ziglar, an author, salesman, and motivational speaker.  Among other topics, the tape series described Ziglar’s early days as a door-to-door cookware salesman, which was relevant to me because even though I was making good money, I was not comfortable in my sales position.

The Ziglar set me straight. I developed a completely new and better attitude toward my job and my life and it has never left.

The basis for this transformation was Ziglar’s discussion of the power of new information. I learned that the best and sometimes only way to change a mind is to offer new information and that new information has multiple uses. In communication, it is one of the most powerful tools we possess.

Tonight, Michael Halt will be chosen as the new principal at Estancia High School. Of that there is no doubt. His road to the job, however, should serve as a lesson to the N-MUSD Board of Trustees. Alas, they will miss it completely and along with missing it, they will continue to spend thousands of your tax dollars in a misguided effort to save the face of someone who may have done something unethical, possibly even illegal. Here’s what happened…

From September, 2013 to March of this year, Michael Halt was the principal at San Clemente High School. From the accounts I have read in the paper, he was liked and respected, though that is secondary to whether he brought academic excellence to the school.

Halt was dismissed by the trustees of Capo Unified “without explanation,” according to today’s account in the Orange County Register. As they often do, the school board cited “confidentiality” as their reason for removing Halt.

Public outrage ensued and on June 4 “Trustee John Alpay, who had been part of the school board’s 7-0 vote to not ‘re-elect’ Halt [a politically correct term for firing him], presented new evidence to the board that he felt the administration had not given to the board at the time of the vote. He asked why and called for an independent investigation, which the board has resisted.” (OC Register, 6/23/15)

The board did, however, offer Halt a principal position at another school in the district.

So here is what happened… Based on the information the trustees were given at the time, they rubber stamped the recommendation to terminate Halt. Halt was not given the opportunity to address the board and as a result, his reputation was tarnished. But one trustee with a conscience – one trustee who understands fairness and understands a moral and fiduciary responsibility to the residents and taxpayers in the district – re-opened the case and restored Halt’s reputation. But it was too late – Halt had already opted for the Estancia job. (Note: The N-MUSD said they wanted your input in the choice of the new principal, but they really didn’t. The community meetings and surveys were just more feel good smokescreens to trick you into believing you have a say in things when you do not.)

To protect their egos and the incompetence of one or more of their administration, the Capo board has not had the decency to admit to Halt and to taxpayers that they made a mistake; that they made their decision without conducting the proper due diligence that surely would have led to Halt remaining as the SC High principal. They did not act in the best interests of students and taxpayers and even when they had a chance to save face on the basis of the new information, they declined. It has been a childish, irresponsible abuse of power.

If it sounds familiar, it is. John Caldecott was also terminated without a hearing. And despite repeated pleas for a meeting with the board so he can tell his side of the story, not one trustee has had the decency to do what they would fight for were it a member of their own family who was wronged.

So, Caldecott is fighting instead and it’s costing you a lot of money.

In the latest round, the school district (through their attorney – the one costing you all the money) objected to a recent court’s order to show cause, that is, to show why Caldecott’s case should not continue. Now, the N-MUSD has 20 days to file a brief and Caldecott has 20 days to respond to that, after which, both sides present oral arguments.

A waste of time, precious district resources and your tax dollars, all because the board refuses to consider the new information that Caldecott wants to present.

But why? Why would they not want to listen to a respected 10-year employee for a few minutes? Though I cannot say for sure, it is my guess that Caldecott’s new information could show that the board’s choice of superintendent was not a good one and that is as difficult for decision-makers in both the private and public sector to admit. It could also show that they rushed to judgment, that by listening to only one side of the story, they made a mistake when they terminated Caldecott.

Now it’s too late. The district has dug in its heels and cannot turn back without looking incompetent. As though anyone following this story doesn’t already believe that.

The board needs an exit strategy. They need a way to get this new information in a way that will show that it was all part of the process and that they were not just covering up for one of their own.

Perhaps a brief call to John Alpay down at Capo Unified is in order. He may give them the powerful new information – the exit strategy – that could save wasted tax dollars.

But there isn’t a single board member with the courage and the decency to give Caldecott his day in court. Instead, Caldecott is creating his own day in court, which is all he ever wanted.


There is a board meeting tonight, at which the budget for the fiscal year 2015-16 will be presented. There will be routine, customary deliberations and the board will lob a few softball questions, but ultimately, whether it is now or in a few weeks, the budget will receive unanimous approval.

Oh, and there is an agenda item to give more of your tax dollars to the firm handling Caldecott’s case. It reads:

It is recommended that the Board of Education authorize the Deputy Superintendent to approve the Retainer Agreement for fiscal years 2015-16 and 2016-17 and budget allocation for Parker and Covert, LLP, in the amount not to exceed $300,000 in fiscal year 2015-16 for the provision of Public Education Support Services.
Financial Impact:
Budget Impact: Budgeted Area(s): Various District Accounts: Board of Education, Superintendent, Human Resources, Elementary and Secondary Ed/Student Services, Special Education and Business Services. Total budget allocation in the amount not to exceed $300,000 for 2015-16.Parker & Covert LLP have proposed a 9% increase in the hourly rates for 2015-16 and a 4% increase in the hourly rates for 2016-17. Rates 7/1/2015 to 6/30/2016 Partners:  $245 per hour Associates:  $210 per hour Jr. Associates:  $200 per hour Law Clerks/Paralegals:  $135.00 per hour
Rates for 7/1/2016 to 6/30/2017      Partners:  $255 per hour Associates:  $215 per hour Jr. Associates:  $205 per hour Law Clerks/Paralegals:  $135 per hour

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Steve Smith